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Across Minnesota and much of the nation last week, the talk turned to Dimitrius Underwood. The Vikings' first-round draft pick not only threw away his chance at stardom (and his $5.3 million contract). He also behaved abominably, by walking out on his team and coach without so much as a high five.

But an odd situation at UND has echoes of Underwood's move. Richard Fiordo, the director of the School of Communication, told the faculty in an e-mail that he'd asked UND for a professional leave of absence, the Herald reported (Leadership changes at Scomm). But he'd be back in a year, he said.

This happened on Aug. 6. Fiordo had asked for his leave in late July.

Classes begin the 24th.

In academia, is that the norm? Do department heads feel free to ask for leave at short notice, presumably tossing a stack of paperwork or line-up of classes onto their colleagues' laps, and then expect a year later to be welcomed back?

If it's not the norm - if the story is accurate, and Fiordo surprised his colleagues by leaving - then the man strikes us as having behaved unprofessionally. Never do anything just because you can, the saying goes. That includes jumping at a professional opportunity, if making the leap so close to the start of classes will leave co-workers scrambling to do the work.

If it is the norm, on the other hand, then it's a mighty generous norm indeed, and one that we can safely say has no counterpart in the business world. Once in a career, maybe, a lucky journalist might win a year-long fellowship or visiting professor's post. But their colleagues wouldn't just come to work one day and find an empty desk. The preparation would take months, starting with getting accepted and telling their employer, and finishing with prepping someone else to take their place.

But, maybe that's just buttoned-down corporate speak. Maybe in free-spirited academia, things are different. Maybe top administrators can leave suddenly and not be missed; maybe they can make a request a few weeks before classes, breeze off to an unnamed college somewhere else, then come back a year later to a waiting office and the institution's open arms.

Maybe ...

Nice work if you can get it. Any spots for experienced editorial writers at UND?

Grand Forks Herald, August 16, 1999