Faculty Showcase

Journey for Justice

Whistleblower Dr. Aaron Westrick risked all to do the right thing and expose the truth

Two men smiling.

Photo Credit: Robert Hall

Two men at a computer.

Photo Credit: Robert Hall

icon of a calendarAugust 25, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Patti Georgevich

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In 2001, Dr. Aaron Westrick – former director of research and marketing at Second Chance Body Armor (SCBA), once the largest manufacturer of bulletproof vests in the United States – discovered his company’s product was defective.

“I conducted tests and had certified labs confirm my results. I wrote a memo to SCBA’s president urging a recall. My request was ignored,” said Westrick. “I knew what I needed to do.”

Dr. Albert J. Meehan, OU professor of sociology and criminal justice, asked Westrick to discuss his captivating 17-year-long battle against SCBA at OU in Nov. 2018.

More than 70 criminal justice, social work and sociology majors attended the screening of the CBS television series Whistleblower featuring Westrick at the OU Anton/Frankel Center (AFC) in Mount Clemens. Whistleblower chronicles heroic people who risk their careers and lives to expose illegal and unethical behaviors of large corporations to ensure others aren’t harmed by unchecked corporate greed.

While employed by SCBA, Westrick wore a wire to prove its president knew Zylon – the vest material manufactured by Japanese fiber company Toyobo – was defective. SCBA was preparing to go public and both companies had agreed not to release the test results. SCBA even offered Westrick company shares – equivalent to $1 million – for his silence. After a police officer was killed wearing a defective vest, Westrick leaked his memo to government agencies; SCBA fired him.

Meehan and Westrick have been friends and colleagues for nearly 30 years – sharing interests in criminal justice and sociology. In 2015 – on sabbatical from Lake Superior State University – Westrick taught at the AFC as a scholar-in-residence. Westrick still teaches criminal justice at LSSU in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

Meehan said he asked Westrick to talk to students so they would hear a first-hand account of the importance of professional ethics and integrity.

“Aaron's story embodies the importance of behaving according to ethical and professional principles – and sticking to them despite the pressures,” said Meehan. He added, “We stress this to our students who’ll exercise their professional authority and impact the lives of those they serve. I wanted them to realize everything they learn in the classroom is carried with them into their profession.”

Barbara Haywood, OU social work student, attended the event and said Westrick’s decision to battle the establishment took courage and strength.

“When I chose this field, a professor told me ‘you may lose a job when advocating for what you believe is true,’” said Haywood. “When you take a stand for what’s right, an ethics-based decision must be made. It was great to see values in action.”

Westrick’s disclosures resulted in the defective vests being forced off the market, saving the lives of countless police officers, military and first responders. But the battle took a toll – both emotionally and financially – on him, his family, life and career.

“With everything on the line, would I do it again? There’s no doubt in my mind what I did was worth the risks and retaliation,” said Westrick. “Because the truth should always prevail.”

Learn more about OU’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered at our locations in Clinton Township and Mount Clemens at OU Macomb.

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