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Court battle over PhD

Math prof says U of M student wrongly given doctorate

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Students and professors at the University of Manitoba are rallying around a math professor who has been suspended for three months without pay after he took legal action to overturn the university's decision to award a PhD to a student who hadn't met all the requirements.

Gábor Lukács said the U of M is demeaning the reputation of other PhD students and the professors who teach them. "The shadow of suspicion that the present case casts on all other, hard-working students who did fulfil their requirements bothers me a lot," Lukács said.

"The hard-working students who toil for years to earn their PhDs deserve better than this."

Lukács said the U of M awarded a PhD in mathematics in October to an individual who lacked the academic requirements, who failed a critical exam twice, and was then informed he didn't have to take the exam.

Lukács said he's gone to court because the dean violated the U of M's own regulations and the University of Manitoba Act when he overruled academic staff opposed to the decision.

"This causes incredible damage to the reputation of the university and to its academic integrity," Lukács said, adding two other math students received PhDs this month and they could be suspected of not having earned them.

A Queen's Bench judge this week imposed an order prohibiting identifying the student involved in the dispute. A hearing was set for Nov. 30.

More than 80 students have signed a petition in support of Lukács while a fellow professor resigned from the math graduate studies committee over the dispute. Meanwhile, another math professor, George Glatzer, submitted a supporting affidavit for Lukács' court challenge.

U of M spokesman John Danakas said the university would not comment on a personnel matter or on the court case as it won't allow personal health and private information about a student to be disclosed publicly.

"There are certainly avenues within the (university) system to address academic issues," Danakas said. "But disclosing one individual's private information shouldn't be necessary in addressing those issues."

However, what is known is that the student claimed he suffered from text/exam anxiety.

The University of Manitoba's disability services office last year registered 136 students who have medical certification that they suffer exam anxiety and must be accommodated with some other form of evaluation. Both U of M and the University of Winnipeg offer a wide range of options for dealing with such a disorder that range from writing the test alone, with one supervisor in the room; taking an oral test; having more time to complete the test; writing an assignment that demonstrates knowledge of the subject.

Lukács said after he exhausted all of his appeals at the U of M, he decided in September to apply for a judicial review of the following: the decision to waive the requirement for an exam; the decision to upgrade the student's undergraduate course; to obtain an injunction against the U of M granting the student a PhD until he fulfils all the requirements; and challenging the jurisdiction of the dean of graduate studies.

Lukács said the court actions prompted U of M president David Barnard to suspend him for three months without pay on the grounds he violated the student's privacy by disclosing personal and health information to the court, and that the court action amounted to harassment of the student.

The U of M faculty association is grieving the suspension without pay but Lukács said he believes the university plans to fire him.

"The administration does not want to admit it made a mistake and prefers to attempt to intimidate me and my colleagues," he said.

Lukács said he loves teaching at the U of M. He's now questioning his efforts to restore the university's integrity.

"I am a mathematician not a lawyer," Lukács said. "I do not want to spend my career on fixing a university against the will of its administration."

Lukács, 27, is a one-time child math prodigy who began university at the age of 12, received his master's degree at 16 and earned his PhD from York University in Toronto at 20.

In 2009, he scored a victory for airline passengers when he challenged Air Canada's policy that it wasn't responsible for lost or damaged luggage. Acting on Lukács' complaint, the Canadian Transport Agency ruled Air Canada's policy violated international conventions and ordered it to change its policies.

 

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2010 A3

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