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This article was published 30/11/2010 (3971 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The controversy over awarding a PhD in math to a University of Manitoba student suffering from extreme examination anxiety has gone global.
A group of 86 mathematicians from universities in Canada, the United States and Europe has warned U of M president David Barnard the furor could jeopardize the reputation of the math degrees at the province's largest university.
In a letter to Barnard, which the 86 academics copied to the Free Press, they told Barnard there is no evidence any qualified mathematician has justified the awarding of the doctorate.
They called on Barnard to either publicly justify the university's decision, or reverse the decision to grant the doctorate.
The student twice failed the third part of a mandatory comprehensive exam, but appealed on the basis of suffering from the disability of extreme examination anxiety.
Dean of graduate studies Jay Doering eventually waived the requirement and awarded the student his doctorate.
Meanwhile, U of M math Prof. Gábor Lukács is taking the university to court next month to try to have the doctorate rescinded.
The U of M has suspended Lukács for three months without pay for allegedly revealing the student's confidential personal health information.
In an email interview, mathematician Gavin Seal of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland targeted online statements made by Barnard, Doering and dean of science Mark Whitmore -- statements the U of M made with the doctoral student's consent.
Seal said the U of M has not explained why the student was not required to pass the comprehensive exam: "Passing unrelated exams does not guarantee the student's competence in the failed subject," said Seal.
The deans neither justify nor mention that Doering, "who does not have a mathematical background, upgraded an undergraduate mathematics course to a doctorate-level one," said Seal.
Seal said internal documents Lukács has provided show the mathematics department does not support Doering's decision.
"They really stepped over a line here," said Prof. Michael Mislove of Tulane University in Louisiana, another signatory to the letter. "They're not mathematicians.
"In the degree-awarding itself, the university is unilaterally placing its judgment above the mathematicians" in the math department, said Mislove, who's never seen essential doctoral requirements waived before in his 40 years in academia.
Doering is an engineer, Mislove said: "I'm sure he wouldn't be very comfortable with a mathematician overturning a decision in civil engineering."
Mislove said the student failed a comprehensive exam in analysis, which is basic to being a mathematician.
"Analysis is one of the most fundamental areas one is expected to be competent in -- it's not negotiable," he said.
U of M issued a statement Tuesday that did not directly address the mathematicians' concerns, but which reiterated Barnard has asked the campus and alumni for feedback on accommodation:
"President David Barnard has outlined in detail measures that the university will take to review and improve policies where necessary regarding reasonable accommodation of students and other related matters.
"At the same time, University of Manitoba students continue to excel. (In November), two University of Manitoba students earned Rhodes scholarships and four University of Manitoba students earned Manitoba Aboriginal Youth Achievement Awards.
"Our students -- graduate and undergraduate -- are challenged here, they find opportunities and support here and they graduate having undertaken programs that adhere to a high standard of academic rigour and integrity. Our community can be rightfully proud of them," said the statement.
-- with files from Aldo Santin