There was no ‘muzzle order’ against Lukacs

Court reserves decision on whether lawsuit can be heard


On Thursday a judge appeared to have dismissed the notion that math professor Gabor Lukacs was suspended from work as punishment for suing his employer, the University of Manitoba, as has been suggested by both Lukacs and his supporters.

Lukacs filed a lawsuit against the U of M in the fall to reverse a decision, by Dean of Graduate Studies John Doering, to waive a comprehensive exam for a PhD student. The student, who had failed the exam twice and was asked to withdraw from the PhD program, is said to suffer from exam anxiety. Lukacs claims that Doering, as an administrator, has no authority to make academic decisions. Shortly after filing his court application, Lukacs received notice that he was being suspended for three months, a sanction that ended at the beginning of January.

The university has maintained that Lukacs was suspended for violating the student’s privacy, but suspicions immediately arose, mostly through dozens of online comments, but also in a petition from his students for him to be reinstated, and in official protests sent to university brass. A grievance filed by the faculty association argued that Lukacs was treated “unreasonably, unfairly and in a manner contrary to the collective agreement.” Surely, many observers argued, Lukacs was suspended for daring to challenge the administration.

But yesterday, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Deborah McCawley seems to have quashed that argument. Addressing Lukacs’ lawyer Robert Tapper, the judge said, “Your client was not ordered to desist discussion of academic integrity. It’s not right to say it’s effectively a muzzle order.” On that particular point, the judge was siding with U of M counsel, Jamie Kagan, who had argued “When you disobey your employer, there is going to be a consequence, and Dr. Lukacs felt that consequence.”

When Lukacs first filed his court application, the student was identified by name. The name was later redacted, and replaced with the initials AZ, after a publication ban was ordered.

Despite arguments surrounding whether or not Lukacs was legitimately suspended, Thursday’s hearing, the Winnipeg Free Press reports, was dedicated to the question of standing. Kagan argued that Lukacs, who didn’t teach the student, and was not on the math department’s Graduate Studies Committee until after the exam was waived, was not individually harmed. “His rights are not affected. He has no skin in the game,” Kagan said.

Tapper countered that Lukacs, as a member of the math department, has a direct interest in the case because if the university comes to be seen as a “diploma mill” his own reputation will be at stake. “The University of Manitoba has nothing to be proud of in this case,” Tapper said.

For now, McCawley is reserving her decision on whether Lukacs’ lawsuit will even be heard. But even if the court rules that Lukacs has no standing, the university will still likely find it difficult to claim anything but a narrow legal victory. In November U of M faculty rejected a senate motion that would have recognized “that the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies has jurisdiction to waive academic requirements.”

Even when the story is no longer of interest to media types, grudges within universities can be held for years, and often decades.


There was no ‘muzzle order’ against Lukacs

  1. It is impossible to redact webcrawlers and caches. The student’s identity is no mystery. Prof. Lukacs has ruined the career of this student. And for what? The university’s lawyer, Jamie Kagan, characterized Prof. Lukacs as a “busybody”. This is kind. Prof. Lukac’s wake of litigation since arriving in Manitoba include Air Canada, Westjet, Skywest, United, Ikea, and others. Who’s next on this “busybody’s” list? He should learn to keep his nose out of matters that don’t concern him, that is, for which he has no standing!

  2. It is absurd for Cheshire_Cat to suggest that the student’s career has been ruined. The University argues that the brilliance of his Ph.D. thesis justifies waiving of other Ph.D. requirements. If that is true then this student will likely be a strong candidate for a research-oriented university job.

    Lukacs is fighting for a very important principle: that a Dean cannot ignore the existing rules (for a Ph.D. appeal), then make up new rules in order to approve the award of a Ph.D. The Dean’s actions are even more execrable because he ignored the recommendations of the most knowledgeable and involved groups (the Mathematics Graduate Committee and the Disability Services Department).

    Peter A, Senior Scholar (retired Professor), Mathematics Department, University of Manitoba

  3. I was too lazy to read the story and I just wanted to comment in response to both of you. Both of you need a life. Case Closed.

  4. From the ridiculous to the absurd
    We noticed on the news broadcasts that the situation regarding the grad student issue at the University on Manitoba has progressed to another and most inappropriate level.
    We could not resist the temptation to respond, if for no other reason than to let our alma mater know there were some of us out in the ether of society that are in full support of the university’s position.
    First of all, the decision to extend the student in question a doctrate was solely the responsibility of the university. Criteria that exist for such decisions are written in policy, not in stone. Policy should always remain as a guideline, not a dictate, as anytime an organization moves from an adhocratic decision making model towards an autocratic centralized model, there is a concurrent decreasing recognization of errors that lead to better decisions.
    Secondly, the very nature of the university focuses on promoting creativity, while consciously keeping a distance from the maintenance attitude some prefer. This latter attitude by many of “this is how we do things here”, leads to a hardening of the attitudes through a comparison with others by their almost religious adherence to written policy and procedure. This latter type of individual does not belong in any institute of learning at any level, let alone a university.
    Thirdly, to actively remain innovative and continuously progressive and keep with the reality of being an ongoing “new” organization, the university needs to protect its responsibilities to not lose flexibilty and inventiveness, to work constantly against the increased dependency many institutions develop on written versus people communication, and to focus on tangible results with respect for the rights of all individuals over those of the group.
    By diligently maintaining this continuous examination of philosophy screened through values and culture set by strong leadership, the university we know protects the “traditions” that actively avoid pragmatism as recalcitrant naysayers are so well known to do.
    Keep up the good fight…it makes us proud to be counted as U of M grads, as our campus still stands for the values, rights and resultant responsibilities that it did when we were taught these principles “in the day”.
    Anna Marie and Paul Weitzel—Winnipeg, Manitoba

  5. I’m just curious as to where @Chesire_Cat got their information: “Prof. Lukac’s wake of litigation since arriving in Manitoba include Air Canada, Westjet, Skywest, United, Ikea, and others.”

    It seems kind of odd to me that this professor would sue every major airline? What could they all have done to him?

  6. If Dean Doering felt that the rules need to be changed then he could have asked a faculty committee to look into the issues and make recommendations. What Anna and Paul say about flexibility is just apologia. U Manitoba need to have an open public inquiry about their Ph.D programs and lose the current Dean and President and lose them fast. The fact that more than 80 mathematicians from all over the world has chosen to support Dr. Lukacs should be enough evidence about the seriousness of the issue. Unfortunately UM seems to be taking an attitude of circling the wagon and punishing Lukacs. They don’t seem to realize that every day they delay action, their reputation is getting deeper in the mud.

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