What's really at stake in the Lukacs affair - Macleans.ca

What’s really at stake in the Lukacs affair

Degree minus requirements equals zero.

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The case of Gabor Lukacs continues to spur debate at the University of Manitoba and across the country. Lukacs, recall, is the mathematics professor who was suspended after he rebelled against a Dean’s decision to allow a PhD student to graduate without passing a comprehensive exam. If U of M officials thought suspending Lukacs for “insubordination” (among other things) would make the case go away, they were wrong.

For all of our coverage of this story, please click here.

The National Post, among other media outlets, has picked up the story and Joseph Brean’s article reminds readers of  details that must surely now be embarrassing to the Winnipeg university. Of particular interest is the fact that the mathematics department did try to accommodate the student by giving him more time to write the exam, but that attempt at accommodation was refused by Dean John Doering. Also of interest is the fact that  Doering allowed the student in question to count an undergraduate course towards his graduate degree.

While minor university regulations are sometimes waived under special circumstances, it is hard for this humble blogger to see how waiving such  major requirements could ever be countenanced, even given the need for reasonable accommodation of medical conditions. It is not for a dean, or any administrator, or, indeed any individual, to waive a major regulation at will, especially contrary to the wishes of the department. Dr Doering, though well qualified to be a dean, is not a mathematician, and even if he was, he should not presume to decide on his own which requirements count and which do not.

If the comprehensive exam is deemed not necessary for a Ph.D. in mathematics, the requirement should be eliminated according to the academic procedures of the university. That way the merits of the regulation can be fully debated by those best able to judge them. If a dean can waive the requirement for the exam and for coursework, what’s to stop him from waiving the requirement for a thesis, too (perhaps on the basis of a student’s thesis anxiety)? And then what is left?

Hours ago, reports began to circulate that the U of M Senate entertained a motion that would have, in effect, vindicated Doering’s decision by affirming that the Dean had the authority to waive regulations all along. For the time being, that motion has been referred back to the U of M Senate executive. Let’s hope it never finds its way back to the Senate floor.

If this is a small victory for those of us committed to academic integrity, it is still a victory. This writer hopes it will not be the last.