Not everyone supports U of M math prof

Graduate Students' Association endorses suspension of Gabor Lukacs

The University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association has come out in support of the decision to suspend math professor Gabor Lukacs. Lukacs was suspended for three months without pay after he filed an application in Manitoba court to reverse a decision by John Doering, Dean of Graduate Studies, to waive a comprehensive exam requirement for a PhD student. After he filed his court papers, the university suspended him on the official grounds that he violated the students’ privacy. The student, whose name is protected by a publication ban, is said to suffer from “extreme exam anxiety.”

In a recent letter distributed to various media outlets, including Maclean’s, Meaghan Labine, president of the Graduate Students’ Association endorsed the decision to suspend Lukacs.

Graduate students value the protection and privacy of their personal information. The UMGSA supports the protection of all students’ personal and private information that is required by law. The University of Manitoba’s response in dealing with this breach of confidentiality reflects the university’s commitment to ensuring the confidentiality of a student’s personal information. Consequently, to the extent that the university’s decision to suspend its faculty member may have been based on the unauthorized disclosure of personal health information, the UMGSA feels this Human Resources decision was justified.

Although Labine does not address the specific circumstances surrounding the waiving of the exam requirement for the student, she criticizes the characterization of the U of M as a “PhD mill” and implications that the university has been granting “compassionate degrees.” She writes: “It has been our collective experience that the University of Manitoba adheres to regulated standards for academic achievement within all disciplines ensuring that program requirements and achievements fulfill degree requirements and equifinality.”

The GSA letter advances a different position than the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, who is supporting Lukacs by grieving his suspension. “I don’t know if its an automatic thing that we do, but it’s such a harsh thing that we usually try to find some other way to resolve the issue aside from some sort of formal discipline,” Cameron Morrill, UMFA president told the Manitoban.

In a letter published by the Winnipeg Free Press, Morrill also questioned the university’s definition of reasonable accommodation when exam anxiety is concerned.

In cases where a diagnosis of exam anxiety means that the usual methods of examination do not provide a fair evaluation of a student’s abilities, reasonable accommodation routinely takes the form of allowing the student additional time or other special conditions under which to take the exam. Reasonable accommodation does not mean that the student does not have to demonstrate the competencies required by the degree.

Similarly, some 86 mathematicians from around the world have issued a letter of protest addressed to the university administration against the decision to waive the exam requirement.

[A]s members of the mathematical community, we wish to express our deep concern about the repercussions this affair will have at the national and international levels. Indeed, given the current cohesiveness of the mathematical community, and the speed at which information now travels, the negative publicity your institution is receiving threatens to cast a shadow on all future mathematics degrees awarded by the University of Manitoba. In the current context of intense competition, many of your students will find it difficult to overcome such a handicap.

While Lukacs’ grievance against his suspension will not be heard until the spring, a hearing on his court application, where a judge is being asked to rule whether Doering, as an administrator, had the authority to waive PhD requirements, is scheduled for tomorrow January 20, 2011(Update: The hearing was originally scheduled for Nov 30th, but that has since changed). The university’s primary defense is that Lukacs has no standing.

Dr. Lukacs has no individual rights in law or equity that are at stake or in issue. He does not have a direct and personal interest in the alleged improper acts of Dr. Doering or the university. . . . Further, there is no evidence that he has suffered, or is likely to suffer, special damages peculiar to himself as a result of the accommodation afforded to [the student] by the university and any decision made by the university as a consequence of said accommodation.

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