Retraction Watch

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NY court: Cornell faces being held in contempt after denying physics professor tenure (twice)

with 41 comments

Mukund Vengalattore

Cornell University and a high-powered dean at the school face being held in contempt of court in a case stemming from their decision to deny tenure to a physics professor.

Assistant professor Mukund Vengalattore told Retraction Watch he believes the school and the dean are violating a judge’s order instructing them to completely redo his tenure review process. Neither the university nor the dean has done any of the things the judge asked them to do, and even suspended his paycheck for the first two weeks of June, he said.

In 2014 Gretchen Ritter, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, denied Vengalattore tenure, citing a weak publication record, an inability to accept advice from colleagues, and a poor group dynamic fostered in his lab [Exhibit C in this court document]. But on appeal, a faculty panel found that the review process had been affected by sexual misconduct allegations from a former graduate student.  Vengalattore told Retraction Watch the allegations were “completely false.”

However, last year, Ritter again denied Vengalattore tenure, a decision backed by Cornell’s provost, Michael Kotlikoff. As first reported by Inside Higher Ed in May, Vengalattore then took Cornell and Ritter to court. Judge Richard Rich ruled on that case in November, finding that the alleged misconduct “tainted” the process and that the school had deviated from its established procedures in a “necessary” but “secretive” way, denying Vengalattore due process:

It appears in effect as, we are Cornell and we are going to do as we want, which seems to the court as the essence of being arbitrary and capricious.

The judge vacated the decision to deny tenure and ordered Cornell to conduct a de novo review.

In May, Vengalattore’s attorney filed court documents motioning to hold Cornell and Ritter in contempt:

[Cornell and Ritter] have done little, if anything, to move [Vengalattore’s] tenure review process forward…It has now been more than six months since Judge Rich issued his order and directed [Cornell and Ritter] to comply with it.

According to Vengalattore’s affidavit:

The Court held that I “was entitled to due process and a hearing on the matter, which would either clear [me] or lead to sanctions against [me]” … To date, [Cornell and Ritter have] not provided me with a hearing…Instead they continue to ignore the November 23rd Order and unilaterally docked my pay from June 1, 2017 through June 15, 2017 based upon the above allegations without ever holding the required hearing as directed.

At the hearing, scheduled for July 28 in Watkins Glen, N.Y., about 25 miles from Cornell’s Ithaca, N.Y., campus, the university and Ritter will have the chance to explain themselves.

Callan Stein, an attorney at Donoghue Barrett & Singal, who has defended researchers accused of misconduct, told Retraction Watch that Cornell is likely to provide at least some defense at the hearing:

I wouldn’t expect them to violate a court order for no reason. There are defenses to allegations of contempt. You can argue “we did comply,” but based on [Vengalatorre’s] affidavit, it sounds like they did not.

According to court documents, Vengalattore’s promotion was contentious even at the departmental level, where he squeaked through on a vote that was far from unanimous. A faculty committee and — eventually, Cornell’s provost — both supported Ritter by recommending against promoting Vengalattore. On appeal, Ritter and the provost made the same determination.

In a January letter to the judge, Cornell’s attorney Thomas D’Antonio, of Ward Greenberg Heller & Reidy, wrote that Ritter planned to pursue sanctions against Vengalattore for the sexual misconduct allegations.

Stein told us that Cornell and Ritter have several options in what they tell the judge:

One is that they had a “good faith” inability to comply. Theoretically, although I have no information about it, they could argue they did not have ability to comply within the time frame.

This defense relies upon being able to draw a distinction between being unable to comply and refusing to do so, Stein told us:

If they want to assert that, they would bear burden of proving it. Speaking generally, with no knowledge of case, that could be a potentially fruitful argument for Dean Ritter.

But if she can’t convince the court she’s complying with the order, there’s a chance she could face fines or even incarceration, though “the latter would be very surprising,” Stein said:

Courts have fairly broad powers to sanction, but that seems to be a harsh penalty here.

Cornell, as an institution, is in a little different position, Stein said:

One argument they could make is, “We need more time.” It seems they’ve had some time but that’s still available.

While the judge doesn’t have to act right away, Stein said it’s possible that Cornell and Ritter will have to offer up a satisfactory defense or face sanctions:

The judge will want to know why they did not adhere to court order.

It wouldn’t surprise me if ruling was made [at the hearing].

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Written by Andrew P. Han

June 27th, 2017 at 1:49 pm

  • Lady Prof June 27, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    If there was a split at the department level, then it was a weak case. Most tenure votes are unanimous.

    • Lady Prof 2 June 30, 2017 at 11:52 pm

      The university committee made a finding saying
      “…GS’ letter in the tenure file clearly had a strong negative influence on votes by the Physics department, ad hoc committee, FACT A and the tenure denial decisions by Dean Ritter. University policy states unequivocally that the charges made by GS establish a conflict of interest. Therefore, the letter from GS should have been removed from the tenure file when GS lodged additional charges against MV. We find that it was improper for the tenure review to be conducted with this letter, and therefore uphold the third claim in MV’s appeal… We agree that the Physics Department and Graduate Field were remiss in not conducting a more thorough investigation of GS’s allegations about the power supply incident. When these became a central issue in MV’s tenure case, the Physics Department still did not conduct a proper investigation. Failure to do so while leaving the letter in the tenure file infringed MY’s rights as a faculty member…”

      If there was a split at the department level, then it does not imply that it was a weak case. It can equally imply, as the committee in fact said in its finding, that improper and/or false information was used even at the department level.

  • Oliver C. Schultheiss June 27, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    “citing a weak publication record”:

    On Scopus, Vengalattore is currently listed with 42 records, of which a whole bunch are Physical Review Letters and Physical Review publications with huge citation counts. On those, he is frequently first or last author. His h index is currently 15, with a 16, 17, and even 18 being just around the corner. Not bad at all for a 2005 PhD!

    To put this in perspective, Wikipedia cites Hirsch’s own subjective benchmarking rules for tenure in physics: “Hirsch suggested that, for physicists, a value for h of about 12 might be typical for advancement to tenure (associate professor) at major research universities. A value of about 18 could mean a full professorship, 15–20 could mean a fellowship in the American Physical Society […]” (Source:

    So the “weak citation record” probably shouldn’t be used as an argument against tenure here.

    • Michael June 27, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      The only ones that matter for a tenure case are the publications from his own lab (i.e. last author papers) which I count as 14, which might include conference proceedings that are not peer-reviewed. I think only the peers in his field who follow his work can judge if he has been sufficiently productive for someone in this particular sub-field. Generally speaking, the h index or any other bibliographic measure will be a poor and highly misleading measure of said productivity: There might be 1 or 2 recent papers that are bound to have a huge impact on the field (which would be difficult to quantify using citation counts), or they might be 10-15 papers who don’t add anything. Let’s please not advocate using seemingly “objective” criteria for making decisions about someone’s academic future.

    • A sympathetic Physics Chair July 1, 2017 at 12:15 am

      The research productivity within the sub-fields of physics vary widely. Only individuals within the sub-field of AMO can correctly judge the research productivity of MV. In fact, a question often posed in the Physics Chairs’ Listserv is “how many publications are considered appropriate for an AMO experimentalist to receive tenure at your university?” A college-wide tenure committee with faculty members from different departments may not be aware of big disparities in research productivity rates of different physics sub-disciplines (e.g., hundreds of publications in Experimental High Energy Physics versus one paper per year in Experimental AMO). The important question to ask for awarding tenure is “Will the faculty continue to be productive for the next 40 years instead of looking at the productivity at the end of 5 years.”

      • Gurgenschnuut July 11, 2017 at 10:45 am

        This is definitely generally true in many subspecialties of all the sciences. In some disciplines, publications come rapidly and in some very slowly, and everything in between.

  • Blah June 27, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    If 60% of your grad students quit, you shouldn’t get tenure. Cornell turned it into a legal mess by trying to run out the clock rather than address sexual misconduct complaints in an appropriate way. This is sadly a common story.

    • Cornell Graduate Student June 27, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      I don’t know where you are getting that number from … Because in reality, only two students left his group – one of them (who also later made the allegations) asked to rejoin his group merely two weeks later, and was refused. Another student left soon after and dropped out of graduate school. See the articles in the Cornell sun for more coverage on this issue. The first student then bragged about how this professor ‘would have a hard time getting tenure if she had her way’ and proceeded to make a number of false allegations against him. In regards to the sexual misconduct complaint you refer to, the Dean herself stated that there was no evidence of any such misconduct. In reality, if you acquainted yourself with the actual facts of this case, you would realize that this professor has been amazingly productive despite the impediments placed in his path. You would also realize that by rushing to judgement without the facts, you are embarrassing yourself.

      Furthermore, this is not a ‘common story’ because this happens to be the first time that a State Supreme Court overturned a tenure decision due to a Dean’s arbitrary and capricious conduct. By now, the department and more than three committees have already recommended his tenure. If there was any truth to ‘graduate students leaving en masse’ or ‘sexual misconduct’, do you really believe he would have prevailed not just within Cornell but in his lawsuit?

      • Blah June 28, 2017 at 2:15 am

        Sorry if I have the facts wrong: a letter in evidence says that (at the time letter was written) there had been 5 graduate students, 3 left, and none graduated. Thus, 60%. Another states that a university investigation determined misconduct regarding the relationship. Of course that PDF probably doesn’t contain all the evidence at issue.

        • Cornell Physics PhD June 28, 2017 at 8:16 am

          Blah, you are not misinformed. To my knowledge, in 2009-2010 5 graduate students and one research assistant were affiliated with MV’s research group (A-F). One graduate student (A) left almost immediately to a highly prestigious institution where he has gone on to publish a Nature paper with over 500 citations on Google scholar. That student had excelled in first year classes and he left Cornell because there was no AMO research group which offered a good fit. One graduate student (B) went on medical health leave and she later left Cornell. Two more graduate students (C,D), including the student with whom MV allegedly had a sexual relationship, left Cornell around 2012 to finish their PhDs at other institutions with more established programs in AMO physics. The research assistant (E), who had hoped his research in MVs group would lead to admission to Cornell, left the group citing a hostile work environment and is no longer in academia. This leaves one graduate student (F) who completed his degree in MV’s group after 9 years of study and stints in 2-3 other groups which weren’t good fits. While this student’s perseverance in MV’s group is highly admirable, he had no other option if he wished to complete his degree.

          In my opinion, this is a divisive case involving, at best, poor mentorship and, at worst, sexual assault and coercion. I am quite concerned for the current students in MV’s research group. These dedicated students have persevered through very challenging circumstances to conduct excellent scientific research. In fact, MV would have no tenure case whatsoever if it were not for their research successes and steadfast support. I sincerely hope that regardless of the outcome of this case these students will be offered positions where they can focus on continuing their research instead of on vocally defending their advisor on the internet.

          *Note – all observations on MV’s graduate student mentorship record are my own and based on my recollections as a student in the same department. I apologize for any inconsistencies or errors which may have inadvertently occurred.

          • Cornell Physics PhD Reply July 1, 2017 at 12:57 am

            Blah and Cornell Physics PhD, you both seem misinformed.
            ‘A’ had already made his decision to leave Cornell before he started working in Vengalattore’s group as a stop gap measure.
            B’s medical reasons can hardly be blamed on Vengalattore.
            C and D are the two students who, even I recall from the time, left Vengalattore’s group.
            Who is E? You are probably misinformed. One RA graduated successfully from Vengalattore’s group (after C and D left Vengalattore’s group) and got admission into a Cornell PhD program.
            The 9 year PhD student you cite was one of the “people from the Indian subcontinent”, to use Cornell’s words regarding Vengalattore and his then graduate students. That student completed his PhD based on work done in Vengalattore’s labs within 4 1/2 years. The insinuation that that student had no other option but to be with Vengalattore is unfounded – that student could have joined any other group. If at all, it speaks a great deal about Vengalattore’s abilities to get that student to successfully defend his PhD within 4 1/2 years.

            Then, at the end of the day, we have two students, C and D, who left his group because they and Vengalattore did not get along well.

            Given another professor’s (Keith Schwab’s) assessment that “This means that Mukund gets graduate students who came to Cornell not intending to do [AMO] physics. And largely, this means another group rejected them. So they came to work with some other professors, those guys fired them, and then Mukund gets the scraps… So, here’s Mukund trying to do some of the most difficult experiments that human beings do with students who are not motivated and who have already been passed over.”, is it inconceivable that Vengalattore may not be the solely responsible party for C and D leaving his group?

          • Cornell Physics PhD July 1, 2017 at 8:02 am

            Thanks for confirming Blah’s original assertion that more than 60 percent of MV’s 2009-2011 graduate students did leave. In fact, the math indicates the number is 80 percent. Regardless of their reasons for leaving, this information has been omitted from all the news coverage regarding this case. Those alumni are not listed on the MV webpage, though it does appear that every single undergraduate who spent a few months in the lab is listed. What is MV afraid we might discover? Even his successful graduate student (F) admitted in a tenure letter that MV expressed frustration in “unconstructive ways”. I personally witnessed MV’s loud, angry sounding voice echoing through the basement of Clark Hall through the closed doors of his lab.

            As for racism against international students and professors, it certainly exists. I’ve observed colleagues “from the Indian subcontinent” experience bias in hiring and in the paper review process as well as harassing comments. It’s clearly an issue which needs to be tackled at the level of the national professional organizations, such as the American Physical Society. IMO it would be a start to require American graduate students go through a training analogous to the training international students already receive when they arrive at Cornell, except focused on detecting and preventing implicit bias and on cultural sensitivity. Research proves that it’s all too easy to treat people you identify with differently from those you do not, an issue which can impact not only the careers of international scientists, but also women and LGBT+ individuals.

          • Cornell Physics PhD Reply July 1, 2017 at 1:55 pm

            Cornell Physics PhD, what is the point you are trying to make?
            There were two students who left Vengalattore’s group.
            The other two left for personal reasons – irrelevant for judging Vengalattore.
            The news has not “reported” irrelevant statements precisely because they are irrelevant.

          • Cornell Physics PhD July 1, 2017 at 3:12 pm

            I simply find it odd that in the extensive timeline of events beginning in Summer 2008 and extending to the present day, there is no mention of these other students. The retention rate in MV’s lab from 2009- 2014 was mentioned in the letters in the tenure file. It’s hard to argue successfully that these details are irrelevant to the case.

  • Karen June 27, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    The “thin publication record” was noted by the external reviewers, who as Michael notes above are experts in the field, and consequently they “explicit[ly]” did not recommend Vengalattore for promotion. I suppose those reviewers could have been biased in some way, but that seems like a stretch of the imagination.

    Beyond that, though, he had a romantic/sexual relationship with a student under his supervision, in explicit violation of university policy (not to even mention what is professionally and morally appropriate). And then he lied about it.

    I think he’s lucky that he didn’t get fired on the spot. I am awed – but not surprised – by the gall and hubris of this person to fight for re-evaluation of his situation.

    • Equining Around June 27, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      The student accusing him of sexual assault has an ax to grind. She first accused him of throwing an object at her. She waited for a year, then after finding out that the faculty had voted to give him tenure, she accused him of sexual assault. The department did not inform the professor of these accusations, and he was never given a chance to confront his accuser.

      This student also confided in another woman that “if she had her way, Vengalattore wouldn’t get tenure.”

      Look up the full timeline of the case on the Cornell Sun web site.

      • Blah June 28, 2017 at 5:10 am

        Karen didn’t say anything about those accusations and those accusations weren’t a stated basis for the tenure decisions… the existence of an undisclosed romantic relationship with a student doesn’t seem to be disputed by anyone, and it was officially a secondary factor in the decision.

        Looks like Cornell screwed up by hoping it could deny tenure and it’d end there instead of dealing with HR issues in a timely way… a very common mistake that’s bad for everyone involved. Universities need to learn to address HR-type complaints immediately, forward criminal complaints to the police immediately, and have consequences for provably false reporting as well.

      • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:15 pm

        Perhaps they have an “ax to grind” because they were taken advantage of in a compromising situation…

        Her actions are entirely consistent with a sexual assult victim, in a competitive and unforgiving environment, trying to get some small amount of justice.

        • Cornell Graduate Student June 28, 2017 at 4:34 pm

          To anyone who has observed the kangaroo courts used by Cornell and other universities to railroad male students and faculty accused of assault, your notion of a ‘competitive and unforgiving environment’ is a joke. Cornell currently has the largest number of ongoing OCR investigations for denial of due process and bias against males accused of assault. Read the timeline in the Cornell Sun before judging ‘consistency’ or ‘plausibility’ … sometimes the lack of evidence is purely because the claims are simply false. Just the mere accusation, especially from a vindictive student, made years after the alleged event, does not imply guilt.

          • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:53 pm

            I am aware of that—and I agree it is deplorable. But again… there is a *finding of fact* that he had a romantic relationship with her, in clear violation of university policy… that alone vastly changes the calculus.

          • Cornell Physics PhD June 28, 2017 at 5:32 pm

            Cornell Graduate Student, were you present at Cornell during the period of time in question (Fall 2009-Spring 2011)? If you were not present, you are relying upon secondhand information to assert that there is no evidence of an inappropriate relationship. The investigation concluded that such a relationship existed based upon a preponderance of evidence. The findings of the investigation were accepted by the court. The evidence is simply not available in public court documents due to respect for the privacy of the student involved. Just because you have not seen the evidence does not mean it does not exist.

  • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    This article fails to address a key point mentioned by the presiding judge:

    “Judge Rich wrote, but it did find that Vengalattore had been involved sexually with the graduate student, according to a document filed by the University in the case.”

    Given the power dynamic, the student’s allegations are highly plausible, and proof would understandably be hard to obtain.

    • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Moreover, the WPLR found that the professor lied to them about having sexual relations with the student!

      How could anyone possibly argue that he should recieve tenure?

      • AnonReply July 1, 2017 at 12:14 am

        The WPLR investigation did not “find” anything.
        WPLR recommended something to Ritter, but Ritter had to make up her own mind.
        WPLR also asked Ritter to address Vengalattore’s objections to its report.
        WPLR also asked Ritter if more investigation should be conducted.
        Ritter, of course, was more than happy to find against Vengalattore, and she did, bypassing all protections that Cornell policies and procedures gave Vengalattore.
        No one but Ritter has “found” the allegation of a relationship to be true.

        Regarding the investigations and recommendations made by WPLR’s Mittman and Affel regarding the “romantic relationship” allegation, Prof. Kevin Clermont, the Ziff Professor of Law at Cornell, an expert in procedural law who has helped draft several of Cornell’s policies and who has followed the Vengalattore case closely, said “…there was a telling absence of direct proof such as e-mails, texts, or witnesses… a reasonable person would not find guilt, even by a preponderance [of evidence standard], unless that person made the amateurish mistake of ignoring the probative value of the absence of direct evidence after an incredibly exhaustive investigation.” Clermont has previously told the Cornell Sun that the investigation about the alleged relationship reached the “stratosphere of injustice”, and contained a “litany of procedural abuses by the investigators.”

        We should also keep in mind that Cornell has the country’s largest number of OCR investigations ongoing for bias against male students in the context of sexual assault complaints – the same people were involved in this WPLR investigation – Mittman and Affell.

  • Cornell Graduate Student June 28, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    The article also fails to mention that there was no evidence either of an assault or a romantic relationship. Prof. Clermont — the Cornell law professor who is an expert on legal procedure — told The Sun that Ritter’s “finding of an inappropriate relationship” came “after an incredibly exhaustive investigation” that yielded “a telling absence of direct proof of a romantic relationship, such as e-mails, texts, or witnesses.”

    In addition, the judge said that the professor was entitled to due process and a hearing on this allegation, but received neither. If there is no evidence, no due process and no hearing, on what basis was there a finding that the professor was involved in an inappropriate relationship?

    • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      I also find it odd that his own current students seem so keen on defending him. It is notable that they would likely not be aware of any impropriety… hence they too must rely upon the judges decision of the facts. The WPLR determination of a relationship, directly contrary to university policy, was accepted. So that’s it. That fact would need to be directly refuted now to in any substantive way exonerate this professor.

    • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Also, an expert who has a conflict of interest (at the same institute) and cannot fully evalauate all details (time, access to privliged docs) is not relevant. Unless of couse he is entered as an expert whitness…

      The judge found there was a lack of due process—there was. Deplorably so. But this professor still behaved egregiously and should hnce be denied tenure.

      • Cancer doc UK June 29, 2017 at 5:00 am

        If any academic that acted as such were denied tenure, I would humbly predict there would be 99.9% less professors.

        Perhaps I’m statistically incorrect +/- 0.1%.

  • Anon June 28, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Cornell Graduate Student
    The article also fails to mention that there was no evidence either of an assault or a romantic relationship. Prof. Clermont — the Cornell law professor who is an expert on legal procedure — told The Sun that Ritter’s “finding of an inappropriate relationship” came “after an incredibly exhaustive investigation” that yielded “a telling absence of direct proof of a romantic relationship, such as e-mails, texts, or witnesses.”
    In addition, the judge said that the professor was entitled to due process and a hearing on this allegation, but received neither. If there is no evidence, no due process and no hearing, on what basis was there a finding that the professor was involved in an inappropriate relationship?

    There was a *finding of fact*, that was * accepted by the judge*. I am not deciding this on my own… your opinion and own evaluation of the facts is not sufficient. Nor is mine. They conducted fact-finding. WPLR rendered the finding I quoted… it was accepted by the judge. Refer to the full PDF of the judgement…

  • Angelo June 28, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    I don’t know anything about this case beyond what was described in the article, but I can’t imagine why a person would sue to work at a university that voted to deny him tenure. At the university where I work, they just have tenure to a guy whose publications are not bad but not out of this world either. I think one of the reasons he got promoted is that he’s a nice person who is very active in duties outside of research. People like to work with him.

    • Gurgenschnuut July 11, 2017 at 10:50 am

      I think to be denied tenure at this point, under the circumstances would be extremely damaging to his career. The allegations would likely follow him to interviews at other departments. If he is innocent, he is likely acting on principles as well. Ultimately, he would have his job security with tenure and could still move to another department. If the allegations are false, he can feel that he stood up for himself whether or not his appeal works in his favor.

  • Cornell Graduate Student June 28, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Again, please read the court order. The judge said that ** Dean Ritter claimed there was an inappropriate relationship **. He is not attaching any credibility to Dean Ritter’s claims, nor is he claiming that such a relationship existed. To the contrary, he stated that Cornell’s own policies entitled the professor to due process and a hearing on this allegation to establish the facts and either clear the professor of these charges or lead to sanctions. Dean Ritter denied him this right to a hearing and acted as though she were a law unto herself. As a trivial example, if a scientist states that ‘Donald Trump denies climate change’, would you go around claiming that the scientist himself denied climate change?

    It is partly because Cornell continues to deny him this right to a hearing that the professor filed the contempt of court motion. Further, this student has leveled a number of allegations against this professor ever since she was fired from his group. Many of these accusations have already been proved false which is why the department and multiple committees recommended his tenure. So, there is very good reason to suspend judgement on this allegation of a relationship until there is a hearing and the facts are well and truly established. If such a hearing reveals a relationship, then I agree that the professor should be sanctioned. If on the other hand, the hearing reveals that this allegation (like the many other claims made by this student) is also false, wouldn’t you agree that Cornell had severely wronged this professor?

    • Cornell Physics PhD June 28, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      To be completely clear, the timeline shows that the student made allegations in Fall 2014. Before MV was informed of these allegations in March 2015, an independent investigation by the Office of Workplace Policy and Labor Relations (WPLR) was begun. This investigation included detailed and invasive interviews with the student, other members of the department and Cornell community, and eventually MV himself. Though these interviews and associated evidence have not been made public, the WPLR investigation concluded that they provided a preponderance of evidence to support an inappropriate sexual relationship in violation of stated Cornell policy.

      Note that this is not a criminal complaint but merely a sanctionable violation of Cornell policy. Can you point us to the letter and number of Cornell policy which indicates that a hearing must be conducted and that an independent investigation by WPLR is insufficient to prove that a violation of University policy has occurred?

      In the case of the tenure review, perhaps due process was violated because info on a pending, unconcluded investigation was included in the file unfairly. However, given that the investigation has now concluded, finding that MV violated policy and lied about it, the history of the proven violation and any sanctions imposed will certainly be included in any future tenure review according with due process.

      • Suspension Policy June 30, 2017 at 11:42 pm

        “Can you point us to the letter and number of Cornell policy which indicates that a hearing must be conducted and that an independent investigation by WPLR is insufficient to prove that a violation of University policy has occurred?”

        Article XVI, Section 10, of the Cornell University Bylaws

        • Cornell Physics PhD July 1, 2017 at 9:42 am

          It appears this defense is conflating the unproven, dismissed sexual assault allegations with the inappropriate sexual relationship which was proven to have occurred in violation of Cornell policy. There are a few points to consider here:

          1) If an investigation had been initiated on the sexual assault allegations, which would have been serious enough to warrant dismissal or suspension, MV should certainly have been due a hearing if he had followed proper procedure and informed Cornell in writing after 30 days of being informed of the allegations. However, the allegation of assault was never investigated because it was found to be time-barred. Why would MV request a hearing on allegations which were not even being investigated or pursued in any way? In fact, the only way these allegations are now public knowledge is that MV himself went to the press and informed them. Also, any mention of these allegations was redacted from his final tenure file.

          2) With regard to the inappropriate sexual relationship, it is not at all clear that MV was due a hearing according to Cornell policy. His claim in this regard rests on several key points:

          A) As he was informed of the investigation in March 2015, he must have submitted a request for a hearing specifically on the issue of the inappropriate relationship violation of Cornell policy by April 2015. I do not see such a request in evidence or listed in the timeline published by the Cornell Sun.

          B) Even if such a request had been made in a timely fashion, it’s not clear that the allegation of the inappropriate relationship was serious enough to warrant “dismissal or suspension for one semester or more”. Though such a violation, once proven, does speak to MV’s judgement and mentorship ability, and could be included in any tenure file.

          C) The Cornell policy does not specify a time at which the faculty accused of the violation must be notified of the allegation. It appears from the timeline that MV was informed and allowed to provide his evidence as soon as the investigators determined that the allegation of a relationship was credible.

          I can not speak to the inclusion of information (or lack thereof) in MV’s tenure file. It appears that there is significant grey area and latitude given to the Dean in these matters and an open tenure process might have served all parties more fairly in this case. It is only for the judge to decide whether or not MV is owed damages by Cornell. Regardless, after going to the press and informing them that he had been accused of rape and then encouraging/allowing his graduate students to spend their time vigorously defending his reputation on the internet rather than focusing on their research, MV may find it hard to obtain tenure at Cornell or any other institution. Those actions appear to me to speak volumes about his character, judgement, and mentorship ability.

          • Noan July 1, 2017 at 2:12 pm

            1) Your statement that the rape complaint was not investigated is false. It was investigated.
            Your subsequent arguments thus do not apply.

          • Cornell Physics PhD July 1, 2017 at 3:04 pm

            Noan – I am simply quoting the Cornell Daily Sun, which states that the assault was time-barred from investigation. My understanding is that “inquiry” and “investigation” have different meanings in Cornell policy parlance.

          • Cornell Physics PhD Reply July 1, 2017 at 3:43 pm

            The assault investigation is time barred by policy, and the Cornell Sun is correct in saying that.
            However, Cornell investigated the assault allegation.
            Cornell has violated policies and procedures in Vengalattore’s case routinely.

        • Cornell Physics PhD July 1, 2017 at 4:13 pm

          Ultimately, anonymous arguments on the internet are meaningless when it comes to the determination of whether Cornell did or did not violate policy. I’ve shared all the relevant facts that I’ve observed first hand and presented my informed analysis of the dossier of information available online. I have no desire to share confidential information, unsubstantiated rumors, or engage in speculation. Ultimately, this case will be decided by the judge. Then each individual in the scientific community can make up their own mind about whether or not they wish to see MV as a colleague after the events which have transpired.

    • angelo June 28, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      I would agree that, if there was no inappropriate relationship with the student, and the prof. didn’t get tenure specifically because of allegations by the student, the situation is unfair. But this is the world that we profs live in. I give my lab members a wide berth and, think carefully about the dynamics of the lab before accepting any new members. I try hard not to make enemies with people who could affect my career. It’s a tough, unfair world out there, and you have to be careful. But if the situation were reversed, and I got into trouble in m y department, I just can’t imagine suing the school to stay. I would bend over backwards to clean up the mess (even if I had been falsely accused by a student), stay on good terms with as many people as possible, and move on.

  • blah June 29, 2017 at 5:35 am

    Cornell Physics PhD
    I am quite concerned for the current students in MV’s research group.

    Important for everyone in this situation:
    1. You are not alone. This happens all over the world all of the time.
    2. If you reach out you will find that people at Cornell and elsewhere who are aware of the situation will help you; recommendations letters, etc.
    3. Your situation is worse than most, but EVERYONE needs a plan B (and plans C, D, and E). Never too late to figure out what that is.
    4. Take advantage of whatever counseling services Cornell provides (career and mental health).

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