Professor forced to retire after threatening co-author

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Ishwarlal “Kenny” Jialal

As the University of California Davis is reeling from the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi over alleged ethical violations, we’ve learned of more drama at the school: The fallout from a single retraction back in 2012 pushed one UC Davis professor into early retirement this summer without professor emeritus status.

What’s more, a UC Davis committee had recommended that former professor Ishwarlal “Kenny” Jialal retire early but maintain his professor emeritus status, and Katehi overruled that decision, deciding to strip Jialal of any future emeritus status.

Here’s the story: Jialal was found innocent of any research misconduct after Nutrition Reviews journal editors found portions of a 2008 review paper contained writing from the Linus Pauling Institute website, according to an internal investigation. However, after the first author — former postdoc Uma Singh, now an adjunct professor at Valencia College in Orlando — admitted to plagiarizing a passage, the investigation found Jialal sent her threatening emails in reaction to the perceived smear of the retraction on his reputation.

For instance, Jialal, a specialist in cardiovascular pathology, sent Singh several terse emails admonishing her; he sent a confidential report that notified Singh’s new employer of her plagiarism, and he threatened to notify immigration authorities to potentially re-examine her newly-obtained green card status, according to UC Davis documents.

One sample email Jialal sent to Singh after she left the lab read:

YOU FIND FAULT WITH EVERYBODY BUT [Y]OURSELF

YOU ARE A POOR RESEARCHER AND SHOULD ACCEPT THAT WE ARE PLANNING A DEFAMATION LAWSUIT AGAINST YOU AND I MIGHT ALSO INFRM IMMIGRATION ABOUT YOUR CONDUCT….. I REGRET DOING YOUR GREEN CARD SINCE YOU[‘]RE NOT THE SCIENTIST WE ALL PRETENDED YOU WERE.

As to whether Jialal is guilty of threatening Singh, he told us:

I plead guilty to all those charges, but this ended a career.

A three-member UC Davis committee investigated the plagiarism’s aftermath, not the plagiarism itself, and found Jialal guilty on two counts: sending his former postdoc Singh threatening and unprofessional emails plus sending Singh’s current employer a confidential copy of the plagiarism investigation. The committee recommended that Jialal retire early yet still maintain his professor emeritus status.

Singh tells Retraction Watch:

I still stand by [the UC Davis] report  where I have taken my responsibility. I fully participated with UC Davis during their investigative process and  respect their decision. After thorough investigation, ORI (the Office of Research Integrity) finally concluded as below as per text of the email that was sent to me: “You will also note that the Committee has found that you did not commit ‘intentional’ plagiarism in that you did not have a specific intent to deceive the reader.  However, the Committee did find sufficient evidence to conclude that you acted ‘recklessly’ under the Policy in that you should have known that credit to the earlier article was required.”

After this above text of email, I also got a follow up email from ORI that the case has been closed finally.

However, former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi found Jialal guilty of both charges in addition to trying to stop Singh from testifying during the investigation. Katehi recommended Jialal go on unpaid leave for six months, according to confidential university documents. After Katehi stripped Jialal of any future emeritus status, Jialal agreed to the terms on Feb. 24 and retired on June 30, though he is still listed as a team member on the UC Davis Health System website.

Jialal told us:

Robbing me of emeritus status at this stage in my life hurts me the most.

After we contacted several faculty members involved in the case, we received a statement from a UC Davis spokesperson Dana Topoursis:

Dr. Jialal has indicated that he is in the process of bringing litigation against the university, so we will not comment in detail on his various allegations nor provide interviews. Nevertheless, we can state that UC Davis is confident that it followed all appropriate processes regarding Dr. Jialal with respect to allegations of misconduct brought against him during his employment here.

In August, Katehi resigned from the university after being suspended during an investigation into allegations that include hiring her daughter and son-in-law, misappropriating student funds, using $175,000 to scrub damaging pictures of UC Davis students being pepper sprayed at a protest.

Katehi earned $420,000 over three years while on the board of Wiley and Sons, the same company that publishes Nutrition Reviews, according to a Sacramento Bee investigation.

That conflict posed a problem in Katehi’s investigation into how he treated Singh, Jialal argued:

This was a clear conflict of interest and she should have recused herself.

The university disagreed with any conflict of interest. According to Topoursis:

The charges of misconduct against Dr. Jialal resulting in findings by an independent panel of faculty peers that he had violated the Faculty Code of Conduct did not implicate the interests of Wiley and in no way posed a conflict of interest for the Chancellor. Accordingly, his allegations of a conflict of interest are without merit. In addition, the fact of the Chancellor’s membership on the Wiley board was at all times a matter of public record and was fully disclosed by the Chancellor.

During a follow up phone call, Topoursis added:

The academic world like any other institution has protections for confidentiality, so we try to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the individuals involved, so anyone who starts talking violates that – the disciplinary process is a confidential process. The outcomes of that in this case I believe are sealed. Anyone who talks about [the case] is violating that. Obviously they can’t do that, it would violate their own conduct. With the threat of litigation, it makes it even more important that we don’t break any of those principals of confidentiality.

Though Jialal signed an agreement on Feb. 24 to retire and cut all ties with the university including emeritus status by June 30, 2016, he is now trying to appeal that process. When asked why he agreed to the terms, Jialal said that university official exploited his poor health and family crises.

Over the past year, two of Jialal’s brothers died in South Africa, the country where Jialal was raised during apartheid. Jialal returned to South Africa for six weeks to help care for his 55-year-old youngest brother who had brain cancer.

According to Jialal, the trip:

brought back many unpleasant memories and I got depressed. My doctors advised that it was best to sign (the agreement) to avoid a medical catastrophe since my diabetes deteriorated such that I take insulin and 5 oral medications.

Jialal’s first attempt to appeal already failed. In a confidential letter dated July 18, 2016, Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, wrote to Acting Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter to “deny Dr. Jialal current or future emeritus status, including the privileges associated with emeritus status.”

Recently, Jialal spent time in Mexico, trying to recharge and figure out what next steps to take after a career that included over 500 journal articles, 350 speaking engagements and dozens of awards.

He told us:

My ability to write and research has been curtailed severely, I didn’t do medicine for money, I did medicine to help people. [Singh] destroyed my career. I’m academically crippled at the moment.

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