A former University of Colorado Boulder graduate student is suing his ex-advisor for defamation after being shooed out midway through his doctoral program.
Robert Roscow says he had to leave CU Boulder’s department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO) in the fall of 2016 with only a master’s degree after fish evolution researcher David Stock dropped him as a student. Their relationship deteriorated following a dispute about whether another student should perform experiments Roscow considered to be essential to his dissertation.
Once dropped, Roscow was offered the chance to find another advisor, but never did. In his complaint, filed April 25 in Boulder County District Court, Roscow claims he has evidence that Stock “poisoned the well” by badmouthing him in email and in person to other professors, ultimately preventing Roscow from completing his degree.
As first reported by BusinessDen, Roscow is also suing CU Boulder for a breach of contract and for failing to “provide [him] with the reasonable opportunity to pursue his PhD,” among other allegations.
CU Boulder declined to elaborate on the case. Chief Spokesperson Ryan Huff told us:
We are reviewing the complaint. Until we’ve had a chance to fully assess it, we can’t offer any comment on this pending litigation.
Neither Roscow nor his lawyers, Jon Banashek and Jason Pink of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti, responded to our requests for comment. Stock was similarly unresponsive.
The court documents only present Roscow’s version of events, which goes something like this: In the fall of 2012, Roscow began working on a master’s degree with Stock, then transferred into the EBIO doctoral program a year later. Things were running smoothly until around the spring of 2015, when Roscow alleges his advisor “embarked upon a scheme” to use Roscow’s data and ideas:
As part of this scheme, [Stock] began to give research work to [an undergraduate] that [Stock] knew [Roscow] was planning on performing as part of his dissertation.
Roscow complained to Stock, which began a series of escalating confrontations. In December 2015, Stock resigned as Roscow’s advisor, on the eve of a major exam that would determine whether Roscow could continue his pursuit of a PhD. Roscow never got to take the test.
After several months treading water, Roscow thought he had found a new advisor, Andrew Martin, who shared an interest in genetics. In the intervening period, the department created a new rule, requiring students to replace a lost advisor within one semester.
According to the lawsuit:
This policy did not exist at the time [Roscow] enrolled in the PhD program, and the EBIO Regulations at that time contained no provisions requiring students to replace advisors or leave the program in the event an advisor stepped down.
Before long, according to the suit, Martin reversed course and set Roscow adrift once more. Roscow got an extension over the summer and early fall to find yet another advisor, but never did. In his view, it was because of his former advisor, Stock, the suit alleges:
Stock made defamatory statements about [Roscow] to other professors in the department with the malicious intent to “poison the well,” and prevented [Roscow] from finding another co-advisor, thereby preventing him from completing the PhD program.
The court documents do not list a specific amount in damages, but Roscow — still listed in the EBIO website as a current graduate student — claims the combined actions of Stock and the university have caused him mental anguish and future earnings worth more than $100,000.
We’ll update this story as more information becomes available, either from the parties or the court. The next official action is slated to take place June 26.
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