PhD legal battle comes to a close

A case that saw the University of Manitoba embroiled in a highly publicized legal battle with one of its professors for close to a year came to a conclusion in late August.

On Aug. 24, more than eight months after reserving her decision, Justice Deborah McCawley ruled that U of M math professor, Gabor Lukacs, lacked “public- and private-interest standing” and supported the university’s application to strike his application for judicial review of the decision to award a PhD to a student who did not pass a comprehensive exam requirement.

The student’s name cannot be revealed due to a publication ban.
In an interview with the Manitoban, Lukacs said that he disagreed with the judge’s ruling but would not criticize it in the “court of public opinion.”
“If I do criticize her decision, it will be in the court of appeal,” he said.

Lukacs had taken the university and its dean of graduate studies, Jay Doering, to court last fall following the university’s decision to award the PhD degree to the student in question.

When asked to address his reasoning for disputing the university’s decision, considering that he was not professionally linked to the student, Lukacs explained that he was worried about the harm awarding this Ph.D. would have on the reputation of the University of Manitoba and what stigmas might be attached to a graduate’s credentials in light of this case.

He went on to say that he wants “an employer seeing a degree from the University of Manitoba [to say]: ‘This is someone with a degree from a trustworthy institution, and the student who bears this certificate will surely be a quality expert in his or her field.’”

John Danakas, director of Marketing Communications for the U of M, said that the university was “pleased that Justice McCauley ruled in its favour on the question of whether or not Professor Lukacs had the legal standing to sue over the matter of an accommodation for a student with a disability.”

“The university was obligated to accommodate this proven, professionally diagnosed disability,” he added.
In the wake of Justice McCawley’s ruling, the university has met with criticism at home and abroad.

In a blog entry on the website of the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, titled: “Why I’m getting my PhD from the ‘University’ of Manitoba,” James Delingpole criticizes the institution for being overly accommodating and suggested that the U of M might be a “diploma mill,” an accusation that the university vehemently refutes.

In response to a question about the post, Danakas said that:
“The University of Manitoba remains committed to the principles of academic integrity and excellence. We are confident that a degree from the University of Manitoba is widely respected and valued. Our alumni prove this every day as they are recognized for achieving great things around the world in a wide variety of fields.”

In talking to the Manitoban, Lukacs said he was also concerned about the comments in McCawley’s ruling stating that the university is a private entity, and decisions made on its behalf are private decisions. He argues that an institution that relies so much on public money should be accountable to that public.

Robert Tapper, Lukacs’ lawyer, agreed with his client and told the Manitoban
he felt that this part of McCawley’s ruling was “incorrect.” However,
Tapper didn’t feel that “anyone will pay much attention” to McCawley’s comments about the public or private nature of universities. He added that “there are a number of decisions [about universities being public or private entities] that say other things.”

Danakas would not speculate on the university’s course of action should Lukacs
decide to appeal, nor would the mathematics professor say what his plans going
forward were.

Danakas stated that in light of the controversy surrounding the case, the U of M will be reviewing its policies surrounding accommodating student with disabilities.
Danakas concluded his response to the Manitoban’s questions by stating that “[the U of M’s] Senate has struck a committee which is studying how these decisions ought to be made, and it will be issuing a report to Senate later this year.”
Danakas would not speculate on the university’s course of action should Lukacs decide to appeal McCawley’s decision, nor would the mathematics professor say what his plans going forward were.