How One University Destroyed A Whistleblower’s Career
My university employer destroyed my husband (a professor) because he reported fraud by a principal investigator who was also a high ranking administrator. This act claimed my husband’s career, his finances and his health. The person who committed the fraud lost nothing. University counsel defended him for free; he used a paid sabbatical to pick up training as an itinerant preacher and, though well past retirement age, still holds a “no show” job generously compensated by an unknowing public.
My husband ran a university microscopy imaging center. A technician working there shared with my husband his suspicions about fraud in a top lab. My husband studied the situation and proved the technician correct. He alerted the Principal Investigator responsible for the lab who instantly and violently rebuked him. Months later a group of Professors, (independent of my husband) learned of the fraudulent results and conducted a sting operation that successfully nabbed the Investigator. Caught, he claimed ignorance and blamed a subordinate in his research group. University administration accepted his explanation, and the Professors said nothing further. My husband, custodian of crucial contradictory evidence, had to be erased.
We got no university help for the vandalism to our home and the chaos to my husband’s career that followed. For representation, we used our savings to hire a local law firm that lived off retainers paid by whistleblowers turned unemployable by this university. University administration showed no interest in the truth. Our finances dwindled as curiously sympathetic judges accepted their repeated requests for delays.
We took the University as far as we could financially with two cases that we won in name only. What could have been solved easily dragged on for many years with my husband accepting all the punishments designed to intimidate: silence from his peers, no support for grant applications, a reduction in his lab space and crushing course assignments. Our lawyers got paid, the bank that holds our second mortgage did not. The hefty check we write monthly serves as a cruel reminder of the cost of following what turned out to be a meaningless faculty code of ethics.
Although there is no good time to get fired, my husband was fired just as my daughter started her first year of college. Too young to retire, too old to find other work and financially strapped, he languished. His briefcase overflowed with job applications that yielded nothing. The creased khakis, polished shoes and professionally laundered shirts that crowd our closet recall a once proud career dismissed with a two sentence long termination letter sent by the Dean five years ago. Along with his job, my husband lost opportunities for awards, promotions, pay increases and the other life-affirming advantages of a long career. His lab was dismantled and transferred to the instigator. His modest but much-needed salary was disbursed among others deemed more worthy. With our diminished status, our quality of life plummeted.
Colleagues, all in the know, remained silent in the face of the department chair who did as he was told, the medical school dean who did what was convenient and the university president who did nothing at all: public servants who neglected the public interest.
To earn their privilege, West Point cadets are supposed to follow a famously strict honor code. Tenure, also a powerful privilege, requires little in return. Though in a unique position to identify and report fraud, few tenured professors report due to retaliation and toothless whistleblower protection policies. Silence covers-up wrongdoing and costs lives. The public supports research with tax dollars and depends on the vigilance of the research since scientific papers real, stolen or fabricated look all the same to the untrained eye.
I take my husband for chemo treatments in a suite crowded with other hopeful cancer sufferers receiving IV drugs in use since the 1950s. The nurses, his former students, treat him reverently. They thank him for his classes and remind him of the gifted and caring teacher he once was. From his infusion chair, he instructs them on drug interactions and quizzes them on material that he taught them not that long ago. These students are his legacy as are completely reproducible published scientific research, two textbooks by premier academic presses and inventions that earn revenue for his former employer. I am old enough to remember the war on cancer and its promise of a cure. University administration and university faculty intent on causing no harm to scientific research cash cows have so far lost for us the war on cancer.