Two professors on mandatory leave and facing allegations of research misconduct have sued the former chair of the finance department, saying he deceived them about research he was conducting.
In the lawsuit, filed in Warren County Commons Pleas Court Tuesday, Anju and Balasubramani Ramjee say Shailendra Verma intentionally interfered with their employee contracts and deceived them about research he was conducting.
They said Verma listed them as co-authors on some research papers based on theoretical discussions he had with them. They said Verma told them he backed up the discussions with research.
In the suit, the Ramjees said they have since found out that the data were fabricated and the analysis of it plagiarized.
They are seeking $25,000 in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages.
Neither the University nor Dr. Richard Snyder, the other professor on leave and facing the same allegations, are listed as defendants.
The suit involves six research papers, which were also the basis for a complaint filed with College of Business Dean Mike Carrell a year ago by a faculty member in the College of Business alleging research misconduct.
Based on the findings of a committee appointed to investigate the complaint, Rogers Redding, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, put both Dr. Ramjees, professor in the department of finance and Richard Snyder, an assistant professor of economics, on mandatory leave.
Verma, the chair of the finance department, resigned Feb. 13.
At a Finance Students Association meeting Thursday, Redding said the committee had found an additional 17 papers that raised concerns about research misconduct, bringing the total to 23.
The findings came after the committee of three tenured professors, Dr. Tom Kerns, a professor in mathematics and computer science department, Dr. Robert Kempton, a professor in the chemistry department and Dr. Matthew Shank, chair of the department of management and marketing, spent months investigating the claims, Redding said.
“What this report that they filed shows [is] that there were multiple findings of research misconduct,” Redding said. “And in this case, research misconduct means possible plagiarism, falsification of data, fabrication of results and…duplication of material from one paper to the other.”
Redding said the papers that draw from one another lack proper attribution.
The accused faculty members were given a chance to look at the preliminary report and submit new or omitted evidence before the final report was filed.
The professors appealed the findings, but Redding found the appeals to be groundless.
Redding now has to decide what the next step will be. He said he was unable to comment on future actions.
Despite the update, students were still concerned about the status of their classes and other things the professors were involved in.
Chet Powell, a senior finance major and treasurer of the Finance Student Association, said he was concerned about letters of recommendation and other materials that both Dr. Ramjees and Dr. Verma compiled for him.
Dean Carrell said he would handle such cases himself.
Linda Marquis, a professor in the accountancy department, said the Career Development Center was ready to help students if they felt they needed assistance.
“The Career Development Center is working to help … students talk about this situation when they go on job interviews because it is clearly going to be something that they’re going to be asked about,” she said. “They are preparing for an influx of finance students to come in.”
Powell said he appreciated the help he’s been offered, but a letter of recommendation from the chair of the finance department carries a certain weight, especially for finance students.
Other students wondered if there would have been a better time to take action instead of in the middle of the semester, so that classes could continue uninterrupted without new professors.
“One could make the argument that it would have been cleaner if the semester had been over,” Redding said. “However, we were under some timing mandate as far as the procedure in the faculty handbook.”
Redding said it made “no sense” to put disciplinary action on hold until the semester was over.
“I couldn’t live with that,” he said.
The explanation was not enough for Sam Schaffner, a senior finance major.
“So instead of saying time-out, you just went ahead and screwed us,” he said.
Schaffner said he had difficulty getting help on a test because the new professor didn’t understand the part of the question he was having trouble with and ultimately decided to throw the question out.
“Let me put it to you this way,” said Redding. “It seems to me that first of all, the classes that you’re in and the courses that you’re taking, the dean is taking care to protect those.”
If the professors had been allowed to finish the semester, Redding said, the College of Business would have been subject to criticism from people wondering why action wasn’t taken sooner.
Dean Carrell said the professors who have taken over in the finance department have been instructed to follow the suspended instructor’s syllabi in order to maintain continuity.
Redding said the credibility of the College of Business and the University would have been called into question had the professors continued to teach.
Redding said he thought the University’s credibility would be enhanced by their response, sending the message that neither faculty nor the administration tolerates such behavior.
Sara Sidebottom, vice president for Legal Affairs, said if action would have been taken before the report was submitted it would have deprived the professors “of their full opportunity for a hearing.”
“It wasn’t a matter of the administration trying to second guess what this committee was going to find, because number one, that would have been totally inappropriate,” she said. “They couldn’t second guess, it wouldn’t be right, but it wouldn’t be possible because the committee kept their investigation confidential until they turned the report over to the provost.”
“I think it’s been a couple of days for us to kind of take it in,” said Powell. “When it first happened, I was pissed. And the more I thought about it, I understand that the school’s credibility is on the line.”
Powell said the replacement professors should be given some time before complaints are made.
“Let’s give them a couple weeks, then we can base our argument,” he said. “We don’t know these people.
“Within a couple weeks, if we’re not happy, we’ll have to voice our opinion,” he said. “I’m going to be pissed if [in] a couple weeks I find out that I’m still the one getting up doing the problems on the board.”