Embattled math professor Gabor Lukacs and the University of Manitoba had their much-anticipated day in court on Jan. 20.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Deborah McCawley reserved her decision on issue of whether
Lukacs was justified in suing the university over the decision to award a PhD to a student who did not pass a comprehensive candidacy exam required to graduate. The student claimed to suffer from extreme exam anxiety.
Lukacs’s lawyer Robert Tapper argued that as professor at the university, a member of the graduate studies committee, “and as a person vitally concerned with the quality and integrity of the academic process, he is entitled to be concerned about this issues of PhD diplomas.”
Tapper said that the issue affects Lukacs directly because it affects the quality of grad students he’s able to attract and the quality of the degrees “he is teaching people to achieve.”
“[ . . . ] He doesn’t want the institution of the U of M math department becoming a diploma mill,” Tapper said.
Jamie Kagan, who is representing the university, asserted that the professor was not directly affected by the decision to grant the student their PhD and thus has no right to sue the university.
“[ . . . ] He never taught the child, his grades aren’t an issue, he never sat an exam for the student. [ . . . ] This was all handled by people who are specialized in the area of disabilities, who found a balancing act with a person with a disability’s right to an education and the academic obligation to maintain high standards,” Kagan said.
“We do this everyday and we have a specialized department, not math professors, but actual medical people who are making sure that that balance is maintained and we did that.”
Lukacs maintained that his major concern was over the integrity of the university, pointing out that the U of M is the only medical doctoral university in the province of Manitoba.
“[ . . . ] There is an issue for my entire career. [ . . . ] It’s a question of whether or not I’m an employee at a respectable university or not, and the signs are quite disturbing,” said Lukacs.
When asked whether or not he believed the student had a legitimate disability, Lukacs said he felt the issue was not about disability at all.
“The issue is that there is a particular procedure for accommodating this disability and it was not followed,” he said.
Lukacs said the real issue was over reasonable accommodation, and called dean of graduate studies John Doering’s decision to waive an academic requirement for the student “an unprecedented decision.”
“I don’t think anybody would have had any issues with this decision had it been an accommodation and not a waiver. My point is that a waiver of a requirement is not accommodation,” he said.