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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/7/19

Academic whistle blowing is dangerous to your health

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Message Ann Berrios

Reporting scientific fraud made my husband a whistleblower - a hero to some, a snitch to others and avoided by all. Fired, he lost his professional identity and suffered the academic whistle blower's fate- ceasing to exist before he died. Colleagues abandoned him as if he had committed an unspeakable atrocity. Despite their protected status as tenured professors, they chose the right side of administration over standing for what was right.

My husband directed a microscopy imaging center at a state university. There, he discovered, studied and reported scientific fraud in the lab of the Vice President for Research who reacted violently to my husband's disclosure. Later, not one but two investigative committees confirmed the fraud. The Vice President escaped censure by claiming ignorance and blaming a subordinate. Removed as Vice President but promoted to Vice Dean, he thrived and negotiated paid leave to study theology and train as a pastor. As Vice Dean, he supervised my husband's work and built a spurious case against him.

Graffiti assailing my husband's character appeared on a wall in his academic department. At home, I received letters defaming him. Vandals desecrated our property. We reported it all to the university President who took no action. County police urged us to seek relief through the courts when the university failed to respond. We emptied our savings, children's college funds and mortgaged our house to hire lawyers whom we hoped would succeed where we had failed. Mounting legal bills made me avoid my own mailbox. The department chair reduced my husband's lab space, refused to support his grant applications and assigned him courses that his colleagues had assiduously avoided. University chief legal counsel defended the tenured professor who committed the fraud just as she had done many times before protecting him against substantiated charges of sexual and scientific misconduct At depositions, the state attorney general representing the university publicly questioned my husband's competency and worthiness. She considered us the enemy despite my being her life long constituent. After many costly delays, we won two court cases settling for employment extensions and our legal fees. Though poorer, we survived the ordeal without a lien or bankruptcy but with the second mortgage that exists to this day.

Litigation concluded, my husband's academic departmental chair followed his medical school dean's orders and fired him claiming a financial shortfall.. After his termination, the independent Appointment, Promotion and Tenure committee promoted my husband to full professor based on his academic performance and commendations from outside reviewers. His promotion was unique in that it came without tenure.

Walks on the beach, swims and service to our community replaced his career but could not ameliorate the job loss. He spent his last years worrying about his family, his finances and ultimately his health. My husband suffered a heart attack then terminal cancer and died on February 6th.

University administrators and the state attorney general made an example of my husband - not for his teaching (that elicited standing ovations from his students), his inventions (that still produce revenue) his textbooks (produced by premiere academic publishing houses) or his often cited reproducible scientific research but for the cruel punishment they inflicted on him for reporting fraud. The database that my husband protected belongs to all of us. From it, we get advances in medicine and technology. Our taxes pay for the research that supports the database. University administrators should reward employees who demonstrate integrity and remove those who threaten it despite their tenured or permanent status. If they had done so, I suspect my husband's colleagues would have offered him the support he deserved.

(Article changed on November 7, 2019 at 19:20)

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I am a wife, mother and office worker (for 40 years). I write when I can and I live on a New York island.

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