Faculty wife turned whistleblower wife
Though I started out as a faculty wife, I ended up a whistleblower wife. Faculty wife was much better. Instead of existing on the fringes, I belonged. Colleagues and co-workers were like family to my husband and me. We were important to them or so we thought. That all changed when, in the course of his duties, my husband discovered and reported scientific fraud.
We worked on the same university campus and in truth I struggled to live up to my husband's reputation. People admired how he conducted research, managed his lab and teaching schedule and helped foundering students, turning them around and setting them back on course. Administration noticed and asked him to turn around a failing Microscopy Center. He agreed and among numerous initiatives, worked with Administration to create backups with the latest technology for the Center's accounting and imaging data. It was this attention to detail that caused so much pain for him and ultimately for our family.
Years ago, a technician in the Center alerted my husband to suspected scientific fraud by a user. After my husband studied the situation, he informed the principal investigator of what a member of his research group was perpetrating. The investigator was a high ranking academic administrator and my husband suspected he was too busy to be aware of this potential danger. Far from being grateful for the heads up, the investigator first dismissed then, when pressed, tore into my husband. Later, the fraud re-surfaced when others independently confronted the investigator on the preposterous results. His defense to the proof they presented was that he did not know what had transpired in his own laboratory. Despite evidence to the contrary, the investigator, well known to Administration for nefariousness, was exonerated. He then turned his attention to the personal and professional destruction of my husband. With that, he succeeded.
In the following years, our house was vandalized, rumors assuaging my husband's character were plastered on walls and threatening letters sent to our home. We begged for help from University Administration and got none. Deafening silence ensued from the employee union all the way through to the Office of the President. In light of recurring vandalism and on the advice of law enforcement, we used our modest inheritance and our children's college fund to hire legal representation-not a dream team but local firms that proved no match for the State institution that had become our adversary. Where were my husband's colleagues? Where were the folks who had benefited from his knowledge and teaching? They hid. In lawyerly terms, we won, settling in State and US Courts, not for money but for a portion of the legal fees we owed and small extensions of my husband's contract. Meanwhile, his colleagues (fully aware of the situation), went on with their comfortable lives.
We suspect our lawyers knew all along what being a whistleblower meant. It has been years since my husband's academic career ended. The end was abrupt and cold. His employment records document a "termination" not a retirement. My husband's publications, textbooks and inventions (that still bring revenue to his former employer) are all that remain of his professional life. What could be destroyed was: the Center that he ran, his courses and his reputation. Out of economic necessity, I still work on this campus.
The average citizen neither knows nor fully understands the arcane world of experimental sciences and growing research fraud. Scientific misconduct does not captivate the imagination as does scandal in the entertainment or major league sports world. The integrity of research should matter to all of us since solid research leads to new drugs, life-saving therapies and ultimately contributes to our quality of life. Taxpayers largely fund research and scientific fraud is an expense no one can afford. Our family was severely marginalized by my husband's reporting fraud. The perpetrator went on with his life, enjoying a monstrous salary and side career teaching ethics. Former colleagues of my husband's ignore him, fearful of the institutional punishment that associating with him would bring. After 20 years of trying to follow what turned out to be a meaningless code of ethics, my husband and I face an isolated and threadbare old age