Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Harran Case: TENURED, NOT "GET OUT OF JAIL, FREE"


Reflecting on the Patrick Harran / Sheri Sangji Case. (This is in response to Deborah Blum's "Bad Chemistry: An Update on the Sheri Sangji Case" at Wired.
For almost five years, I held true to my belief that Patrick Harran should not be held accountable for Sheri Sanji's death. That was from my experience at different stages of learning to do good science. With a wide variety of experience in different laboratories at research universities as well as many years at a prestigious federal research institution I had worked with more than a handful of PIs (Principal Investigators). 
Though controversial, my stand was always:
If I were to die due to a lab accident, I would never want John/Dan/Robert/etc to be blamed. I wished my family would just understand that Patrick Harran's "negligence" was really not what it seem. It's common and no one could have predicted this would occur (perhaps an exception would be Sangi's sister, but anyways...). Thus, I would rather just die in peace knowing that my awesome mentor can continue with his work. That was my take on the case.

Entering 2013, my to-be thesis adviser turns out to be no John, no Dan, no Robert, no etc. It turned out to be a Adolf Hitler in disguise. Publicly, he's an easygoing "nicest guy" in the world. Every lab member respect him. I respected him.
Suddenly, sequestration came, the guy got desperate with funding to the point of ignoring what we all should've learned in our basic research integrity class. That was still okay. I guess you have to steal to feed your family sometimes. 
But that eventually led to discrimination, university policies, and violation of state and federal laws. That is purposely harassing graduate students. 
What woudl happen to him? Probably nothing much. Being tenured gives you this freedom to do things that doesn't have to act in line with the law. It does have to, on the surface, be align with the university "law" which supposedly modified from the federal/state law. 
Investigations occur internally, and probably gets carried out by one of his/her buddies, who just got promoted to the dean of students/affairs/grad studies/etc. The buddy is just there to ensure they cover each others' tracks. Who gets screwed? Basically everyone else -- staff, grad students, and so forth. 

All I can say is that I never felt harassed that much in my entire life. And it seems the law violator is getting away with it.

As in Harran's situation. Now, I believe it is time faculty are treated as regular citizens. Any violation of the law, willfully or not, should be handled just as any employers/citizens would. Tenure doesn't give you the right to break the law. "Tenured" does not make you "God." There is NO "GET OUT OF JAIL, FREE."