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Professor accused of making students watch dogs, be waiters

November 19, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri-Kansas City is expanding its investigation of a professor after a Kansas City Star story revealed allegations that he coerced students to perform personal favors, including watching his dog and acting as waiters and busboys.

The Star reported Sunday that School of Pharmacy professor Ashim Mitra, an Indian immigrant, made the demands exclusively of Ph.D. candidates from India who were in the U.S. on student visas.

Mitra has denied wrongdoing.

The university said it would expand an inquiry of Mitra after a Star investigation on Sunday revealed the allegations.

“Once our fact-finding is complete, we will take any and all disciplinary action as necessary,” Chancellor Mauli Agrawal said in a statement to students, faculty and staff.

The Star reported that for decades, Mitra directly and indirectly threatened students pursuing their doctorate degrees so that they felt compelled to watch his dog, water his plants and act as waiters and busboys at events put on by his Indian cultural group.

Some of the students told The Star that they performed the work because Mitra, who had brought the university millions of dollars in research grants, had the power to force them out of school, which would mean they would lose their visas.

Another pharmacy school professor from India, Mridul Mukherji, is suing Mitra and the University of Missouri Board of Curators, the dean of the pharmacy school and a former administrator. Mukherji claims he was the victim of discrimination and harassment after raising concerns in a 2014 formal complaint about Mitra’s behavior.

Agrawal wrote in his statement that he became aware of Mukherji’s complaint when he arrived as chancellor earlier this year. He said the complaint could not be substantiated at the time due to a lack of corroborating witnesses.

Agrawal called the treatment of students described in The Star “highly concerning and disappointing.” He said the university will launch a review of all its processes for handling complaints “to ensure that they are aligned with the intent of our policies and result in full and thorough investigations.”

UMKC Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer told the Star that the university had recently improved procedures for investigating complaints against faculty, and that the University of Missouri System, which also includes campuses in Columbia, Rolla and St. Louis, adopted new standards of faculty conduct.

The document says faculty must “avoid exploitation, harassment or discriminatory treatment of students.”

The Star reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents, listened to secret recordings provided by Mukherji and talked to nearly a dozen students who had worked in Mitra’s lab as part of its investigation.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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