Cornell's Harassment of the Vengalattore Labs

Vengalattore vs Cornell University, Gretchen Ritter

Starting 2009, Prof. Mukund Vengalattore has established Cornell University's first and only AMO research group.

In April 2014, Prof. Vengalattore came up for a promotion ("tenure") to the position of an Associate Professor in the Physics department.

The Cornell Physics Department voted in favor of and recommended Prof. Vengalattore's tenure in September 2014, noting his "extraordinary technical skills", his "outstanding teaching abilities", his "highly sophisticated atomic physics laboratory" and "great success in attracting research funding".

The Dean of Arts and Sciences, Gretchen Ritter, against the recommendation, denied Prof. Vengalattore tenure in October 2014.

Following an unsuccessful appeal by the Physics Department and Prof. Vengalattore to get Ritter to reverse her decision, Gretchen Ritter's decision was then appealed at the University level, following which an independent University Committee deliberated over the case for over nine months and in December 2015, upheld the appeal. The committee's investigation revealed multiple factors which caused Ritter's decision to be "flawed and incomplete". The Committee noted that (i) the Physics department had discriminated against Prof. Vengalattore and "hindered Prof. Vengalattore's ability to grow his research program in a timely manner", (ii) that false allegations and unsubstantiated claims of misconduct had prejudiced faculty votes against Prof. Vengalattore, and (iii) the Committee's own investigation had caused the Committee to be deeply skeptical of these allegations and (iv) that multiple individuals had attested that a former student had "engaged in a campaign to sabotage the tenure review". Lastly, the Committee also noted that the Physics department administrators, Parpia and Gibbons, should be subject to disciplinary action for their roles in the pervasive flaws in Prof. Vengalattore's tenure review.

The Committee issued specific instructions for Gretchen Ritter to rectify shortcomings in the Professor's tenure review, and to reconsider her decision. Gretchen Ritter refused to implement the instructions of the Committee, and formed a separate ad hoc Committee after deliberately removing from the tenure dossier key documents demonstrating the Professor's teaching and mentoring abilities. Despite this improper manipulation of the tenure dossier and Ritter's continued attempts to prejudice the review, the new ad hoc Committee also unanimously recommended positively for Prof. Vengalattore's tenure in February 2016. Yet again ignoring this recommendation, Gretchen Ritter denied Prof. Vengalattore tenure.

Following Gretchen Ritter's actions, the case returned to the University Committee for further deliberation. In March 2016, it still found serious deficiencies in the tenure process due to Ritter's refusal to rectify the flaws in Prof. Vengalattore's tenure review. As per University policy, the University Committee instructed Cornell to form an independent panel of scholars from outside Cornell to evaluate Prof. Vengalattore's academic qualifications and make an independent recommendation on his tenure. In order to circumvent external scrutiny of this flawed and unfair process, Cornell explicitly lied to Prof. Vengalattore about the University Committee's decision, further ignored their instructions, refused to form the independent committee, and denied Prof. Vengalattore tenure. (See PDF1, PDF2, PDF3.)

When Cornell's deceit was called out, and following complaints lodged against the responsible administrators by Prof. Vengalattore's students, in May 2016, Cornell gave Prof. Vengalattore and his research group a 5-week ultimatum to leave Cornell after which access to their labs and ongoing federal research would be barred. Prof. Vengalattore filed a lawsuit against Cornell University and Gretchen Ritter in June 2016, immediately following which an interim restraining order was issued against Gretchen Ritter and Cornell University requiring Cornell to cease the harassment and disruption of Prof. Vengalattore's research group. (TRO)

In November 2016, a New York State Supreme Court decided in favor of Prof. Vengalattore, calling out Cornell for its "arbitrary and capricious" actions, unfair tenure review and multiple violations of Prof. Vengalattore's due process rights. (Court Order)

These pages collate the publicly available documents re the matter, accessible through the Schuyler County Clerk's Office, New York.

Over the intervening period since 2014, Cornell has repeatedly acted in bad-faith against Prof. Vengalattore and his research group. Multiple complaints have been lodged against several Physics Department and University Administrators in response to their harassment, discrimination and retaliation against Prof. Vengalattore and his group. These pages also include the publicly available documents re the matter.

The timeline of Cornell's actions against Prof. Vengalattore and his group can be viewed here.

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