Cornell Withholds Ph.D. After Candidate Questions Harassment Charge Against Advisor

Students throw their mortarboards in the air during their graduation photograph at the University of Birmingham degree congregations on July 14, 2009 in Birmingham, England
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A Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University is having his degree withheld because he questioned the legitimacy of a sexual harassment allegation against his advisor.

The student, Yogesh Patil, had been pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at Cornell University for seven years before a Title IX complaint lodged against him would deprive him of his diploma. The complaint alleges that Patil created a website to defend her advisor, Prof. Mukund Vengalattore, against a sexual harassment complaint. The site details and criticizes the complaint made about Prof. Vengalattore. However, Patil completely denies that he owns or operates the site.

This week, 19 Cornell Law School professors signed a letter that demands the university give Patil his degree. “Cornell University has withheld Yogesh’s degree in response to the mere filing of this complaint,” the letter begins. “Cornell might be thereby placing itself in the cross-hairs for disastrous publicity and exposing itself to substantial legal liability.”

Although Patil has been accused of retaliating against his advisor’s accuser, the law professors point out that the accuser is, in effect, more so retaliating against Patil for defending his advisor.

If there was retaliation in this sequence, it was the complaint made by [LA] against Yogesh, retaliating for his actively supporting his professor’s case against Cornell, for being an honest witness against [her] during the investigations into her allegations against the professor, and for having lodged complaints against her with Cornell’s Judicial Administrator and other University officials as well as with the federal Office of Civil Rights.

The law professors point out that the bizarre situation impedes on Patil’s ability to find employment. Additionally, Patil will be forced to incur a substantial legal cost if he is to sue Cornell over their refusal to award him his degree.

The harm that Yogesh is suffering is huge. The University’s action has certainly tainted emotionally the long march to a Ph.D. Yogesh is going to incur great expense if forced to sue to lift Cornell’s hold on his degree. Critical to Yogesh, the situation impedes his employment plans.

Patil has started a GoFundMe to raise money for his lawsuit against the university. As of Thursday, Patil has raised almost $10,000 of $75,000 goal.

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