UT grad fights to keep her degree

Janelle Polcyn

The Travis County District Court will hear UT graduate Suvi Orr’s case against the University on April 14. The University seeks to revoke Orr’s Ph.D. for the second time.

Orr graduated with a Ph.D. in chemistry in 2008. The University began to review Orr’s work when an article containing her research was published in Organic Letters, a scientific journal, and later retracted in 2011. Following the article’s retraction and two years of review, the University attempted to revoke Orr’s Ph.D. Orr then filed a complaint, and her degree was reinstated in 2014. The University filed to revoke her degree again in September 2015.

“It all basically generated when they had to pull or retract the article that was published, that’s really what started it,” Orr’s lawyer David Sergi said.

According to the retraction statement, Orr’s results could not be reproduced, and the University claims her falsified research was included in her dissertation. The University declined to comment on case specifics.

“The University cannot legally discuss the academic records or performance of our students, including the issues raised in this lawsuit,” spokesperson Gary Susswein said in an email.

Orr claims the University is unduly punishing her instead of her tenured graduate advisor, chemistry professor Stephen Martin.

“They intend to revoke her Ph.D., making her the sacrificial lamb to protect [the University’s] tenured professor Stephen Martin,” Orr’s petition reads. “Rather than have professor Martin admit his own errors and shortcomings as a graduate advisor … the University has [attempted] to revoke [Orr’s] Ph.D. for what may be subjective error in scientific judgment.”

Orr did not respond to requests for comment.

The plaintiff is not arguing that any facts of the case are disputable, but rather is questioning the right of the University to revoke a degree, according to Sergi.

“We’re using the attorney general’s opinion from 1969 that involved the University of Texas and the attorney general, who basically held that [the University] couldn’t revoke a degree, that the legislature didn’t give them that right,” Sergi said. “Until the legislature clarifies what the rights of the state universities are, it’s our position that they have no right to revoke a degree.”

Originally Orr’s case was to be heard by a panel of faculty members and students of varying majors. Orr requested a full trial and has been granted one in a Travis County District Court.