University of Missouri at Kansas City. Photo credit: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Grad Student 'Slavery' Prompts Professor Resignation

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Forced Labor

A professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City has resigned following reports that he exploited his graduate students for free labor.

Ashim K. Mitra, the professor at the center of the case, resigned a day before the university made a final decision on his fate.

Two months ago The Kansas Star reported that Mitra was taking advantage of his graduate students from India in the School of Pharmacy, telling them to do his home lawn work, care for his home while he and his wife were away, walk his dog, and perform other chores.

The graduate students, all foreigners, feared that they would be kicked out of the program or have their visas cancelled if they didn’t comply with Mitra’s orders.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Russell B. Melchert, dean of the School of Pharmacy, told students in an email that officials had learned of additional complaints against Mitra from former students in his lab.

In a statement, C. Mauli Agrawal, chancellor of the Kansas City campus, wrote that the university had investigated the complaints and found more students who corroborated the free-labor allegations. “As I have stated unequivocally, UMKC does not tolerate misconduct,” Agrawal wrote. “We investigate reports of misconduct and, when a report is substantiated, the violator is subject to discipline.”

Mitra had been on paid suspended leave since the reports of his conduct came to light in November.

Dozens of former students described their relationship with Mitra as “modern slavery,” the Star reported. In one instance several students were asked to clear water from Mitra’s flooded basement, at his home. The Star found that the professor had made similar demands of his students throughout his 24 years at the university.

Incredibly, in a pending lawsuit brought by Mridul Mukherji, one of Mitra’s colleagues, he alleges that university administrators knew of Mitra’s deeds for years but turned a blind eye because he raked in millions of dollars in funding.

In spite of Mitra’s resignation, he insists that he did nothing wrong.

“Over the years, I have invited graduate students to my home where they have done work related to their courses of study, and at times eaten meals prepared by my wife,” he said.

“I have not required anyone to perform chores unrelated to their studies.”

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