For the second time in three years, a seemingly successful, high profile UMKC professor hailing from Asia has been accused of abusing his students, this time to the point of “slave labor.”
Giving credit where it is due, the Kansas City Star did the kind of gumshoe work newspapers once routinely did in its exposé of UMKC professor of pharmacy Ashim Mitra.
More commendable still, the Star did not allow Mitra’s ethnicity–he is from India–or his ready exploitation of immigration laws to deter its reporters from exposing his years-long mischief.
Multiple students and a few colleagues have gone on the record with Star reporters Mara Rose Williams and Mike Hendricks confirming Mitra’s abuses. Reportedly, he preyed on foreign students, particularly those from India, insinuating that they could lose their student visas if they did not oblige him.
“I considered my life at UMKC nothing more than modern slavery,” Ph.D. student Kamesh Kuchimanchi told the reporters. “Slavery” may be something of an overstatement but being compelled to bail sewer water from Mitra’s basement or serving food at an off-campus bash was not what Kuchimanchi had bargained for in coming to UMKC.
“He threatened to kick me out of the university and force me to lose my visa and lose everything,” said Kuchimanchi. “That was his ammo. Either fall in line or you would be thrown out.”
Kuchimanchi was not the only student so exploited. According to the Star, during his 24 years as something of a star prof at the UMKC School of Pharmacy, Mitra “compelled his students to act as his personal servants. They hauled equipment and bused tables at his social events. They were expected to tend his lawn, look after his dog and water the house plants, sometimes for weeks at a time when he and his wife were away.”
As the Star reported, Mitra’s success in securing research dollars for UMKC encouraged the administration to turn a blind eye. Those familiar with the politics of any major university understand that Mitra’s “minority” status provided a further disincentive for any would-be whistleblower.
Former UMKC professor Richard Arend can speak to the hazards of blowing the whistle on a seemingly successful minority faculty member. A Star investigation prompted by Arend in 2014 led the Princeton Review to strip UMKC’s Bloch School of four years worth of high rankings. An independent audit confirmed that the school had submitted fraudulent data in its bid to gain national recognition.
“I blew the whistle to protect students from the harassment by [Michael] Song, harassment that was known to the School years prior to my arrival,” says Arend.
Before resigning in the midst of the rating scandal in 2015, Song, from China, was the Bloch School golden boy. He founded the “award-winning” Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2005 and led it to spurious national prominence. Arend accused his fellow Bloch professor of exploiting vulnerable Asian students much the way Mitra has been accused of exploiting his students.
“To set the record straight,” Arend told the Sentinel, “I blew the whistle to nine levels of UM/UMKC administration, including Presidents and Curators, prior to going to the press.” As Arend tells it, “No one wanted to act on [Dr. Michael] Song or the alleged frauds, even though they had reports of serious issues about them prior to my time at UMKC.”
For his efforts, UMKC fired Arend. He was the first tenured faculty member in ten years to be fired for cause. “The process was a true kangaroo court, he told the Sentinel. “No discovery, no witnesses under oath, no full cross-examination, no subpoenaing of necessary records or witnesses, no qualified judge, no impartial jury.”
One of Mitra’s colleagues, Mridul Mukherji, also from India, can surely empathize with Arend’s plight. He is currently suing Mitra and university officials. According to the Star, “The lawsuits claim that Mitra mistreated vulnerable foreign students and that the university retaliated against Mukherji when he complained.”
For those wanting more information on the Mitra case, the Star article cited above is worth the read as is the recent Sentinel article on Richard Arend and Michael Song.
If UMKC were an outlier, taxpayers in Kansas and elsewhere might not concern themselves, but it is not. As the Sentinel has reported for the last two years, no public university is above the kind of soft core institutional corruption state-funded bureaucracies tend to breed.