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Grad Student Who Obtained Restraining Order Against Adviser Expelled

By Maria H. Park
By Joshua J. Florence and Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard graduate student who obtained a restraining order against his dissertation adviser has been expelled for violating his academic probation—though a lower court initially ordered Harvard to reinstate him.

The conflict between the two began in June 2016, when Gustavo German—then a graduate student in stem cell and regenerative biology—was detained in the middle of the night for an unwanted mental evaluation by request of his adviser, stem cell researcher Lee L. Rubin. Rubin said he was concerned for German, who had stopped showing up to the lab. German, though, alleged that the forced mental exam was an act of revenge—retaliation for raising concerns about research misconduct in Rubin’s lab.

Two months later, a court handed down two orders requiring Rubin to stay at least 100 feet away from German while also providing German adequate access to the Rubin lab. The restraining order, which Harvard quickly challenged, effectively barred Rubin from his own research facility.

According to court documents, German was expected to continue work on his dissertation, though under a different adviser, during the spring 2017 semester. But German took issue with his interim dissertation adviser as well, accusing her in a December 2016 email of “harassing conduct” and informing her that he would not continue to work with her. German could not be reached for comment.

Throughout the semester, according to court filings, German refused to attend multiple meetings with his dissertation advisory committee, instead asserting that the Massachusetts Superior Court now had control over his academic progress. Harvard subsequently placed German on academic probation, and on May 16, expelled him.

Following German’s expulsion, Harvard again intervened on behalf of Rubin in court, asking that the court rescind German’s access to University laboratory facilities. But on July 7, the court denied Harvard’s request—and ruled that the University must fully reinstate German as a graduate student.

The court further ordered that Rubin continue to serve as German’s adviser until another acceptable adviser was chosen, that German be invited to “periodic general lab meetings,” and that Harvard vacate the terms of German’s academic probation.

Harvard appealed that decision, and filed a motion to stay the court’s order.

In an order issued in late July, the appeals court sided with Harvard, granting a stay—effectively halting the enforcement of the previous court’s order—and questioning the legality of the lower court’s ruling that German be reinstated.

“By ordering that Harvard reinstate the plaintiff as a graduate student and asserting control over the terms of his academic progress, the judge intruded into the sensitive and complicated area of student-university relations,” Sookyoung Shin, an appeals court justice, wrote. “Harvard was entitled to sanction him accordingly.”

German has appealed Shin’s order, and court proceedings will likely continue through the fall semester.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at Follow him Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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