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Institute sued for $11 million

By Mathews M. Cherian

and Thomas T. Huang

A graduate student expelled from the Department of Civil Engineering (Course I) filed an $11 million lawsuit May 7 against MIT and 8 other defendants for breach of contract, defamation, and invasion of privacy.

Jeffrey W. Buckholz G is bringing suit against MIT, President Paul E. Gray '54, Dean for Student Affairs Shirley M. McBay, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Leo Osgood, Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert M. Randolph, the MIT Committee on Discipline (COD), COD Chairman Elias P. Gyftopoulos, and two graduate students, John Uppgren and Paul Filipski. He filed the suit in the Middlesex Superior Court.

Vice President Constantine B. Simonides said, "I have not seen or heard of [the lawsuit] being here at this time." Randolph refused comment. McBay and Gyftopoulos were out of town.

Buckholz alleged that the COD did not give him due process in a hearing that concerned a fight he had with Warren W. Sheaffer G, a fellow student in civil engineering.

On March 19, Buckholz and Sheaffer were involved in a fistfight in the basement of Building 1. Sheaffer's face was badly damaged, according to Buckholz.

"We were not witnesses to the fight," said Campus Police Chief James Olivieri, "but witnesses said one fellow was really laying it on the other." Buckholz did not suffer any injuries, but Sheaffer had to be taken to the infirmary, Olivieri said.

The two pressed charges against each other and took their cases to the COD and Cambridge court. The COD held a hearing for the students on April 19.

On April 22, the Cambridge court case was settled out of court. Sheaffer received $500, according to Bruce T. MacDonald, Buckholz' attorney.

On April 24, MIT expelled Buckholz. In a letter sent to Buckholz, Gray stated: "The action with which you have been charged is extremely serious and is intolerable in this community ... Any request for review of this decision will not be considered by the President and by the COD prior to April 1995."

"The punishment [Buckholz received] is grossly disproportionate to what you'd expect for a punishment of this incident," MacDonald said.

The lawsuit contains 17 counts:

O+ six individual counts for Breach of Contract against MIT, Gray, Randolph, Osgood, Gyftopoulos, McBay, and the Committee on Discipline. The counts against MIT, Gray, and the COD each ask for $1 million. The counts against Randolph, Osgood, Gyftopoulos, and McBay ask for $500,000.

O+ four counts against MIT, Randolph, Osgood, and McBay for slander: "certain slanderous, false, and defamatory words, to the effect that plaintiff [Buckholz] was violent, dangerous, and mentally ill." MIT is being sued for $1 million and Randolph, Osgood, and McBay each for $500,000 by the counts.

O+ counts of slander against Randolph, Uppgren, Osgood, and Filipski, each as individuals for $500,000 apiece.

O+ two separate counts of Invasion of Privacy levelled against MIT, for $1 million, and Randolph, for $500,000. The suit claims that MIT and Randolph "publicized plaintiff's affairs ... in such a manner as to violate plaintiff's right of privacy" resulting in exposure to "public contempt ... [and] hatred and ridicule."

O+ a single count of Invasion of Privacy for $500,000 against Randolph claiming that he as an individual invaded Buckholz's privacy.

Buckholz said "... even before process went, people had heard of the case and cast me in a very unfavorable light. The whole process was very tainted before it began."

Associate Dean for Student Affairs Holliday C. Heine '67 said that the Dean's Office informs the complainant and the accused of COD procedures and ensures that they are given advisors if they want them.

Randolph initially acted as Sheaffer's advisor, MacDonald said. About a week before the hearing took place, Randolph stepped down from his position, MacDonald said. Two days before the hearing took place, Osgood left MIT on a business trip. Randolph then replaced Osgood as the Dean's Office's liaison to the COD.

"This was a sign of poor judgment and a clear indication of bias," MacDonald said.

He said that MIT refused to allow him to represent Buckholz at the COD hearing.

Heine said the COD does not allow lawyers in its hearings because "the COD deals with infractions against rules and regulations of the Institute," rather than those of the criminal court.

According to Buckholz, the Dean's Office had given him two versions of the COD's "Statement of the Committee Procedures," both dated April, 1980. The first version stated that a student may choose a "person of his or her choice" to be his or her advisor. The second version added the clause: "(although not an attorney at law)."

Nigel H. M. Wilson, transportation division head and Buckholz' former Course I advisor, wrote in a memorandum to the transportation faculty, staff, and students two days after Buckholz was expelled: "I believe that the process has been fairly conducted and that the decision of the Committee on Discipline closed this most unhappy affair."