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Ex-Prof Loses in Court

By Jenny Zhang


The Middlesex Superior Court has denied former Assistant Professor of Mathematics Maurice H.P.M. van Putten’s motion for a preliminary injunction to be rehired.

On July 30, the court ruled that “there is no likelihood of success on the merits for the plaintiff, nor is he likely to suffer irreparable harm from the denial of his request.”

Van Putten’s request to extend his employment was part of a July 2002 lawsuit he has filed against the Institute, alleging that MIT’s tenure review process, which denied him tenure and a promotion, was unfair.

Van Putten, who began teaching at MIT in 1996, says in the lawsuit that MIT failed to “provide a fair and/or objective evaluation of [Van Putten’s] credentials for promotion to the position of Associate Professor.”

After his appointment ended on June 30, 2003, he asked the court to reinstate him and extend his employment until a final decision in the lawsuit.

The suit named as defendants MIT, Dean of Science Robert J. Silbey, Mathematics Professor Alar Toomre SB ’57, and Mathematics Department Head David A. Vogan Jr. PhD ’76.

Van Putten, Vogan, and Toomre declined to comment. Silbey could not be reached for comment.

Van Putten cites lack of feedback

In court papers, van Putten said that he “was not informed by ... any MIT official or faculty member at MIT that my teaching results were considered inadequate.”

Vogan’s letter from January 2002 cited negative student feedback as one of the reasons for denying van Putten’s promotion.

Mary E. Ross ’03, one of van Putten’s 18.02A students during IAP 2000, said, “Everyone was unhappy to the best of my knowledge, and he never changed his [teaching] approach.”

However, van Putten said in his affidavit that he had “never been informed ... that [evaluation results] had any bearing on promotional prospects for professors.”

Van Putten also defended his teaching, noting in his affidavit that the passing rate in his applied mathematics courses was above 94 percent and that the graduate course he taught, General Relativity and Gravitational Radiation (18.996), was under consideration for publication as a textbook.

Van Putten also mentioned in his affidavit his March 2002 publication about gravitational waves in the scientific journal Science as an indication of his strengths in research.

MIT defends termination

MIT opposed van Putten’s motion for preliminary injunction, saying that van Putten’s position was terminated before he filed a motion to remain assistant professor.

“Had the plaintiff been concerned that he would suffer irreparable harm upon termination ... he should have moved for injunctive relief ... before his employment terminated,” the defendants said.

MIT also said in court documents that “as early as September 2001, the [Applied Mathematics Committee] gently encouraged the plaintiff to seek other employment.”

The lawsuit is not scheduled to go to trial until 2005.