Fairness of expulsion disputed

Mike Wereschagin

Today, second-year occupational therapy student David Molohon will take his last stand against expulsion from the University.
If his appeal is rejected, Molohon will be dismissed without ever having been given the chance to properly defend himself, he said.
Molohon said he was railroaded out of the program, denied a chance to present witnesses and evidence to defend himself against what he and several other students say is an unjustified expulsion from the program.
The expulsion is the culmination of a long series of incidents that happened to Molohon during his two years in the therapy program, including harassment, threats and differential treatment, he said.
Other students in the program, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of reprisal by faculty members, corroborated Molohon’s allegations.
Officials from the program and from Student Judicial Affairs refused to comment on the accusations, saying student confidentiality rules prohibit public comments about personal student information like expulsion.

The Final Appeal
At 2:30 p.m. today in Morrill Hall, Molohon will make an appeal to the President’s Student Body Review Panel, the appellate body of the University’s judicial system.
The appeal is an attempt to overturn his dismissal from the program in December under circumstances he and some of his fellow students view as questionable at best.
Molohon, 30, was dismissed from the program for academic fraud. He and four other occupational therapy students turned in a paper that contained improper citation.
Molohon admitted bad judgment in the situation. He said one member of the group was supposed to be in charge of citations for the entire paper. But he was the only group member expelled because the citation problems occurred in his section of the paper.
Ultimately, Molohon admitted it was his responsibility to cite the work in his portion of the paper.
Molohon was the only one of the five students called before the Student Progress Committee, the disciplinary body of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
He was charged with improper citation for citing only eight out of 20 items that required attribution.
The committee voted to dismiss Molohon from the college after a hearing lasting about 20 minutes, Molohon said.
Judith Reisman, director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, refused to comment on any allegations dealing with the case, citing her responsibility to protect the students in the program.
She did say students and faculty members in the program work closely with each other.
“They’re together for two-plus years,” Reisman said, adding that the teacher-student relationships that develop are positive.
However, several students in the program did not share her sentiment.

A pattern emerges
Molohon and other students described the occupational therapy program as sealed off from University oversight.
They said any student could be expelled from the program for the simple infraction of getting on the bad side of the faculty members.
Nine of Molohon’s classmates have come to him with similar stories of harassment and threats.
“They were echoing my complaints,” he said. “I found out this was not just me. It’s going on with everyone.”
In an effort to bring outside attention to his case, Molohon wrote a letter to U.S. Reps. Bill Luther, D-Minn., and Martin Sabo, D-Minn.
In the letter, he outlined a pattern of harassment, differential treatment and outright threats toward certain students.
Molohon’s letter described an incident where a faculty member “in an emotional rage” threatened to “jump over her desk and choke him to death” in front of the entire class. Another member of the class corroborated the story.
Molohon said he has been harassed by faculty members on a daily basis. He speculated it might be because he is one of the few males in the program and because he questions the material presented in class.
“I challenge their ideas based on my own experience,” said Molohon, referring to his experiences as a semi-professional football player and a paratrooper in the Persian Gulf War.
“The backlash is just incredible,” he said. “I was told by a teacher, ‘Your experience as a football player and a paratrooper in the Gulf will not make you a good occupational therapist.’ She said this in front of all my classmates.”
The faculty member declined to comment on the situation, also because of the confidentiality laws.

“Everyone likes Dave”
Several teachers have spoken to Molohon, calling him a “bully” and a disruption to their class, he said.
One classmate, a member of the group project that resulted in Molohon’s expulsion, called the circumstances behind his dismissal “unfair.” The student wished to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from faculty members.
“He’s not disruptive,” she said of Molohon. “The comments he makes are intelligent. Everyone likes Dave.”
Despite this, faculty members in the program seem determined to single him out, she said.
As an example, she cited a final paper Molohon turned in for a class.
The instructor gave him a zero on the paper because of citation problems, Molohon said. He saw two other students’ papers with similar problems, but theirs had only minor deductions for the mistakes.
“(The instructor) gave him a zero on the paper when everyone else did fine,” Molohon’s classmate said. “They could have given him a 60 or something if they thought it was horrible, but a zero?
“He made an honest mistake. It isn’t fair.”
Molohon had a 97 percent in that class before the final paper, he said.

Practice and procedure
Molohon’s description of the judicial process that led to his expulsion points to serious flaws in the system.
When told he would have to defend his mistakes, Molohon contacted his student advocate, Rufaro Katedza.
A student advocate is a Law School student charged with representing other students in institutional judicial processes.
Molohon said he and his representative were told several times that he would be attending a meeting, not a hearing, to talk about the situation.
“They told me they just wanted to find out what went wrong with the (group’s) paper and how we could fix it.”
As the meeting approached, Reisman decided to bar students from testifying on Molohon’s behalf. Also, Molohon didn’t prepare arguments or evidence and didn’t bring along his advocate because he thought they wouldn’t be necessary for a simple meeting.
As it turned out, Molohon had been called for an official hearing before the Student Progress Committee.
With no evidence or arguments to present, Molohon’s “meeting” lasted about 20 minutes. One hour later, he received a call from Reisman telling him he was expelled from the program.
“I basically got ambushed,” Molohon said.

The final loophole?
Since then, Molohon has been attending class on appeal, and he and Katedza have been preparing for today’s hearing. The two have rounded up nine witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents to serve as evidence in his favor.
But their preparations might be in vain, according to news Molohon received Tuesday morning.
Under University bylaws regarding the appeals process, the President’s Student Body Review Panel does not have to hear any evidence or witness testimony not presented in the original hearing.
The panel simply needs to decide if proper procedure was followed in the previous decision.
“There is a serious flaw in this system,” Molohon said. “How can I go through every channel in the (University’s) judicial system and not have an opportunity to present any witnesses or evidence?
“It’s ridiculous. This is the United States.”

Mike Wereschagin welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3226.