Morris Wolfe - Essays, New & Selected

DR. FABRIKANT'S SOLUTION (continued)

In March, Maureen Habib, the executive assistant to the rector, consulted yet another expert on how to deal with Fabrikant. On the basis of Habib’s description, Frema Engel, a specialist in violence and trauma in the workplace, wrote her, “I would suggest there is reason to be concerned and I would take [this person’s] behaviour very seriously ... . The worst case scenario is that he would act out his anger, become violent and either harm a member or members of the university or himself.” Habib claims she sent a copy of Engel’s letter to Sheinin. Sheinin says she didn’t receive it. In the meantime, unknown to the university, Fabrikant had completed a course in handguns, obtained a permit, and had bought a pistol — for target practice, he said.

In late March, Sheinin sent Fabrikant what was intended as a formal letter of warning, saying, “you have made very serious allegations against members of the University community, thereby causing significant disturbance therein ... . You shall ... immediately cease and desist from making these types of unsubstantiated allegations by any means.” Fabrikant rejected her letter — using e-mail — on the grounds that she hadn’t followed due process: the collective agreement, at least as interpreted by the faculty association, required her letter to be accompanied by a complaint from Fabrikant’s dean. Sheinin got one and sent her letter of warning again.

Fabrikant was now beginning to get media coverage. The Montreal Gazette quoted him as saying that he’d been in Canada for twelve years and had yet to meet an honest Canadian. The publicity raised the decibel level of academic gossip, and also prompted one deeply troubling report. A woman called Sheinin’s office to say that, as a student in 1982, the year of Fabrikant’s marriage, she’d been raped by Fabrikant. She gave details: she’d reported it to Concordia’s ombudsman and then, because she was having emotional problems and was afraid of Fabrikant, had left the university without pursuing the matter. The ombudsman verified that the woman had approached her. But when Sheinin’s office tried to persuade the woman to go on record, she was reluctant; she only wanted to warn them that Fabrikant could be physically violent. Then she suffered a brain embolism and died — just before Fabrikant’s trial ended.

On April 4, Fabrikant wrote Tom Sankar, “You are listed as co-author [of 35] publications of mine though your scientific contribution to them was zero ... . I hereby request that you write ... letters of retraction [acknowledging] that you did not make any scientific contribution to those publications ... . Failure to do so will result in a legal action against you.” He wrote Swamy a similar letter, listing two publications. Shortly thereafter, he launched a lawsuit against the two men.

When student grades were released that spring, Sam Osman, the department chair, heard complaints from students in sections of the course taught by other professors. They claimed the grades Fabrikant’s students had received were suspiciously high. Osman invited a professor in mechanical engineering from another university to review Fabrikant’s exam papers. He reported back that not only had Fabrikant marked wrong answers right, but he had bumped his students grades up by from twelve to twenty per cent.

In June, the mechanical engineering department increased its pressure on Fabrikant. For 1992-1993 he was required to teach four courses, three of which — two computer design courses and a graduate course — he’d never taught before. The graduate course was in his own field. But he wasn’t qualified to teach the computer design courses. He knew that and so did his chair. Fabrikant begged Osman to reassign him; Osman refused on the grounds that everyone in the department should be able to teach such a course.

On June 23, Fabrikant raised the stakes again. He turned up in the office of Elizabeth Horwood, Osman’s secretary, demanding that she sign an application for permission not just to own but to carry a handgun. His request was clearly meant, and heard, as a threat. Horwood refused and immediately reported what had happened to the administration. Many secretaries at the university — on the front line when it came to dealing with him — were by now afraid of Fabrikant. Some had even had panic buttons installed.

When Rose Sheinin and Charles Bertrand, the vice-rector in charge of services, including Security, learned that Fabrikant was trying to obtain a permit to carry a gun, they called a meeting attended by Bertrand, one of Concordia’s lawyers, Sheinin’s assistant, and Maureen Habib. Following the meeting, Bertrand and Sheinin sent an urgent memo to Kenniff recommending that Fabrikant be suspended, with pay, immediately. “In our opinion,” they wrote, “[he] presents an immediate and continuing threat to members of the University community ... . We suggest that he be suspended indefinitely and that he be forbidden to enter any University buildings until such time that the suspension is lifted. As a condition for reinstatement in the University, Dr. Fabrikant must be required to produce a statement from a psychiatrist (chosen by the University) attesting to his mental stability.” They enclosed a draft of a letter Kenniff could send to Fabrikant: “Your behaviour in recent months,” it read, “has been one of harassment and intimidation. You have made veiled threats to various members of the University community and have instilled an atmosphere of apprehension and fear within the University ... . It [is] in this context that you asked for a reference form to be completed ... for a carrying permit for a gun. I have been notified that you are already in possession of a firearm ... . I consider you to pose an immediate and continuing threat to the University and hereby suspend you with pay effective immediately.”

Dr. Fabrikant's Solution, continued > 


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