How a university punished a whistle blower


By reporting fraud, my husband acted to protect the scientific integrity of repositories of knowledge in libraries and databases. Protecting these valuable but endangered resources from the introduction of falsified publications must be done early in the manuscript review stage.

My husband was a faculty member in the School of Medicine and Director of a Microscopy Imaging Center at a state university in the USA. There he witnessed, proved and reported scientific fraud in the laboratory of the University Vice President for Research.

Following his medical school’s faculty code of ethics, my husband reported the fraud to his supervisor. Independently, two investigative committees confirmed the misconduct by failing to reproduce the intended results.  Confronted by these committees, the Vice President professed to have had no knowledge of the fraud, which he ascribed to a subordinate in his laboratory.

Investigative committees disagreed, learning that the University and President knew of the Vice President’s long record of scientific and sexual misconduct yet had covered up these acts for years at the expense of witnesses, victims and taxpayers.

The administration dismissed this individual as Vice President and reappointed him as Vice Dean for Scientific Affairs in the Medical School, thereby making him my husband’s part-time supervisor. Immediately, he retaliated against my husband for his initial report with squarely aimed threats. The University administration had ignored his latest fraudulent act, rewarding him instead with a new appointment and enabling him to attend a theological seminary for a master of divinity degree. Returning to campus, he eluded his official duties to pursue pastoral work and to teach ethics to medical students. Thriving with salary increases and endless cover for criminal behaviour spanning decades, the perpetrator, (with the assistance of the University and deeply rooted tentacles both inside and outside campus) could easily eliminate my husband simply because of his expertise, scientific knowledge and willingness to report wrongdoing.

My husband’s laboratory was soon vandalized and home was no longer our refuge as vandals also attacked our property. We reported the vandalism along with the poison pen letters and graffiti to the University, USPS Postmaster and to County police. County police advised us to preserve evidence in the Courts. Coincidentally, the vandalism stopped with the Court complaint. My husband’s peers of nearly 30 years hid becoming, in effect, accomplices.  Privately, a few colleagues offered their support.

Though we won two court cases, we ended up deeply in debt, never recovering two lost decades fighting for our careers, lives, reputations and our children’s future. My husband’s colleagues grew ever more distant.

With the conclusion of litigation, the University administration not only terminated my husband’s employment, they erased his campus legacy and very existence, making it impossible for him to find a new job. The University administration denied retaliation, claiming his job loss resulted from either a personnel or budgetary issue and banned further discussion. No one else in his former department lost their job.

Despite the harrowing ordeal, my husband maintained an impeccable employment record with revenue generating inventions, two important textbooks, the design and execution of a showpiece microscopy imaging center, minority investigator status with the National Institutes of Health, successful teaching of complex/ gateway courses and, most importantly, solid reproducible research. Due to his career loss, my husband fell into an unbearable isolation and sadness that eventually precipitated first a myocardial infarction, then terminal cancer.

Those who report scientific or fiscal fraud, like survivors of sexual assault on campuses, must be sheltered by a respected whistleblower’s umbrella law protecting those both knowledgeable and brave enough to disclose these acts of misconduct. Misconduct at universities should be reported directly to police for investigation and enforcement, away from the safe zone of university campuses.

Author Bio: Ann L. Berrios is a graduate of Barnard College and received her Masters from Stony Brook University.