Letters to the Editor

About two years ago, I learned that an engineer in my company wanted to return to school to pursue a PhD. He is an excellent engineer—hard working and careful, a solid undergraduate foundation, and well-regarded across our organization. Of course, I encouraged him to consider Tech. After applying, he was invited at Tech’s expense to visit. In spite of a more lucrative offer from another reputable school, he chose Tech.

You have embarrassed me. After nine months of personal insults and abuse, discouraging remarks, deception, and presumptions about his sexual orientation from his advisor, he chose to leave after obtaining his Master’s degree. Fortunately, he will return to work for us. You have lost an excellent student, and I will never again encourage anyone to consider attending Tech.

Hearing his story over dinner recently opened old wounds of my own. At the outset of my graduate program at Tech, I suffered similar abuses from an advisor (Dr. Nett, who has since left)—insults, hours of berating the lab group over minor mistakes, refusing to allow us to leave the lab for meals because work was not going satisfactorily, a 4 a.m. phone call to come to the lab so he could scream at me about an electric motor. Seared in my memory is the remark he once made while leaving the lab well after midnight: “Magill, your work is shit”. I withstood his behavior for nine months, but, unwilling to tolerate it further, I changed major. I completed a Ph.D. in 4 years, and have had nearly 15 years of successful research career.

It is often suggested that a student can choose another advisor when a relationship is untenable. This, I’m sure, happens often. However, as in my case and the recent case of my colleague, faculty who are prone to abusing their students are likewise prone to threatening them. My friend’s decision to leave rather than finding another advisor was partly driven by an assurance from his advisor that any other professor would surely ask for a recommendation from the first. Finding a new advisor would be, he promised, more difficult than one might expect.

I am asking you to consider ways to stop this kind of thing from happening. Teaching graduate students is not limited to choosing students you like and getting them to do research. The job is to teach, as best you can, everyone who is admitted. A professor who cannot lead someone of the caliber of my colleague through a graduate program is not qualified to teach at a school of the caliber of Tech, and should not be retained.

Department Chairs: are you monitoring the way students are treated by faculty? Do you have the courage to remove faculty who cannot be trusted to treat students appropriately? Or are you comfortable loosing high-quality students so that you can avoid the tough choices?

Graduate students: you have a right to quality instruction, a right to be treated with respect, a right not to be abused, belittled, or insulted. Encourage one another, and never let anyone convince you that you deserve to be mistreated. There are plenty of decent, skilled teachers at Tech. Seek them out.

I know there are great faculty; I found them. I was jointly advised by Drs. Dorsey(ECE) and Komerath (AE). I am grateful to them for their kindness and professionalism, encouragement and support, guidance and instruction.

I regret that I needed to write this letter. I hope that it will prompt thoughtful review of faculty mentoring and oversight. I encourage other alumni to add their voices to this issue that is critical to the reputation of our school.

John Magill

1995 Ph.D. ECE

Your “Social Security Reform Key To Fiscal Health” (printed April 16) reads like a piece straight out of Wall Street, i.e. as if written by the same self-serving ideologues responsible for our current economic crisis, with its detrimental effects on public higher education, like Tech (tuition increases, furloughs, more fees etc.); as if written by the same elitists who want to privatize everything and turn America into a dog-eat-dog banana republic.

Why are these things happening now? As Dr. Paul C. Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration puts it: “Bernanke’s warning to Congress is his way of adding Federal Reserve pressure to that of Wall Street and former Treasury Secretary Paulson for Congress to balance the budget by gutting Social Security and Medicare. In case you haven’t noticed, no one in Washington or New York talks about cutting trillion dollar wars or trillion dollar handouts to rich bankers. They only talk about taking away things from little people. It is not the Bush/Cheney, Obama, neocon wars that are in the cross hairs; it is Social Security and Medicare… today a desperate government, which has wasted $3 trillion invading countries that pose no danger to the U.S. and wasted more trillions of dollars combatting a crisis brought on by the governments’s failure to regulate the financial sector, is likely to steal people’s pensions as well as to gut Social Security and Medicare.”

You want to cut the deficit fair and square without hurting ordinary and innocent Americans? Easy, slash the military (“defense”) and tax our moneyed ruling elites; then invest in America.

John G. Papastavridis

Professor ME