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Solution to the conflict between UM and PhD candidate

Solution to the conflict between UM and PhD candidate

Photographer:Fotograaf: Simone Golob

New supervisors and extended labour contract

MAASTRICHT. The conflict between a PhD candidate and Maastricht University has been solved, to the extent that the researcher, after mediation by professor Harald Merckelbach, can return to work. Her contract will be extended until May 2021, a year longer than was planned. This will enable her to compensate for the ‘lost’ months (after her former supervisor denied her access to the lab in February 2019). In addition, two new UM supervisors have been found.

A statement was published on the UM’s website on Friday 31 January about the agreement between Greek PhD candidate Eleni Liapi and professor Albert Scherpbier, dean of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. Associate Professor Gerry Nicolaes (Biochemistry) and professor Erik Biessen (Pathology) will be her new supervisors, Liapi has regained access to her previously collected research data and she may also enter the laboratory.

As far as the latter is concerned: the court ruled against her on this point recently. She had lodged a case against the UM because of a labour dispute with her former supervisor (a professor of Cardiology), who had confiscated her keys to the lab in February 2019. This meant that Liapi could not continue with experiments. Time was running out: her contract was until May 2020. The judge spoke in favour of Maastricht University. The lab is no place for a PhD candidate without a supervisor. 
Now there is a solution after all, without the intervention of the court. UM professor Harald Merckelbach (Forensic Psychology), upon request of the Executive Board, led a mediation intervention. Merckelbach “will continue to remain involved, to monitor the fulfilment of agreements as a prolongation of his role as mediator,” the statement says.

Liapi ‘discharged’ her previous supervisor at research institute Carim (cardiovascular diseases) in the summer of 2019 after labour relations had become thoroughly disrupted. The supervisor no longer trusted her student. Liapi felt ‘pushed aside’ as a persona non grata after, as she says herself, she had discovered fraudulent research practices by the professor. Liapi filed a complaint with the UM’s Commission for Scientific Integrity in July 2019. She also has an ongoing investigation with the Dutch Whistleblowers Authority (Huis voor Klokkenluiders), which has officially acknowledged Liapi as a whistle-blower.

Recently, the Commission for Scientific Integrity completed its report after more than four months of investigations. New information had reached the commission at the last minute (16 January): a letter in which the professor, again set out her defence. The commission did nothing with the contents, because its work was done; the procedure had already taken longer than the rules allowed. Eventually, the Executive Board asked the commission to take another look at the case. This was because of the importance of the new information. A new report will be issued before mid-February.

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