University in court to fight prof's challenge

The University of Manitoba is in court to defend its decision to grant a PhD to a student who failed an exam.
Gabor Lukacs is taking the University of Manitoba to court over its decision to award a PhD to a student the school says legitimately suffers from extreme exam anxiety. ((University of Manitoba))

The University of Manitoba has the right to grant degrees to students who fail their exams if they suffer from acute exam anxiety and other disabilities, a university lawyer said Thursday.

"A disability arose, an accommodation was reached and the student now has his degree," Jamie Kagan told a Court of Queen's Bench justice.

"There is no longer any framework for there to be a dispute."

Kagan is asking the court to dismiss a challenge by Gabor Lukacs, an assistant mathematics professor who wants the court to revoke a PhD awarded last year to a doctoral student who failed a comprehensive exam.

The university waived the failing grade because the student was otherwise exceptional but suffered from acute exam anxiety. Lukacs, who was not the student's teacher, argues the move demeans the value of U of M degrees.

Because Lukacs has no direct relationship with the student, he has no legal basis for his court challenge, Kagan said.

"[Lukacs] is merely a busybody," Kagan told the court. "His rights are not affected. He has no skin in the game."

The University of Manitoba is the province's largest post-secondary school. ((CBC))

Lukacs wasn't the only faculty member to object to the PhD, but he was the one who went to court to fight the decision. The university suspended Lukacs for three months for going public with the student's health information.

Lukacs, who declined interview requests Thursday, has previously said he is simply trying to protect the university's good name and ensure that its degrees are respected.

He tried to work behind closed doors to avoid giving the university a black eye, he said, but he and other professors were told to mind their own business.

Lukacs's lawyer was to present his arguments Thursday afternoon on the university's motion to have the case dismissed.

Justice Deborah McCawley indicated she would probably reserve her decision.