Saturday, May 16

Relationship between supervisor and graduate student

Now this is curious indeed. Having now been through several of these relationships, both on the giving and receiving end, this story made me think. First the bald facts:

A state appeals court in Minnesota, however, last month rejected a disgruntled doctoral student’s attempt to stretch the boundaries of that relationship by claiming that a faculty member had a “fiduciary” duty to her arising from their adviser-advisee relationship.

The court, overturning a lower court’s finding and $60,000 judgment against the adviser, ruled that Sharon L. Bender, an adjunct faculty member at Capella University, had not wronged Mary Swenson, a former doctoral candidate in organizational psychology there, when she reported Swenson’s alleged plagiarism to the university. Although the two had collaborated closely on Swenson’s dissertation, and even discussed the possibility of “entering into a business relationship” to carry out their mutual ideas, a faculty member, by nature of his or her position, always has “adverse interests” to those of an advisee, the court wrote.

“Given Bender’s roles as adjunct instructor at Capella and as member of the committee assigned to assess Swenson’s academic paper, Swenson should have known that Bender had an independent obligation to Capella that at least paralleled, if not superseded, her obligation to Swenson as it regards the dissertation’s subject matter,” the judges wrote. “Bender’s role prevented her from being bound to act only for Swenson’s benefit on all matters.”

Like many graduate faculty advisers, Bender worked closely with Swenson, according to the court record, serving as an independent reviewer on her dissertation committee for several years beginning in 2001. Capella being an online university, they worked entirely via the Internet and telephone, trading drafts of Swenson's dissertation by e-mail and discussing the prospect of co-writing a book or otherwise working together outside their adviser-advisee relationship.

In 2003, though, the two clashed over who deserved credit for "abstract theoretical concepts" they had discussed, the court found, with Swenson creating a company to market the concepts and Bender presenting "modified forms" of the theories on a Web site she shared with other Capella students.

When Swenson's dissertation committee (from which she had dropped Bender) gave her a failing grade, she complained to Capella that Bender had stolen her intellectual property and "sabotaged" her degree; Bender, meanwhile, accused Swenson of plagiarizing. (Capella, the Minnesota court noted, left the plagiarism charges up "to the legal process," but concluded that Bender had acted unethically by developing a personal relationship with Swenson.)

Swenson sued in state court, and a lower court judge ruled that Bender had breached a fiduciary duty that emerged because of the "professional relationship of trust and deference" between students and teachers, her obligation as a member of her dissertation committee "to assist Swenson with her thesis," and the fact the student "relied heavily on Bender's knowledge and authority" in her research and writing.

I tend to disagree. A teacher’s first responsibility is towards her student and if required, the teacher should have released her knowledge to the student. This kind of argument left a bad taste in my mouth. A teacher is like God, they are not supposed to be grubby people like this. Despite the student saying that there is a fiduciary responsibility (there might be one), there is a much higher moral duty from the teacher to the student.

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Anonymous said...

Dr. Bender holds common law and registered trademarks on her models. For work to become accepted by the USPTO, the indication is that no others have succeeded previously. Dr. Bender's work is also published in an international journal, which involves a peer review for originality. These are indications that Dr. Bender is the originator of the work that Ms. Swenson has claimed. A less-known fact is that the woman who filed this fictitious claim against the instructor also filed fictitious lawsuits against a university, a builder, and a plumber. She did not prevail in any of these cases. (The supporting documents are available through the MN court records.) Two judgments against Ms. Swenson reveal that the respective university believes that Ms. Swenson lacked academic integrity in her "scholarly" pursuits well beyond the time she involved Dr. Bender, so said a third committee on which Dr. Bender never served.

Mary Swenson said...

What a pile of garbage. Obviously this is Sharon Bender who has done all of these things after the fact to continue and try to own the property. No charges of any merit were brought against me in fact, another doctorate was awarded three long years later. It is a sad statement that instructors can do this and that an institution will cover their tracks and the courts will not uphold basic decency. In fact, the university did also have a duty they breeched eggregiously. As far as a legal with a toxic house that is irrelevant as is any other third party who hasn't a clue. Psychopath!