Washington: A prominent Indian-origin professor in the US has been accused of exploiting his students as servants and compelling them to do his personal work, an American daily has claimed.
Ashim Mitra, a longtime pharmacy professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, made his students tend his lawn, look after his dog and water the house plants, sometimes for weeks at a time when he and his wife were away, the Kansas City Star reported.
According to the paper, over Mitra’s 24 years as a leader in the UMKC School of Pharmacy, the professor compelled his students to act as his personal servants, a charge dismissed by him. They hauled equipment and bused tables at his social events, it said quoting nearly a dozen former students of Mitra. Former Indian student Kamesh Kuchimanchi told the daily that he considered his life at UMKC “nothing more than modern slavery”.
He alleged that Mitra exploited cultural kinship with students from India. When Kuchimanchi once told Mitra he wouldn’t be a servant, “he threatened to kick me out of the university and force me to lose my visa and lose everything. That was his ammo. Either fall in line or you would be thrown out. You didn’t want to be in that situation where you have to go back home empty-handed.”
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One of his colleagues, Mridul Mukherji, who is also from India, is suing Mitra and university officials. He filed two related lawsuits in Jackson County Circuit Court – one in 2016 and one in 2018, the report said.
The lawsuits claim that Mitra mistreated vulnerable foreign students and that the university retaliated against Mukherji when he complained.
According to allegations in pending litigation, the university not only knew about Mitra’s behaviour, but administrators overlooked complaints for years because Mitra was among the most successful faculty members in corralling millions in research dollars for the school.
Court documents obtained by the daily show that after one colleague filed a formal complaint, the university investigated, but the probe involved talking to only one student.
In a statement to the daily through his attorney, Mitra said, “Over the years, I have invited graduate students to my home where they have done work related to their courses of study, and at times eaten meals prepared by my wife. I have not required anyone to perform chores unrelated to their studies.”
“I do not understand the suggestion that anyone was concerned with their visas being at risk. I have worked with over 60 graduate students attending UMKC on F1 (study) visas, and I am not aware of any of those students having their visa status challenged or revoked,” he said.
Another former student told the daily that students feared the repercussions if they refused Mitra. “They were so afraid of not graduating,” said the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that Mitra could undermine her career. She said students complained to one another privately.
“Because he had the prestige, he could influence people. He could make things happen. For that reason, they were reluctant to come forward. So were most of Mitra’s pharmacy school colleagues,” she was quoted as saying by the daily.