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Davis, California

Monday, June 10, 2024

Two-decade-long fight for Ph.D. continues

For nearly two decades, Howard Zochlinski has been at war with UC Davis. Zochlinski has been in a perpetual struggle with the university to clear his name and get his Ph.D. in genetics so that he may continue his AIDS research.

Chancellor Linda Katehi has promised Zochlinski a limited investigation, which he hopes to include allegations of fraud against Dean of Graduate Studies Jeffrey Gibeling. Zochlinski claims important information was deliberately removed from his file before it was evaluated to determine whether or not he should be granted a Ph.D. based on his AIDS research and the three papers in the field that he co-authored.

“Over the nearly two decades of fighting this matter, I have been repeatedly slandered, blackballed and prevented from holding a job or attending another university, as well as harassed continually by the city of Davis,” Zochlinski said. “This has all cost UC millions in legal fees. Is it worth millions in taxpayer money to prevent me from doing cancer research?”

In January 1993, after nine years in the genetics department, Zochlinski was dismissed from the program for failing to file an acceptable thesis by his assigned deadline.

At this time, Zochlinski was dealing with a charge of stalking from the previous year, which he claimed was unfounded and was ultimately thrown out by Student Judicial Affairs. The mental stress of the charge was so great that Zochlinski was unable to focus on completing his dissertation by the deadline.

“He has filed lawsuits in both state and federal courts, has amended his lengthy complaints numerous times, naming dozens of individuals and university departments and has appealed those matters to appellate levels and even the Supreme Court,” Barbara Horwitz, former interim provost and executive vice chancellor, said in a 2008 letter to Linda Bisson, former chair of the Davis division of the Academic Senate.

Though he was disqualified in 1993, a due process hearing to review the disqualification before the Academic Senate’s Representative Assembly did not occur until 2005. After nearly two hours of debate, 92 percent of the faculty present voted to reinstate Zochlinski with full benefits.

Zochlinski has accused Gibeling of blocking his readmission by amending bylaws that would have allowed him to be readmitted to the university. Gibeling did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

According to the UC Davis Graduate Studies Policy, disqualification means that a student is no longer eligible to continue graduate study in his or her current program at the university. A student may be disqualified only by the dean of Graduate Studies and in accordance with the procedures listed in the policy handbook. The term “dismissal” refers to the removal from graduate studies based on behavior or conduct.

“It appears that the university administration, according to the faculty who spoke at the hearing on his reinstatement, has resorted to tactics that included slander and libel,” said Rabbi Shmaryahu Brownstein, a friend of Zochlinski.

On Jan. 13, Zochlinski met with official investigator to the chancellor, Bruce Hope. While the details of the meeting are confidential, Zochlinski seems less than hopeful, saying that Hope refused to investigate most of the serious charges.

“Currently, a new rumor has been spread among the janitors of Tupper Hall, the building on the UC Davis campus where I did research, that I am dangerous and a possible terrorist; and indications of anti-Semitism were made by one of the people involved,” Zochlinski said.

Hope did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Zochlinski doubts there is much chance for approval of his Ph.D. as long as Gibeling remains dean. However, he is committed to challenging the accusations against him and eventually continuing with his work in the field of genetics.

KATIE LEVERONI can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


  1. For all his efforts (which I’ve been following for years, occasionally offering a little legal guidance), Howard Z. should not only have his PhD & his JD, but be on the UCD faculty and the Academic Senate too!

    Scott Sobel, UCD ’81, UCHastings ’84

  2. It is clear by the details in the case that Dean of Graduate Studies Jeffrey Gibeling has become too personally invested in this case stemming from his deep dislike of Mr. Zochlinski. Any administrator worth his position should either willing set aside his personal feelings, or he should be forced to be removed from any and all adjudication on the case. Yearly the Universities of California graduate marginal PhD candidates, whose futures as either minor academics or researchers proves their limited value. Mr. Zochlinski has clearly proven that he is no less a PhD candidate than thousands of other students that have come before him. In this case it is clear that the administrative errors committed by Mr. Zochlinski are not sufficient grounds for disqualification and his status as a student should be reinstated as required by the 92% vote of the Academic Senate’s Representative Assembly. For these reasons Dean Gibeling should either volunteer or be forced to recuse himself from any past, present or future rulings regarding Mr. Zochlinski’s student status. In the end, for the integrity of the institution, Mr. Zochlinski MUST be allowed to quietly finish his studies and graduate with his doctorate so that he can begin the process of reclaiming his lost decades and pursue his research. There is no point, either for the university or the community, in continuing otherwise. Please show Mr. Zochlinski the compassion he needs to get on with his life and grant this man the PhD that he deserves.

  3. A very interesting article, Ms Leveroni, which clearly presented a very complicated case. I have known Mr. Zochlinski for some forty years. He has always been focused on his desire to do medical research. I have observed with disgust the character assassination perpetrated by the Davis administration and the unprofessional vindictiveness shown by Dean Gibeling. Besides the aspersions cast on Mr. Zochlinski’s character and professional integrity, U.C. Davis’ actions have cost the taxpayers an incredible amount of money. All for no good purpose except to try and destroy the reputation of a good man and cover over the fact that they mishandled the case in the first place. Heaven forbid that the petty bureaucrats that rule U.C. Davis should ever have to acknowledge that they made a mistake.

    Thomas E. Miller

  4. Thank you, Ms. Leveroni,for your article, which sheds some needed light. I received my PhD (Microbiology) from UCD in 1990, and I know Howard Zochlinski well from graduate school days at UCD and since. What the UCD administration has done over the years in attempting to assassinate his reputation in the community, impugn his sanity, and blackball his scientific career is truly scandalous. I totally agree with Rabbi Shmaryahu Brownstein, whom you quoted. But your article barely scratches the surface. The legal dirty tricks (at tax payor expense)and intimidation tactics UCD adminstration has employed in its decades-long campaign against Howard are nauseating, and shake my faith in the integrity of UCD’s administration, UCDPD and Davis City government.

    Nisan Steinberg, PhD, JD


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