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Davis, California

Monday, December 11, 2023

Long-waged battle for Ph.D. continues

Ever since his disqualification from the genetics program at UC Davis 18 years ago, Howard Zochlinski has repeatedly clashed with the university regarding his attempts for readmission into the graduate school.

Throughout his struggles with the university, Zochlinski has filed a number of lawsuits in both state and federal courts. Zochlinski said the university has offered him a settlement of $500 to drop all of his legal cases. He called the offer an insult, and said he will continue to battle for his readmission.

“That’s 20 years of my life down the toilet, and they’re offering me $500,” he said. “It’s like them telling me my life is worth $500.”

University officials declined to comment on the settlement.

Zochlinski claims his readmission has been blocked a number of times because of the foul play of Jeffery Gibeling, dean of Graduate Studies at UC Davis. He said Gibeling deliberately changed the rules regarding readmission, which before his initial acceptance allowed a disqualified student to be considered for admission into a program under a different field.

“Gibeling’s crime was changing the rules in the graduate student handbook, which [altered] a government document on a fraudulent basis,” Zochlinski said. “There was no reason to do it.”

Gibeling could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Zochlinski was disqualified from the genetics program in January 1993, after failing to submit a thesis by his assigned deadline. He said his November 1992 arrest on charges of stalking, which were later dropped, caused a stress so great that he was unable to complete his dissertation on time.

Claudia Morain, UC Davis spokesperson, said that of nine lawsuits Zochlinski has filed against the university, three have been dismissed with no further opportunities for appeal.

“A fourth has been dismissed but Zochlinski may be allowed to refile,” she said in an e-mail interview. “The remainders are pending.”

Morain went on to say that very little has come of Zochlinski’s allegations.

“The complaints contain dozens of allegations [but] in 18 years of litigation, none has been sustained,” she said.

In 2005, Zochlinski’s case was brought to the Academic Senate’s Representative Assembly to review his disqualification. After hours of consideration, 92 percent of the faculty present voted to reinstate Zochlinski with full benefits.

More recently, Chancellor Linda Katehi has granted Zochlinski an investigation to look into his accusations against the university. However, Zochlinski said he is displeased that the investigation will not examine Gibeling in great detail.

“The chancellor says we can’t currently investigate Gibeling,” he said. “[Even though] he’s committed criminal fraud.”

Dr. Yehoram Leshem, researcher at the department of plant biology, said he is very disturbed by the university’s handling of the situation.

“As a UCD investigator and employee I’m highly troubled by the fact that the UCD system violates basic democratic principle[s],” he said in an e-mail to The California Aggie. “How come the senate’s vast majority vote in favor of Howard was not respected until now?”

In an extended two-part interview with KDVS in March, Zochlinski discussed his fight for the right to get a Ph.D. He said he enjoyed the interview, and hopes it brought a greater awareness to his situation.

Zochlinski said soon after the interview, his neighbors told him they were visited by a federal prosecutor, asking what was going on in his house. Zochlinski said he was unclear as to why the prosecutor came.

“[The prosecutor’s visit] is scary, because they want to screw me for something I didn’t do,” he said. “I believe I’m being pushed to be evicted from my home.”

VICTOR BEIGELMAN can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

1 COMMENT

  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

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