By Zara Zhi
A former Idaho State University graduate student who spent five years of his life and thousands of dollars towards a Ph.D. was denied his doctorate on unjust — and possibly racist — grounds.
On May 3, 2013 Jun Yu, a Ph.D. candidate in Clinical Psychology, suddenly received a letter from Dr. Mark Roberts, ISU director of clinical training, telling him that he was terminated from the doctoral program. Yu was in the final stages of his program after completing all the necessary coursework and only needed one practicum to graduate.
The grad student, originally from China, began an internship under the management of Dr. Leslie Speer, Dr. Cheryl Chase and Dr. Thomas Frazier in January 2013.
Speer reportedly had a phone conversation with Roberts saying Yu showed a “…slow learning curve,” and that Frazier thought Yu, “…was not ready for patient care.”
After only a week, Frazier dropped out. Later, they reportedly claimed there was no progression during the internship, which provoked the dismissal.”
On Sept. 16, 2015, Jun Yu filed a lawsuit against Idaho State University in US Federal Court alleging he was victim of “deliberate and unlawful discrimination due to his national origin,” and also denied procedural due process. Yu’s lawsuit has since b een amended and, pending court approval, now alleges denial of substantive due process, breach of contract and promissory estoppel.
Yu asserts that he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation during his five years in graduate school–all completed in English. At the time of dismissal, he was in good standing with a 3.69 GPA and not on any form of academic probation.
He also successfully taught two courses in English at ISU.
The school failed to provide him with any warning that he would be terminated and was not given the opportunity to counter the allegations with remediation. The University even denied Yu the opportunity to work at an alternative internship.
At the time, Yu was the only person of color who spoke English as a foreign language in the whole graduate program. He was also the only student to be dismissed without the proper notification or adherence to due process.
According to Dr. Gerald Koocher, past American Psychology Association (APA) President and past chair of the APA Ethics Committee, “the CTC [Clinical Training Committee] was very familiar with Jun Yu’s English language skills and continuously rated these as meeting expectations with limited exceptions.” (See You Tube video below to hear Yu’s English language skills).
Dr. Koocher, along with Dr. Shannon Chavez-Korell, an expert in cultural competency, and Dr. Leslie Zorwick, an expert in prejudice and aversive racism, all concluded that ISU violated standards in professional psychology and academic norms. They cited the school’s actions as part of a pattern of unethical, incompetent and discriminatory behavior by the program.
The school’s official reasoning for terminating Yu’s doctorate was “unsatisfactory progress.” However, as Dr. Chavez-Korell noted–“The assigned grades and formal evaluations across semesters are inconsistent with unsatisfactory progress.”
Even if Yu’s performance and progress was “unsatisfactory” the school clearly failed to provide him basic due process.
Dr. Koocher reported, “If the allegations made by the ISU faculty are to be believed, they clearly failed to perform appropriate timely assessments; provide timely feedback; ropose and assist with necessary remediation; or provide timely monitoring of off-site placements.” and, ” “No evidence is provided to show that Mr. Hu was on notice regarding a risk of dismissal from the program for any reason.”
Yet, ISU continued cashing Yu’s checks throughout the five years he was enrolled in the program.
Yu is currently in debt trying to pay for his lawsuit and student loans he took out for his doctorate. Yu and his wife, Jocelyn Eikenburg, have been fighting the injustice for more than three years. The legal fees they have paid thus far have amounted to over $200,000. If ISU were to drag the case, that number would substantially increase.
Eikenburg has started a crowdsourcing campaign to help cover the substantial legal costs they have accrued in the suit with a goal of $100,000.
The lawsuit is of special importance, because it would impact all US graduate students and would ensure that discriminatory university practices do not happen to others based on ethnic origins.
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