The University of Texas at Austin does not have the authority to revoke a student’s degree, according to a Feb. 11 ruling by Judge Karin Crump in Travis County, Texas district court. The judgment is the latest turn in the university’s years-long effort to strip Suvi Orr of her doctorate in chemistry.
Orr began her graduate studies in organic synthesis in Stephen Martin’s lab in 2003. In 2008 she successfully defended her thesis. But six years later, UT Austin sent a certified letter to Orr saying the school was invalidating her thesis based on research misconduct. The university cited a 2011 Organic Letters paper that was retracted in 2012 (DOI: 10.1021/ol302236g) because two steps in the synthesis could not be reproduced
Orr, now a senior principal scientist at Pfizer, denies any wrongdoing. “The allegations were all related to the 2011 Organic Letters paper,” she says. “It was drafted and put together by Professor Martin and a postdoc who was at UT at the time. I did not write it.” Her attorneys, Anita Kawaja and David Sergi, say UT Austin’s claim of misconduct revolves around three nuclear magnetic resonance spectra.
“She discussed all this data with Professor Martin, and he reviewed it with her,” Kawaja says. With his input as her mentor, she reported it in her dissertation. “The three datapoints at issue are entirely irrelevant to Dr. Orr’s dissertation,” Kawaja adds. “She could have taken that data out of her dissertation and it wouldn’t have affected the conclusion. She still would have been qualified to receive her degree.” It wasn’t until 2011 that Martin approached Orr about publishing the work. Kawaja said Orr agreed to do so only because Martin reassured her that the data had been reproduced.
Martin declined to comment.I haven't followed this case closely enough to intelligently comment on it. I suppose all I can say is that it seems pretty unusual for a professor to press forward with revocation of a Ph.D. thesis - can anyone else point to another instance where this was the course of action decided upon?