GRAND RAPIDS — A Michigan State University engineering professor exploited his students and forced them to work long hours for little to no pay at his personal company, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court. MSU officials have known about the issue since at least 2011, but did not take action to monitor the students working for Professor Parviz Soroushian, a lawsuit filed March 22 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan alleges.
Because of the pending litigation, MSU officials declined to comment on the issues raised in the suit, MSU deputy spokesperson Heather Young said.
Soroushian told the State Journal on Friday he denies all the allegations made against him in the lawsuit. He has been on paid administrative leave since July 2018, when Michigan State began an investigation into his conduct with students at his lab, Lansing-based Metna Co. Soroushian is is a 35-year veteran in MSU's College of Engineering and holds degrees in both civil and structural engineering. In addition to serving as a tenured professor, he is an academic adviser.
So when Salina Ramli began her doctoral program in January 2016, she believed she had no choice but to work at Metna when he told her to, according to the lawsuit.
Ramli, who was at MSU on a Malaysian government-funded scholarship, worked at Metna every day she didn't have class, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at times staying as late as 7 p.m. for meetings.
But her second semester, Soroushian said she wasn't allowed to take off the days she had class, according to the lawsuit. Her scholarship only covered tuition and a modest stipend, so she had to earn money elsewhere.
Ramli, the mother of two children, said in the lawsuit she started working at a bakery from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. so she could keep up with bills...Public Service Announcement to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows: if your professor asks you to work at their private company, you should probably get terms spelled out, and you should probably ask if the department knows about it.
(Reality: departments are set up so that it is a very unusual graduate student or postdoc who will speak up for themselves and ask that question...)