Ph.D. who loses job over dissertation dispute sues for $1 million

Ann Knef Nov. 21, 2007, 8:26am

A Missouri woman who completed her Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1999 is suing university administrators and a professor for more than $1 million for failing to post her degree.

Christi Turpin alleges she lost a $160,000 a year job at McCarthy Building Companies in St. Louis because Associate Dean David L. Wilson informed her employer in September that she had not earned her Ph.D., according to a suit filed in federal court Nov. 15.

Turpin, represented by Darrell Dunham of Carbondale, claims her dissertation approval was signed on March 11, 1999, but the graduate school either "lost or misplaced the form." A copy of the signed form is attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit.

The suit names Wilson as a defendant, as well as John Koropchak, dean of SIUC's graduate school and Nancy Mundschenk, an associate professor of Educational Psychology and Special Education at SIUC.

In January 2003, while employed by the Parkway School District in St. Louis, Turpin claims she first learned that the university had not posted her degree. She claims she contacted Wilson who in turn wrote to her employer that paperwork had been misplaced but that the error was being corrected and her degree would be posted.

"Relying upon Wilson's letter...Turpin continued to represent herself on her curriculum vitae that she had earned a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University in 1999," the complaint states.

She claims that on Sept. 11 while employed by McCarthy she sought assurances from Koropchak that she had obtained her Ph.D.

According to the suit, Koropchak informed her employer on Sept. 11 and Sept. 13 that she had not earned a Ph.D. from SIUC.

"On September 21, 2007, Turpin met with Defendant Koropchak and personally gave him a copy of the Dissertation Approval form as well as a copy of her revised Ph.D. thesis, but notwithstanding receiving said form and Ph.D. thesis, Koropchak refused to further communicate with McCarthy and withdrew (sic) his statements made to McCarthy on September 11, 2007, and September 21, 2007, despite being informed by Turpin that if he retracted his statements that it was possible that Turpin would not be finally discharged from employment with McCarthy," the complaint states.

Turpin claims a meeting was attended by members of Turpin's Ph.D. committee on Oct. 30.

She claims Mundschenk represented to the committee that she had not signed off on Turpin's dissertation approval form, and that Turpin had further revisions to perform on her Ph.D. before it could be posted.

In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, Turpin also is seeking a mandatory injunction order directing the defendants to post her degree effective the spring semester of 1999.

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