Last chance, Vaksman

Provost grants extention on dissertation

by Bobby Summers

Daily Cougar Senior Staff

The University of Houston apparently intends to allow controversial doctoral candidate Fabian Vaksman to have another opportunity to complete his doctoral program in the UH History Department, despite his 10-year running battle with the university, the department and a number of history professors.

John M. Ivancevich, UH executive vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost, granted Vaksman a "one-time only" two-year extension to complete his doctoral dissertation. Ivancevich also placed a number of requirements on Vaksman and the College of Humanities, Fine Arts and Communication.

Fran Howell, UH interim director of Public Relations, said Ivancevich and Arthur Vailas, the recently appointed vice provost for Research and Graduate Studies, took a fresh view of Vaksman's case, assessing the history of the case, but excluding the personalities of the people involved.

Vaksman, who successfully sued the university for reinstatement after being dismissed in the mid-1980s, has a 10-year history of threats and intimidation toward the History Department, history professors and the university.

The final date for Vaksman to submit his doctoral dissertation was Sept. 30, 1994. At that time, History Department Chairman Tom O'Brien said Vaksman had been officially notified that he would have to retake his comprehensive examinations by Nov. 30, or be permanently dismissed from the doctoral program.

When Vaksman refused to retake the exams, and the Nov. 30 date passed, the History Department thought it had heard the last of him.

But Vaksman launched a letter-writing campaign, appealing for reinstatement to Vailas.

In a Dec. 22, 1995, letter to Vaksman, Ivancevich wrote, "I have decided after considering all the materials, the prolonged deliberations and my concern about fairness, to grant Mr. Vaksman a two-year extension to complete the Ph.D. dissertation."

Vaksman's "one-time only" extension began the first day of this semester and will end on the last day of the fall semester, 1998.

Vaksman is required to submit to the provost a "list of eligible advisory dissertation committee members" by Jan. 30. Ivancevich will be responsible for assembling the actual Ph.D. advisory/dissertation committee.

Vaksman must also submit an acceptable written dissertation proposal containing the scope of the project and specific aims, and that proposal must be approved by the advisory/dissertation committee by the end of Fall 1996.

According to Ivancevich's letter, if Vaksman fails to submit the written proposal by the end of the 1996 fall semester, it "will be viewed as unsatisfactory progress" and will result in his dismissal from the program.

Ivancevich also ordered HFAC to provide Vaksman with a $10,000 teaching assistantship for two semesters beginning Fall 1996 and ending Spring 1997, while he completes his doctoral dissertation.

Howell said Ivancevich considers the situation not as a readmission, but as an "extension of time." She said Vaksman and the university will enter into an "academic contract which is a simple extension of the time clock with written deadlines Vaksman must meet."

Ivancevich refused to comment directly on his decision.

Howell released a written statement which read, "Dr. Ivancevich has undertaken discussions with all parties involved and is hopeful the matter can be reconciled. In order to reach the best possible solution, Dr. Ivancevich feels it is prudent to make no comments at this time which might derail the delicate discussions."

Howell also said Ivancevich and Vailas, looking completely objectively, questioned if the university was partially responsible for the problem, if there were lapses on the part of the university, and if the student got a fair shake.

Howell emphasized that the administration respects the faculty of the History Department and recognizes that all the parties are making a good-faith effort to deal with the situation in a fair and sensible manner.

Tom O'Brien, chairman of the History Department, said he believed his department had been "pursuing the appropriate course" all along.

"We still believe that it was the most appropriate course," he said.

O'Brien also said Vaksman's teaching assistantship will not be in the History Department.

He noted that the subject of Vaksman has been a sore spot with members of his department for many years. As a result, he said, he did not know of any History Department professors who had agreed to sit on Vaksman's advisory/dissertation committee.

The convoluted and sometimes almost unbelievable story of Vaksman's struggle with the University of Houston was chronicled in a three-part series in The Daily Cougar, Oct. 3-5, 1995.

Vaksman, a Russian emigre, entered the UH American history doctoral program in 1982. He claims he submitted his dissertation, "Ideological Struggle: A Study in the Principles of Operation of the Soviet Political Machine," in June 1986.

However, in October 1986, the History Department's Graduate Committee decided Vaksman's paper was not a doctoral dissertation and notified him by letter that he was being expelled from the program because he was "not making progress on his dissertation" and because he failed to meet a deadline for submitting a final draft.

Vaksman successfully sued the university, and after appeals ran through the Texas court system for several years, he was reinstated to the program by order of a Harris County district court judge in 1992.

Shortly after he was reinstated, Vaksman published "RRacist," an epic poem about a researcher at a state university, similar to UH, who brutally murders five of his professors for trying to stifle his intellectual opinion. The similarities between the characters in Vaksman's poem and certain History Department faculty members led UH officials to place armed guards in the department office for several months.

In July 1995, Dean James Pipkin of the College of Humanities, Fine Arts and Communication filed charges with the Office of the Dean of Students, alleging that Vaksman threatened his life and was harassing him and his assistant with phone calls, faxes and visits to his office.

Before a scheduled Aug. 11 hearing before the Student Disciplinary Board, Pipkin dropped the charges.

Vaksman responded by writing a letter to Ivancevich alleging Pipkin had attempted to blackmail him. Vaksman claimed Assistant Dean of Students Kathleen Anzivino called him and suggested that Pipkin would drop the charges if Vaksman would "stop harassing him."

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