Physicist denies bully allegations

January 25, 2002

The University of Connecticut may fire a distinguished nuclear physicist for allegedly bullying students and faculty and compromising university business.

Moshe Gai, who was suspended on December 31, stands accused of "behaviour absolutely ruinous to his effective participation in departmental governance and activity", in a confidential 24-page dossier prepared by Connecticut.

The document, passed to The Thes by Professor Gai himself, charges him with issuing a death threat to one colleague, making an anti-gay slur against another and trying to sabotage a university funding deal.

But Professor Gai contended that the university waged a "personal vendetta" against him after he blew the whistle on alleged financial misappropriation and lab safety shortcomings. He is suing Connecticut for violating his academic freedom and is seeking reinstatement.

State auditors concurred with Professor Gai that Connecticut listed an ineligible funding source in claiming a matching US government grant. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector upheld his complaint that untrained personnel had access to radioactive material.

A spokeswoman said the university renegotiated the grant and addressed some of Professor Gai's safety concerns. It has not been shown a copy of the NRC report, she said.

Professor Gai was involved in debunking the cold-fusion theory and was headhunted from Yale University in 1994 to bolster Connecticut's research standing. He claimed he was victimised for pursuing his mission to turn Connecticut into a world-class research centre. But the university refutes this. "Professor Gai's numerous complaints are without merit. However, his harassing conduct continues," its report says.

Professor Gai was previously suspended in January 2000 after purportedly telling physics professor Kurt Haller: "If you want to fight a war with me you will wind up dead."

"I remember his communication very clearly - it sounded ominous," Dr Haller said.

But Professor Gai, a former Israeli paratrooper who was severely wounded in action during the war with Egypt in 1970, said he uttered a figure of speech common among Israeli ex-servicemen such as himself: "He who goes to war should be prepared to die." Alleged homophobic comments to another colleague were unintended and taken out of context, he added.

Professor Gai returned to work in July 2000, but since then it has been alleged that he publicly belittling a graduate student and attempted to scupper a funding deal with a leading laboratory.

The university's report concludes: "Professor Gai is unsuited for a successful career with colleagues at [Connecticut]."

But Vernon Hughes, sterling professor emeritus of physics at Yale, said:

"He's a tough guy, very outspoken, he can reach the level where some people find him abusive, but basically he is a very friendly, warm person."

A hearing on whether to dismiss Professor Gai is scheduled for the end of January.

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