|Physicist fights to keep UConn
Abram Katz, Register Science Editor January 08, 2002
|A physicist who gained national
prominence for disproving "cold fusion" while at Yale is now fighting to
keep his job at the University of Connecticut.
Moshe Gai filed motions in U.S. Federal Court in Bridgeport Monday to stop a university disciplinary hearing and bar UConn from proceeding with his dismissal.
Gai, 52, contends that UConn started to build a trumped-up case against him in 1997, when he criticized the laboratories and curriculum of the physics department.
Gai, who is represented by attorney and former Bridgeport mayor Thomas W. Bucci, filed a temporary restraining order asking the court to halt disciplinary proceedings. Gai also asked that a university dictum barring him from the campus be reversed.
Besides reinstatement as a tenured professor, Gai is also seeking unspecified monetary and punitive damages.
Gai said Monday he would like the tangle of charges heard by the state commissioner of education, or other officials outside the university.
"UConn has made major, major damage to my career and has stigmatized me as a bully and as someone who threatens people. The last two years have been hell," he said.
Gai said he agreed to join the UConn faculty in 1994 because he wanted the opportunity to strengthen and rebuild an ailing physics department.
By 1997, he realized the department was a "façade," Gai said. Gai said he informed the university dean, which is when his troubles started.
"I've spent seven years of my life dedicated to making this place what they said they wanted it to be," Gai said.
"Now this has to do with the rights of professors, academic freedom and free speech," he said.
Relations between Gai, the physics department, and the university steadily deteriorated after 1997, according to letters, memos, and reports between the various parties.
Gai said Monday that months of administrative infighting, allegation and counter-allegation with UConn have aggravated post-traumatic stress disorder that Gai developed during combat in the Israeli army. Gai served as a commando in 1970, drawing fire, clearing roads, and conducting other dangerous operations.
He was seriously wounded in the neck by Egyptian gunfire and was paralyzed for two years.
Gai said the university intentionally misinterpreted his typically abrasive Israeli language and biting combat phrases.
Gai claims he told a professor "He who goes to war should be prepared to die."
The university's version of the comment, contained in a report to the chancellor, is "If you want to fight a war with me you will wind up dead."
Gai said a campus police officer came to his home in Branford and told Gai he was being investigated for threatening to commit murder.
"I fell apart, started crying and fell on the floor. I have started to relive combat 30 years ago," Gai said.
Gai also pointed out irregularities in a matching National Science Foundation Grant secured by the university under Gai's name. A state audit and the National Science Foundation concurred with Gai and UConn has since modified the grant proposal.
The university asserts that Gai disrupted the physics department, made disparaging remarks about a gay colleague, and humiliated graduate students.
Specifically, the university contends that Gai threatened to kill a fellow physics professor in August 2000.
Karen Grava, spokeswoman for the University of Connecticut, said Monday "We do not comment on personnel issues or pending litigation." Gai said Monday that his lab at UConn is already being dismantled and his university cell phone service cut, pending a university hearing.
Gai said he decided to fight UConn rather than move on because he is not a "quitter."
The 27-page civil motion lists as defendants UConn President Philip E. Austin; Chancellor John D. Petersen; and Dean Ross MacKinnon.
When Gai was an associate professor of physics at Yale in 1989, he designed an experiment to test the controversial theory of "cold fusion."
Gai and colleagues built what many scientists considered the most sensitive neutron detectors in the country.
His experiment effectively threw cold water on cold fusion.
Since then, Gai has conducted research into nuclear reactions within