Penn State

Penn State deprived student of fair conduct hearing after dispute with professor, lawsuit claims

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Civil suits can be filed against another party for reasons including alleged negligence, product liability, marriage and children, money and debt and injury.
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Civil suits can be filed against another party for reasons including alleged negligence, product liability, marriage and children, money and debt and injury.

A Penn State student filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that accused the university of depriving him of a fair student conduct hearing and invading his privacy.

The 35-page lawsuit filed Aug. 19 by an international male student only identified as John Doe listed the university, its board of trustees and Karen Feldbaum, interim senior director of the office of student conduct, as defendants.

The student claimed the university violated his 14th Amendment rights, retaliated against his First Amendment rights, breached their contract and invaded his privacy. He requested a jury trial, monetary damages and that Penn State vacate his code of conduct violation and expunge his related disciplinary file.

University spokeswoman Lisa Powers declined to comment Monday, citing university policy to not comment on pending legislation.

The lawsuit stemmed from the student’s relationship with Penn State law professor Jud Mathews, whom the student said he viewed as a “father figure.”

While working with Mathews to develop an administrative law casebook during the 2018 summer, the student said Mathews “would encourage (him) to make citation(s) up because the materials are in a foreign language; therefore, no one will check.”

When the student said he was uncomfortable doing so, Mathews threw a pen at the student, according to the lawsuit.

Mathews did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The student sought additional services at the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services and was advised to stop working for Mathews, he wrote in the lawsuit.

After meeting with Penn State Deans Keith Elkin and Victor Romero in August 2018, the student was scheduled to meet with Feldbaum in February so she could “hear (his) side of the story,” according to the lawsuit.

That meeting never happened, however, as Mathews sent Feldbaum copies of text messages he received prior to the hearing. The student claimed he did not send the texts, but was charged with a code violation for “failure to comply with (a) directive or condition,” according to the lawsuit.

Mathews, in a statement issued in March, said “it is difficult to imagine these (five) text(s) coming from anyone other than (the student.)“ The messages were similar to the student’s writing style and had a “sexual or amorous” tone, according to the lawsuit.

The student was found to have violated the administrative directive, according to the lawsuit. He also accused Mathews of sending negative references to his future employers and discussing the situation with other law classes.

“Penn State ignored its values of integrity, respect, responsibility, discover, excellence and community by violating (my) privacy, interfering with (my) education and using student conduct procedure to resolve (a) personal vendetta from a professor,” the student wrote in the lawsuit. “... The university failed to provide a competent, unbiased officer to manage disputes.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.