A longtime professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine has sued the school, contending that it retaliated against him for his assertion that the university misappropriated federal research grants.
Curtis Klaassen, who has worked at the medical center since 1968, contends in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the school stripped him of his position as principal investigator on research projects. He also said the medical center fired most of his post-graduate research assistants and killed important genetically modified laboratory mice used for research.
“They ruined my reputation, and they interfered with the education of my students — and I would say the second is most important,” Klaassen told the The Associated Press on Friday.
In addition to the University of Kansas and its School of Medicine, the lawsuit also names the Kansas board of regents and several university officials as defendants. It was filed in federal court.
Klaassen is a former chairman of the school’s department of pharmacology and toxicology, as well as a former president of the Society of Toxicology and the International Union of Toxicology. He is on paid administrative leave.
Medical center spokeswoman C.J. Janovy said in an emailed statement that Klaassen was facing allegations of abusive and unprofessional treatment of faculty and staff. A faculty hearing is scheduled for Nov. 13. A faculty committee publicly censured Klaassen last year for unprofessional behavior, she said, noting he then issued a formal apology.
“Dr. Klaassen’s lawsuit filed yesterday should not distract from the seriousness of his alleged misconduct,” Janovy said. “The university will vigorously defend the lawsuit, and it is confident that its defense will show Dr. Klaassen’s claims unfounded.”
Board of regents spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said the board would review and respond to the lawsuit but typically does not comment on litigation.
Klaassen’s lawsuit details numerous dust-ups with university officials that appear to have mainly begun in 2011, when Klaassen accused a dean of inappropriately siphoning money from the basic sciences to pay for other programs and the remodeling of facilities.
A month later, Klaassen was dismissed as chairman of the department.
He was first put on administrative leave in November 2011 for about a month after the university accused him of “belligerent” behavior and mishandling grant funds — an accusation his lawsuit contends was a pretext because of his complaints about the school’s mismanagement of federal grant funds.
Klaassen was again placed on administrative leave last May in the wake of another meeting, where he accused the administration of misappropriating about $200,000 of grant money for projects in which he had served as the principal investigator, according to his lawsuit.
Over his career, Klaassen said in the lawsuit, he has brought in an average of three grants each year from the National Institutes of Health, the principal federal agency for medical research. Klaassen told The Associated Press that over the years he has brought in more than $12 million in federal grants.
Klaassen also had an endowment account that over 35 years had brought in more than $1 million comprising funds given to him by friends, students and corporations to fund project stipends for research students, according to the lawsuit.
“I want to work,” Klaassen said.
“All I ask — the main thing I ask — is to be able to work and help my students,” he said.