How The Star investigated claims of ‘slave labor’ at UMKC

Kansas City Star reporters Mará Rose Williams and Mike Hendricks had investigated the University of Missouri-Kansas City before, which is why Mridul Mukherji brought them his accusations against fellow UMKC Pharmacy School professor Ashim Mitra.

In addition to his observations, Mukherji provided a trove of evidence: secret recordings, minutes from meetings of a Bengali cultural organization and photos he’d taken as proof that graduate students had been working off campus as Mitra’s servants.

Mukherji also filed two employment discrimination lawsuits saying Mitra and university administrators mistreated him and students. The reporters reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents outlining Mitra’s behavior.

Star reporters then spent weeks researching Mitra through years of court and business records, university annual reports, published research papers and videos of his presentations at scientific conferences. They spoke to his peers and searched for former students using social media, Google and public records databases.

The reporters reached more than 40 former students and found nearly a dozen who were willing to be interviewed on the record to verify Mukherji’s accusations. The most vocal student, interviewed over several sessions, labeled Mitra’s actions “slave labor.” The Star also hired an interpreter to translate one of Mukherji’s recordings of a student speaking in Bengali.

Reporters reviewed the minutes of UMKC faculty meetings and other documents obtained through open records requests, and they contacted federal agencies seeking insight on the laws governing foreign students on study visas.

The reporters contacted Mitra and Mukherji’s attorneys as well. Mitra’s lawyer provided a statement from his client.

Finally, The Star sought comment on its findings from UMKC officials, both in a face-to-face interview and by submitting written questions.

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