A former Binghamton University dean has won a $1.5 million settlement from the University.
Seshubabu Desu, who served as the former dean of the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of BU’s Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP), has acquired $1.5 million from BU after suing the University in 2020. Desu claimed he was fired in retaliation for reporting financial irregularities and misconduct within the department, and for accusing BU of stealing his equipment and research.
According to Desu, in September 2010, BU brought “frivolous” charges against him regarding travel expenses. The District Attorney (DA) decided not to bring the case to trial, and it was dismissed.
Desu said he hopes BU’s administration can learn from his situation.
“I really wish that no educator [or] researcher [has] to go through what I have gone through for the last 12 years,” Desu wrote in an email. “I wanted to make sure that BU officials understand the importance of research in higher education and would not dare use their power maliciously to spoil the career of another researcher who is willing to improve the research culture at BU.”
Desu came to BU in 2007 after leaving his position as a professor from the University of Massachusetts. Desu said several resources were promised by then-Provost Swain in an offer letter, which included faculty positions, staff positions and additional budget to augment the college budget.
Desu created strategic plans, he said, such as raising standards for new hires and for promotions of existing faculty, eliminating gender inequality through one-time anomalies and improving faculty success rates for research funding through mentorships. Desu said he also worked to improve the reputation of research programs.
Resigning from his role as dean in 2009, Desu assumed the role of founding director of CASP, which he had established while being dean. According to Desu, during his time at BU, the dean of Watson College tried to divert CASP research funds to faculty salaries to cover the college budget deficit. Desu also claimed that BU went against its commitment that intellectual property rights would be preserved and protected, and encouraged faculty and staff to publish scientific works relying on his own intellectual property and scholarly works.
“Rather than conducting a review on intellectual property misappropriation (as per their policies, by an external advisory committee consisting of primarily engineering and science research faculty without any conflict of interest), BU concocted a sham authorship review by merely interviewing the perpetrators rather than investigating their research misconduct,” Desu wrote in an email.
After several years, the Court of Claims of New York state ruled in 2020 BU was liable for the conversion of Desu’s laboratory equipment and tangible documentation of his research and ideas.
Desu plans to use the money to expand an educational program he has been developing for the past few years into the United States.
“I have been developing a gratuitous educational program based on machine learning and AI to up-skill and enrich economically disadvantaged girls from South India and prepare them for the current labor force,” Desu wrote in an email.
Hannah Machingo, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said she found the recent incident to be worrying.
“It’s not okay that the former dean had to sue the University and win a lot of money to get justice,” Machingo said. “The University should make sure everyone is doing things right and protect people who tell the truth.”
Sarah Shain, a sophomore majoring in business administration, expressed concern over the University’s policies.
“I hope that [BU] will take this as an opportunity to reassess its policies and procedures,” Shain said. “It’s good that the dean got money from the school, but I hope this helps our school learn how to protect people who report problems.”