Luleå University of Technology (LTU) is located in the far north of Sweden, near the Arctic Circle. Light is sparse there, and so is apparently basic human decency. Winters are long, dark and cold, maybe this is what drives some LTU academics to behave like psychopaths. The following story happened at the Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics. All names are known to me, I spoke with victims and witnesses, and received a number of documents. The rector Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn and other LTU leaders never replied to my officially delivered emails, which suggests they do not dispute the events described below.
A female associate professor S was coerced under threat of sacking into producing research papers for the PhD student B whom she was supervising. That student was namely having a somewhat violent sexual relationship with the Department’s Chair, Professor W. The student B was allegedly utterly incapable of contributing anything to her own research publications, but she did expect W to give her a faculty job at LTU once she graduates. When S announced to quit slaving for W and B, she was bullied, stripped of her position as thesis supervisor, and then sacked. Two more faculty members were forced to resign, while W has been assigned the supervision of his own lover.
The abuse was supported by the Department’s prefect Elisabet Kassfeldt, who did nothing to help the victims, but apparently a lot to assist the perpetrators.
Here is Dr S’ own summary of the scandal, from the complaint documents I obtained, and which are available in various versions to LTU:
- “In 2016, Professor W employed a young woman B from Russia, by arranging
three years contract for her as PhD student, without announcing an open position, i.e. with violation of the recruitment rules. Directly after getting the contract she really became his lover.
- In 2018, in order to arrange the extension of this lover’s job placement on the department, W supported by the prefect, intensified his policies aimed at worsening conditions for a specially selected group of people, effectively and cynically forcing them to resign from their positions.
- In order to guarantee that his lover B will get Ph. Degree, W, in fact, exploited me to produce research papers for his lover B. After I had spent a lot of my private time and energy to produce enough papers and teach B to understand what was done in the papers, the couple W-B started to pressure me with respect to the study plan of B, in order that I continue to produce more papers for them.
- After I had pronounced that I will not work anymore as their “slave” in this way, I was cynically punished. Prefect of the department, influenced by the couple W-B, replaced me with W and another colleague as supervisors for B. All new supervisors are not experts at all in the topics of the papers done by me for B, but W wanted to have those papers included into B’s thesis under their “supervision”.
- After such blatantly cynical actions against me, I expressed my protest but it was ignored as being a protest, and I was “welcomed” to resign from my employment at LTU.”
It all does sound bizarre and incredible, this was why I contacted some witnesses, who confirmed me that this was exactly what happened. A former colleague, a distinguished 74 year old mathematics professor, describes S in this way:
“[She] is without hesitation an excellent researcher in mathematics and absolutely one of the best female professors Sweden ever have recruited. So it is especially painful that she feels so humiliated and mobbed that she even has been forced to leave her permanent professor position. In my opinion, this is very tragic, not acceptable and a shame for those who are responsible for it.”
This colleague was next to S the second co-supervisor of B (and another victim of B’s bullying), until they both were removed as B’s supervisors by the Prefect Kassfeldt’s decree. It all happened because at some point S had enough of being a paper-writing “slave” for W and his girlfriend. S wrote:
“The situation radically changed for me after B got the employment at the department.
She started to show lack of interest to work, B and W spent a lot of time together, but I felt forced to work for her to produce papers. Thus, having done full time teaching, I worked a lot all evenings, weekends and vacations to get new scientific results and then working with her.
At that time I had no courage to protest, because W threatened that I would be first to be fired, because the department had budget problems. I had to keep it always in mind. I heard also from B that I kept my position due to her. Moreover, emphasizing on her power over Chief, she suggested me a support if I need something from him. I was surprised by such her bragging about intimacy with Chief and influence over him.
I have to concern the questions of their love relationship because these have had a significant impact on the working conditions for me.
They often quarrelled, B often complained that W disturbed her, coming to her whenever he wanted, having key to her apartment, but she could not reject him because she had salary due to him. On the other hand, W complained that she demanded too much from him, for instance, position at the department after her PhD defence.
As I remember, their first heavy conflict was in spring 2017, and he asked me to produce the last papers of planned papers for her thesis, as soon as possible. So I did it.
According to W himself, in August 2017, he and B had such heavy quarrel that she even frightened him with a knife. After that W asked me and another supervisor to hasten the work on her thesis so that she would be ready for PhD defence as soon as possible, maybe in the spring 2018. Then in January-February they had a heavy quarrel again, and W asked us to go to her home because she had frightened him that she will suicide that night. He told that he wanted to help her to defend PhD as soon as possible and asked us to do everything in order that her defence would be held in June 2018.
Depending on state of their relations, i.e. quarrel or “honey moon” W either asked us to hasten with her defence or wanted to delay. She had a complete freedom to do what she wanted, to travel, to cancel planned course, sometimes he travelled to her to Russia or they travelled together, while I had to produce papers for her thesis.”
The knife accident was confirmed by other witnesses who also heard of the story, but it had no consequences whatsoever at the university. S meanwhile was blackmailed into writing papers for B so Professor W’s lover can graduate and join the LTU faculty:
“I had to write articles for her. I had to work all evenings, weekends, holidays and vacation time. I worked to get more and more new scientific results, and then worked with her to teach her to understand what I had done. So, having failed to make an article during 4 years of PhD study in Russia, B became co-author for, in fact, my 6 articles during 2 years. All the work was done by me, she only studied what I did, and according to my recommendations she did some straightforward calculations forher own practice with my help.
The natural question – why I did it? It is well known that the department had problems with the budget. W, Chief of Department, always reminded me that I will be first to lose job, since I was last employed. So I had always to keep this in mind.
I heard many times from this PhD student that I keep my position only due to her and so I must be grateful to her.”
Professor W was apparently a bit inconsistent about the work morale at his department. While he expected from some people (like S) to be in the office from 8:30 till 16:30, he himself allegedly “often spent the “working office hours” with his lover B mostly at her apartment or skiing or somewhere else”. In May 2017, W and B visited Russia, in Rostov they stayed in the small one-bedroom flat with B’s mother. Emails from that time clearly show a vacationing couple, with W enjoying B’s mom’s hospitality with beer and traditional Russian “shashlik” barbecue.
Up until June 2018, all emails B sent to S were grateful and happy. The situation only changed when S decided to quit writing papers for B, after having delivered six, with a seventh in the making. After the associate professor complained to her Department’s Prefect about the situation, Kassfeldt initially announced to interfere and to separate the love relationship from the academic affairs, on 2 July 2018:
“My advice to W is to end his engagement as co-supervisor. I will also try to encourage him to tell B that she can receive professional support to help her in her stressful situation”
But then, things went into another direction, and it was S who was removed as B’s supervisor:
“On 2018-08-28, at 1 pm, Prefect informed me that I am withdrawn as supervisor for this PhD student. Prefect decided that W will be supervisor for B”.
S compiled a protest letter to the department’s prefect, in Swedish, with the help of a translator. She wrote “I cannot work at the department if there are accepted such “feudal-type rules”, but the letter was officially interpreted as resignation from the employment, and S was sacked. Even if she never intended to resign and even sent the next day a new letter, which was simply ignored:
“I asked to annul my letter from 2018-08-28 as written in state of affect and not reflected my real will which was only my protest but not resignation.
I didn’t get any answer from the prefect on my letter of 2018-08-29. The secretary of the prefect confirmed that she delivered my letter to the prefect. Then I sent this letter to University registrator on 2018-09-03. I didn’t get any answer for these my letters. So I didn’t know whether I had my position or not. Finally, I asked Chef HR about my case and he told that I have to leave the university in two months. I didn’t get any document.”
After W succeeded to sack the associate professor S because she refused to work for him and his lover, two more faculty members were forced to resign. This was rather convenient in another respect, as S speculates:
“He needed to fire more people in order to employ B by some cunning way without a fair competition, as I guess, since her three years contract is to summer of 2019.
Inspired by the success in the “victory” over me, W as I can guess started a game to dismiss [the married couple E]. The game consists of an idea to announce a large budget deficit and the need to fire two employees.”
The husband of the E couple who resigned confirmed to me that S described the situation correctly:
“My wife and I have worked at Lulea University of Technology for almost 23 years and we have had many problems there. But the recent events were just too much for us and we could not justify any longer our continuation at this university. The reason that we have stayed so long is mainly due to our children’s school education and because there always was some hope that things could get better. But when we witnessed what was happening to [S] and saw the way that she was treated by [W and the Prefect] in August 2018, my wife and I realized that it was time to quit. The lying and the corruption in this department is just off any scale. We are not willing to work for a university that allows, and even encourages, a Prefekt to rule in this way.”
As it seems, also the couple E were already slotted for forced removal by the Department Prefect, to free up funds. Kassfeldt namely wrote this in a protocol from 18.12.2018, announcing the resignations of E:
” That means the financial situation will change to forecast 1. Negotiations on personnel cuts will not happen.”
A paper with B’s authorship was accepted by Springer in August 2018. But this time, S protested to the publisher that B had “zero contribution” to that study. B was asked by Springer to explain what she thinks she contributed, the student however struggled there and received some help:
“the response to Springer was made not by B, but instead of her, the prefect and the ex-Chair of the faculty board sent their written support for a role of B in the authorship of the article in question, although they were not aware at all of how and when the paper was done.”
The paper was never published. B is still listed as PhD student of LTU. With 3 faculty members removed, there is now enough budget available for W to employ his knife-wielding lover as assistant professor, should she ever graduate thanks to the papers which S wrote.
The initial version of this article contained a second case of alleged bullying at same department at LTU. However, reader pointed out that a key fact about the fellowship’s nature was wrong, while the credibility of the source became highly questionable for a number of other reasons.
The article was updated on 12.08.2019 with some additional quotes and a document.
After many days of total silence, a reply arrived from LTU rector, Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn. Note that the rector does not deny the sexual relationship between W and B, or any other events described, or that LTU faculty members are presently commenting under this article as Robin, Ken or PEL, but declares this:
“We have received your emails between 2019-07-17 and 2019-08-05. If bias arises and is established in a PhD and supervisor relationship the supervisor is replaced. In accordance with the University’s guidelines for dealing with scientific dishonesty, an initial investigation was made by three separate groups (the department, the faculty and the juridical team). They found no ground to proceed with a full investigation. The employee in question resigned, on own initiative, in writing with a signed document August 28, 2018. The prefect granted the notice on the same day.”
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