The University said yesterday that former graduate student Jim Connell's lawsuit was not legitimate.
University Vice President and Secretary Tom Wright '62 said the University has tried to accommodate Connell.
"I believe that a great deal of time and attention has been devoted to try to address Mr. Connell's complaints," he said. "Some are academic, some have to do with housing. All these different departments of the University have tried to satisfy him," Wright said.
The University has not decided if it will take the case to court or settle with Connell, Wright said.
"We will certainly defend against charges and complaints that are groundless and baseless," he said. "The way the University will respond is not yet formulated."
University attorney Kate Buttolph said the University does not have a policy of always settling or always going to court. "It's all fact-based," she said. "Facts and circumstances in particular. Sometimes it's an economic decision."
Connell filed a civil suit against the University in the Superior Court of New Jersey Aug. 22, 1997. His suit involves 60 grievances that mostly deal with the conditions of his housing and neuropsycology laboratory, according to his Plaintiff's Certification – an official document listing his complaints.
In the document he says he is not looking for a monetary settlement. "I am asking the court to exercise good faith and conscience in equity. I have everything to lose right now. It would not be any burden on Defendants to allow me to continue research, continue residing at my quarters (which I pay for from my salary), continue to work at Princeton University as a teaching assistant, continue to receive coverage for health care and prescriptions and continue to pursue my degree. No award of money will make me whole in this matter. I need injunctive relief."
However, Wright said he believes Connell was legitimately dismissed from the University although federal law prohibits him from talking about the specific reason Connell lost his academic status.
"I believe he was fairly treated by the department of psychology and his professors," Wright said. "The University goes to great lengths to respond to complaints (like Connell's)."
A Graduate Student Union member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said in a written statement Monday that Connell's complaint "seems plausible in light of what I know from other students. I know personally another student who had to struggle with the University on several occasions to get out of a housing situation that both the student and the housing office knew to be hazardous to the student's health."
The GSU member added that he has seen written accounts "from students in the Butler Apartments who have had serious water leaks and flooding (not unlike Jim's situation) in their apartment which were not resolved for several months of complaints to various housing personnel – until the students eventually complained to Princeton Township."
Mold in a flooded, leaky apartment led to Connell's development of aspergillosis, Connell alleges. He currently takes high doses of steroids that have resulted in serious medical problems, according to an email Connell wrote Monday.
Associate Directory of Housing Hal Szenes, who is named as a defendant in the suit, said the housing office gets very few complaints and most of those are "temporary malfunctions."
"We have no facilities that are in bad shape," he said. "Old buildings have problems. . . . When something is leaky, we attempt to fix it immediately and generally we do. But water is devious. Sometimes you think you fix it and it comes in another way. We've never given up on a problem – we've always worked to solve it," Szenes said.