The University of Idaho has settled a lawsuit with two former employees who claimed they were punished for reporting concerns that a high-profile researcher was using university resources to benefit private companies.
Although the university is publicly funded, the terms of the settlement were being kept confidential.
The UI released a statement saying Kenneth Hass and his wife, Martha Hass, “adhered to and followed” the proper procedures in reporting their concerns. The statement also said allegations that Kenneth Hass attempted to sabotage sensitive research projects were “unfounded.”
The couple worked at the UI’s Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research in Post Falls, a research operation formerly led by Gary Maki. The center designed and developed microchips used on NASA missions, among other projects, and Maki had a history of high-profile breakthroughs.
In 2005, the Hasses told a university auditor that Maki and others at CAMBR were improperly using UI resources to benefit two private spinoff companies owned by Maki and research colleagues. A UI audit concluded that Maki and others deliberately directed public resources to benefit the companies – using university equipment, personnel and office space to support one firm, and doing company business on university time, among other issues.
As a result, the UI toughened its policies managing conflicts of interest between researchers and the for-profit enterprises that arise from their discoveries.
Kenneth Hass worked as a professor at the center, and Martha Hass was in administrative support before moving to another department and eventually leaving the UI. They said they faced retaliation from supervisors and administrators for reporting their concerns.
Kenneth Hass was also the subject of a letter to UI officials – apparently authored by Maki, but signed by a NASA official – questioning whether he provided sensitive information to unauthorized sources, including “foreign agents.”
The UI said that allegation, as well as others from Maki that Kenneth Hass had tried to sabotage CAMBR projects, were unfounded.
Maki was demoted in 2007 from director of CAMBR to professor there, and he retired this month. The Hasses now live in Lewisburg, Pa., where Kenneth is a professor at Bucknell University.
Neither the UI nor the Hasses’ attorney would comment further on the case, under the conditions of the agreement.