A former student at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry who says she was dismissed from the school and denied her degrees after she fell short of completing a $21,000 required quota in clinical work has won a legal battle to have her degrees honored.
On October 11, the Appellate Division of the First Department of the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of former dental student Katie Kickertz by overturning a lower court ruling that had found in favor of NYU.
The new ruling requires the school to grant Kickertz her bachelor's and dental degrees.
Kickertz enrolled in NYU College of Dentistry in fall 2005 and participated in a dentistry program that accepted undergraduate students with three years of study.
Kickertz's graduation requirements at the NYU College of Dentistry included a practice model value (PMV) requirement whereby she was obligated to gain clinical experience by providing dental treatment to real patients for a fee that was paid over to NYU, according to court documents.
The NYU instructor who served as Kickertz's advisor for the clinical instruction aspects of her education claims that he advised her in the spring of 2009 (without providing any supporting documents) that she had not earned sufficient PMV credits to graduate, the lawsuit claimed. However, Kickertz insists that she first learned of the deficiency in an e-mail she received the evening before graduation.
According to NYU, in an attempt to obtain the necessary PMV credits, Kickertz fabricated patient records and paid NYU money out of her own pocket to cover the fees that would have corresponded to that treatment.
'Lapse in judgment'
Meanwhile, Kickertz told the New York Post that when she was told of the $2,000 shortfall, faculty advisers urged her to make up the difference. After she made a credit card payment, school officials canceled the payment, calling it an ethical breach.
Kickertz was then dismissed from the school and in March 2010 initiated a court proceeding against NYU. She alleged various causes of action against the university, including false advertising, breach of contract, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, unjust enrichment, and gender and disability discrimination.
NYU filed a motion to dismiss all claims, which was granted in February 2011.
In its decision to overthrow that lower court ruling last week, the appellate court wrote that Kickertz's performance at NYU dental college was exemplary and this incident was at worst a single lapse in judgment.
Also, because Kickertz was able to enter the dentistry program before completing her degree, expulsion from NYU left her with no degree of any kind after seven years in school at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the appellate court. The ruling also found that NYU's handling of Kickertz was harsher than the punishment it has given to similarly situated students.
"We are thrilled with the decision," said Kickertz's lawyer, Jeffrey K. Brown of Leeds Brown Law in Carle Place. "This ordeal has caused her emotional and financial distress, and has had a devastating affect on her career."
John Beckam, an NYU spokesman, said in a statement that the school is disappointed with the court ruling.
"The matter boils down to this: A student altered patient records to suggest she had performed required procedures when, in fact, she had not; such actions are incompatible with our standards for conferring a DDS degree," he stated.
He also called the issue about fees a "red herring" and said that Kickertz's allegations that the dental school required students to generate revenue are false and misleading.
"For a few years, the College of Dentistry assigned dollar values as a surrogate for clinical credit requirements; it was thought that this mechanism would give students some experience related to the business aspects of running a dental practice," he stated. "However, there were never any revenue expectations for the students, nor did the surrogate dollar figures correspond to any of the fees the college did or did not receive for the dental procedures students performed."
NYU is planning to appeal the decision.
Kickertz has since earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue University and a dental degree from Illinois University. She got her license last week and plans to practice in Illinois, the New York Post reported.