Former UMKC dental student sues school over appeals process

A former dental student is suing UMKC for reinstatement or $20.33 million, alleging the dental school appeals process is unfair. The $20.33 million figure comes from the expected career earnings for a dentist in the Kansas City area.

The student, Afsaneh Momtahan, was dismissed in May of 2017 because she failed to maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher for two consecutive semesters. Students are automatically dismissed from the dental school if this occurs.

When reaching out to both parties, the plaintiff declined to comment, and UMKC has yet to respond to the situation.

The lawsuit was filed in December at a federal court in Kansas City and gave the following account of the situation:

Her suit claims that she was one of three dental students (including a Hispanic woman, a white man and herself) with GPAs below 2.5 who appealed their dismissals. UMKC only reinstated the Caucasian male student.

School of Dentistry Dean Marsha Pyle, who received Momtahan’s appeal directly, rejected her appeal, allegedly due to concerns from the School of Dentistry regarding her level of English proficiency.

Momtahan is an Iranian immigrant who came to the U.S when she was 17 years old, and she reportedly mastered learning three languages (English, Farsi and Urdu) before being admitted into the dental school. She claims in the suit that she was brought in by the dental school for a face-to-face admissions interview where she met and spoke with several School of Dentistry faculty before being admitted to the school in the fall of 2016.

Momtahan also graduated from UMKC in 2016 with a bachelor’s degrees in both chemistry and psychology. Before being accepted into any undergraduate course at UMKC, students are required to demonstrate their levels of English proficiency.

Following Pyle’s decision to reject her appeal, Momtahan allegedly came to an agreement with the School of Dentistry, in which they would readmit her if she demonstrated the ability to complete courses in a science master’s degree program, as well as demonstrate a level of English proficiency the school would find acceptable.

Momtahan, following the agreement, enrolled and was accepted into a UMKC master’s degree program for cell and molecular biology. She notified Pyle of her acceptance in September of 2017 to further her readmission agreement.

The lawsuit states that Momtahan completed two semesters of the master’s program by spring 2018 and had a combined GPA of 3.6.

Despite the readmission agreement, the School of Dentistry still would not readmit her for the fall 2018 term.

According to the lawsuit, “Afsaneh has incurred damages due to foregoing detrimental reliance on the [School of Dentistry] and Dean Pyle including, without limitation, tuition and fees, lost wages, value of professional services, reputational damage, emotional damage, and other non-pecuniary damages.”

While working on her master’s program, Momtahan served as a graduate teaching assistant. To qualify for this position, she was required to satisfy the English Proficiency Standard, which she did, according to statements in the lawsuit. This standard is met once a non-regular faculty member has completed two courses requiring verbal and written proficiency in English. Momtahan alleges she successfully completed courses beyond the required amount.

Due to the breach of agreement, Momtahan had no reason to continue her master’s degree. The sole reason she enrolled was to prove her abilities to complete related courses. She completed her second semester and dropped the program right after.

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