Montana State Professor Resigns Amid Harassment Complaints

Budak criticized female students about their weight and for having boyfriends or being married and more

By Molly Priddy

BOZEMAN — A Montana State University advanced genetics professor and plant scientist has resigned after an internal investigation found he harassed and discriminated against students, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Thursday.

The Chronicle obtained a report on the investigation of Hikmet Budak, which began in August 2018 after three students filed complaints.

It found Budak criticized female students about their weight and for having boyfriends or being married, yelled at students and discriminated against students and staff based on their disabilities, national origin, religion or sex.

Budak acknowledged having an affair with a doctoral student and said he didn’t report it to the university as a possible conflict of interest because he was still married, the report said. The report alleges Budak took her to an out-of-state conference and gave her authorship credit on academic papers, which other students saw as preferential treatment.

Budak, a scientist from Turkey, was the school’s first Winifred-Asbjornson Plant Science endowed chair when he joined the faculty in 2016. He was part of an international group of scientists that mapped the genome of durum wheat, which could help develop varieties that could produce higher yields, better nutritional quality and be better able to resist pests, stress and disease.

Investigators with MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity interviewed 18 witnesses during the investigation and Director Emily Stark concluded from a preponderance of the evidence that Budak created “a hostile environment that was rampant with harassment.”

The April 8 report said Budak “denies all allegations against him.”

Budak’s attorney, Hillary Carls, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday, but the report quoted her as saying: “Dr. Budak leaving MSU provides the witnesses and the university with their desired result.” It’s not clear when he resigned.

Witnesses reported Budak repeatedly told students they were fired from his lab, threatened to send foreign students back to their home countries and frequently threatened to shoot students, saying he had a gun in his glovebox. Witnesses reported he became angry with a young woman because she had a boyfriend, yelled at a student for giving her phone number to a young man and drove while screaming at a woman and running red lights and went into a “towering rage.”

Budak sought to control and manipulate students by isolating them and reportedly told students from Turkey they shouldn’t associate with American students because “they will make us lazy” and “try to convert us to Christianity,” students told investigators.

The young woman who had a relationship with Budak told investigators she was taking medication for anxiety and felt isolated, another woman said she “actually became suicidal for a short time” while others feared retaliation for reporting his actions.

In late December 2018, Montana State’s play-by-play broadcaster Jay Sanderson announced he was leaving his position to attend to family matters. It was later revealed that a preliminary investigation by the Office of Institutional Equity found credible evidence to substantiate claims that Sanderson sexually harassed a newspaper sportswriter and sent her suggestive texts. He denied the allegations.