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Kan. prof sues, alleges KUMC misused grant funds

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A longtime professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine has sued the school, claiming it retaliated against him for his assertion that the university misappropriated federal research grants.

Curtis Klaassen, who has worked for KUMC since 1968, contends in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court that the school stripped him of his position as principal investigator on research projects. He also said KUMC fired most of his post-graduate research assistants and killed important genetically modified laboratory mice used for research.

"They ruined my reputation and they interfered with the education of my students -- and I would say the second is most important," Klaassen said Friday in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

In addition to the University of Kansas and its School of Medicine, the lawsuit also names the Kansas Board of Regents and several university officials as defendants.

Board of Regents spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said the board will review and respond appropriately to the lawsuit, but that it typically does not comment on litigation. The university did not immediately respond to the AP's phone and email messages.

Klaassen is a distinguished professor and former chairman of the school's department of pharmacology and toxicology, as well as a former president of the Society of Toxicology and the International Union of Toxicology. He is on paid administrative leave.

His lawsuit details numerous dust-ups with university officials that appear to have mainly begun in 2011, when Klaasen accused one of the deans of inappropriately siphoning money from the basic sciences to pay for other programs and the remodeling of facilities.

A month after he made that allegation, Klaassen was dismissed as chairman of the department.

He was first put on administrative leave in November 2011 for about a month after the university accused him of "belligerent" behavior and mishandling grant funds -- an accusation his lawsuit claims was a pretext because of his complaints about KUMC's mismanagement of federal grant funds. He was publicly censured and forced to apologize in May 2012.

Klaassen was again placed on administrative leave this past May in the wake of another meeting, where he accused the university's administration of misappropriating about $200,000 of grant money for projects in which he had had served as the principle investigator, according to his lawsuit.

Over the course of his career, Klaassen said in the lawsuit, he has brought in an average of three grants each year from the National Institute of Health, the principal federal agency for medical research. Klaassen told AP over the years he has brought in more than $12 million in federal grants.

Klaassen also had an endowment account that over 35 years had brought in more than $1 million comprised of funds given to him by friends, students and corporations to fund research student stipends and projects, according to the lawsuit.

"I want to work." Klaassen said.

"All I ask -- the main thing I ask -- is to be able to work and help my students," he said

It is "extremely, extremely difficult" to get research money from the NIH, he said, and that there is only enough money to pay for the top 10 percent of projects submitted for funding.

"These are thought to be extremely important for biomedical science and for the future and the health and well-being of people," Klaassen said of the NIH grants.