UF grad student’s family files claim against university after suicide

Antonio G Ginting

Thomas J. Weber

The family of a University of Florida graduate student who died by suicide has filed a legal complaint seeking unspecified financial damages against the school for neglecting to intervene in what it said was mistreatment by a former professor.

The statement of claim filed by the family of Huixiang Chen with the Florida Department of Financial Services is a legal maneuver that is a precursor to a civil lawsuit against a state government agency. Chen, 30, hanged himself in a university lab in June 2019 and left behind notes accusing his tenured professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Tao Li, 49, of abusive behavior and academic misconduct.

A photo of Huixiang Chen is displayed on a television screen during a July 2019 memorial service commemorating the life of Chen, a University of Florida student who took his life in the month before.

The claim said Li “engaged in a pattern of emotional abuse, harassment, intimidation, threats and deceit” involving Chen and his studies, and said without citing evidence that the university had “notice and knowledge” of Li’s conduct and Chen’s “imminent threat of suicide.” 

Earlier:UF professor retires amid investigation after grad student’s suicide

From 2019: UF reviewing circumstances in Chinese student’s death

It sought unspecified payment for damages and attorney’s fees. It said the university and at least one other individual it did not identify — presumably Li — were liable in Chen’s death, and described a troubled relationship between Chen and Li.

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