Embattled Teachers College Professor Madonna Constantine denied charges of plagiarism on Wednesday, and announced plans to fight sanctions imposed by the TC administration, a day after a memo detailing the allegations became public.
Constantine, a professor in the department of counseling and clinical psychology since 1998, said she plans to appeal the sanctions to the Faculty Advisory Committee, alleging that the investigation was biased and "was designed to reach a foregone conclusion," according to a statement released Wednesday.
In her statement, Constantine flatly denied the allegations of plagiarism. "This investigation, along with other incidents that have happened to me at Teachers College in recent months, point to a conspiracy and witch-hunt by certain current and former members of the Teachers College community," she wrote.
"I am left to wonder whether a White faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner," she added.
The allegations of racism drew strong rebuttals from a TC spokesperson, who called the notion that TC is racist "absolutely absurd and untrue" because the school has "zero tolerance for racism."
On Monday, TC hand-delivered to faculty members a memo reporting that a year-and-a-half-long investigation by an outside law firm had found that Constantine had stolen the work of one former colleague and two former students, and that the school would sanction her for the plagiarism.
The investigation concluded that Constantine's "explanation for the strikingly similar language was not credible," according to a TC statement issued later on Tuesday. Neither the statement nor the hand-delivered memo detailed what sanctions the school would impose.
TC and Constantine first entered the spotlight when a noose was found on Constantine's office door in early October in a still-unsolved hate crime that drew national media attention. In her statement, Constantine drew a connection between the noose incident and the plagiarism investigation.
"I believe that nothing that has happened to me this year is coincidental, particularly when I reflect upon the hate crime I experienced last semester involving a noose on my office door," she said.
As details of the plagiarism allegations emerged Wednesday, colleagues revealed that the official investigation was in the works years before the noose incident.
Former TC professor Christine Yeh, who now teaches at the University of San Francisco, was one of three former colleagues and students identified by TC as having formally accused Constantine of plagiarism. Yeh said she gradually became concerned about Constantine's research over the course of a decade of working in the same department.
"It was a few years ago when it came to my attention and I started to actually read what she had published, my work ... it wasn't until later that I was told that students had come forward saying they'd had work stolen as well," Yeh said.
Official discussion of the alleged misconduct began in December 2005 when Yeh and others brought complaints to the department level, according to former counseling and clinical psychology department chair Suniya Luthar. Luthar said she took these concerns to then-TC Dean Darlene Bailey in hopes of launching a formal investigation. In August 2006, Luthar first turned over materials documenting the allegations to TC attorneys, she said.
She next heard about the investigation a year later, when Constantine allegedly presented her with a summons threatening legal action for defamation, slander, and libel. Constantine never followed up the original summons with specifics and withdrew the complaint following the October hate crime.
Despite the allegations now facing Constantine, her attorney Paul Giacomo said that in fact it was Constantine who was plagiarized by her accusers and not the other way around. The investigation was not neutral, he said, because TC did not grant legal indemnity—protection against potential liability—to his client, though the school did to Yeh and former students Tracy Juliao and Karen Cort, who were also officially identified as complainants. Juliao said in a phone interview with Spectator that she had noted specific publications by Constantine that reproduce verbatim portions of Juliao's dissertation.
Giacomo said he has evidence from "independent third parties, who have no ax to grind" showing Constantine's authorship of 36 explicit passages, evidence which he allegedly collected after Constantine was asked to resign last spring. The fact that the evidence was ignored, he said, showed that the investigation was conducted with a "predetermined conclusion."
He declined to show his evidence pending the appeal.
As the accusations flew, TC students who said that they had not received any official notices from the administration about Constantine, seemed to be withholding judgment until more details are available about the various allegations.
"She's a respectable professor here in the community," Victor Quinones, TC, said. "I find it very hard to believe that she would do that."