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Columbia Spectator Staff

After a tumultuous year characterized by suspicions of plagiarism and a hate crime that stunned campus, Madonna Constantine, Teachers College professor of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, has been suspended from her tenured position. Her termination will be made effective December 31, 2008, pending an appeal.

A letter sent Monday by TC President Susan Fuhrman and Provost Tom James informed faculty of the decision made by the Faculty Advisory Committee. The decision will take effect following a hearing before a faculty committee, and Constantine has been suspended, effective immediately, until that hearing is completed. Monday's letter denied Constantine's appeal to the law firm Hughes Hubbard and Reed's determination of plagiarism, as announced in February via a letter to TC faculty.

The TC letter circulated in February said the 18-month-long investigation "was prompted by complaints from students and one former faculty member who said language from materials they wrote was included without attribution in the articles." The investigation focused specifically on 36 passages found in pieces of work published by Constantine that shared many similarities with the work of her former students, Tracy Juliao and Karen Cort, and former TC faculty member Christine Yeh. That investigation found Constantine's explanation for the similarities "not credible."

Since first taking action, the College has not specified exactly what sanctions were imposed, but a statement released Monday by the lawyer representing Constantine, Paul Giacomo, revealed that the sanctions included suspension without pay and firing pending an appeal. In the statement, Giacomo condemned actions against Constantine as being "retaliatory and hostile," and called the FAC Report "fatally flawed" for insubstantial consideration of evidence. The FAC report allegedly did not analyze the "plethora of documentary evidence" presented by Constantine and verified by third parties, including Teachers College records.
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The letter TC distributed on Monday, as obtained by the New York Sun, said the FAC "confirmed the administration's decision to accept the Hughes Hubbard investigative report's findings that Professor Constantine had committed plagiarism and acted to obstruct the investigation." In particular, the letter mentioned Constantine's response to her sanctioning—by accusing those she plagiarized from of having stolen her own work—as an attempt to obstruct the investigation and a reason for the accelerated increase of her penalty. Giacomo's statement said that it is Constantine's constitutional right to "defend her reputation," and comments to the press can therefore not be used to bring forth her termination.

TC's notice went on to say that the FAC concluded on June 4 that "the sanctions against Professor Constantine were not only justified, but required."

Giacomo has long been positive he can "prove prior authorship of all of the passages that...are claimed to have been plagiarized." In the statement, Giacomo said his firm presented evidence showing Constantine's prior journal submission of questionable passages to the FAC, which claimed that the documents were "not verifiable," despite the fact that the firm allegedly took pains to ensure that documents were verified by third parties. The statement expressed ire that "unverified documents used against our client have been accepted as proof for prior authorship."

Giacomo further claims that FAC never interviewed witnesses whose documents were marked unverifiable, showing that the information the investigation relied on was "demonstrably false."

The statement pinpoints Fuhrman, saying "the President of Teachers College has chosen to ignore this important verifiable information and, instead, has proceeded to carry out her threatened termination of our client, as well as her stated intention to disseminate further statements defamatory to our client."

The case has long been a point of conflict among TC faculty, one of whom would only comment that she was "enormously relieved for the young people to see some sort of justice come of this." The professor said the Constantine case has forged a rift among the faculty. The case caused one professor to vocally jump to Constantine's defense and condemn her detractors for racism, while others have loudly called for her ouster.

Constantine is entitled to request a hearing before the FAC or the Faculty Executive Committee to further contest the matter. Constantine may now choose to file an Article 78 proceeding of New York's Civil Practice Law and Rules, which would challenge the ruling as being "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable" under state court. Giacomo's statement also said that Constantine could seek payment for "job actions taken against her" under federal and state employment law. The firm is not ruling out lawsuits against Constantine's detractors, claiming they have inflicted "enormous damages."

According to an anonymous source close to the situation who did not have clearance to speak on the record, Constantine is "keeping all her options open," and "plans on doing everything she can to get out the truth as she sees it."

Update: Tuesday, June 24

On Tuesday, a representative from Giacomo's law firm sent Spectator a computerized copy of a spreadsheet detailing the circumstances of all 36 allegations of plagiarism. Next to each allegation, the sheet included the date of submission of the material in question to different journals; a notation of obtaining a letter of rejection or letter of submission from the editors in response to Constantine's or her accuser's submission of the passage; and the text of the passage itself.

For instance, under the first allegations, the spreadsheet indicated that the firm has a letter of rejection addressed to Constantine from January 1996 by the editor of Applied and Preventive Psychology for an article entitled "Facilitating Adjustment to College: Considerations in Counseling Ethnic Minority and International College Studies." The next column indicates that the firm has a copy of a letter of submission in May 1997 from the editor of the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. The 5th column lists that the firm could not verify proof or the date of Yeh and her co-workers' submission of the analogous text to the journals Asian American Psychological Association, and National Institutes of Health.

Most contested passages contain citations to and summaries of other texts.

Juliao stands by her accusation. "An independent law firm and a faculty committee at TC both found MC guilty of plagiarism based upon documentation provided by myself (and others), as well as MC," she wrote in an e-mail. "In fact, the faculty committee reviewed the evidence twice and upheld their initial determination, in response to MC's appeal. I can tell you that the documentation I provided indicates that MC, as a faculty member in the department where drafts of my work were filed, had access to my work long before it was published."

Check back for continuous updates.

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