History professor Charles Armstrong cited nonexistent or irrelevant sources in at least 61 instances in his 2016 book, “Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992,” according to the findings of an investigation by the University’s Standing Committee on the Conduct of Research.
In a letter sent to select faculty on Tuesday, Interim Executive Vice President of the Arts and Sciences Maya Tolstoy announced that Armstrong, who is on sabbatical for the 2019-2020 academic year, will retire at the end of 2020.
Armstrong, a tenured professor who specializes in modern Korean, East Asian, and international history, has faced public accusations of source fabrication in “Tyranny of the Weak” since 2016, when professor Balazs Szalontai of Korea University filed a formal complaint to Columbia alleging that the book included 76 cases of academic misconduct. In 2017, Szalontai raised the total number of cases to 98 after finding an additional number of problems in the work.
Though Columbia’s Institutional Policy on Misconduct in Research states that an investigation should be completed within 120 days of its initiation, and the adjudication should be completed within 60 days, the University declined to comment publicly on the case for nearly two years after Szalontai filed the case to former Provost John Coatsworth.
The University declined to comment on why proceedings took longer than the timeline outlined within its own policies.
“There is no higher value at Columbia than ensuring the credibility of our scholarship,” a Columbia spokesperson said in a statement. “Professor Armstrong is no longer teaching or supervising Columbia students.”
Armstrong continued to teach classes through spring 2019, even receiving a President’s Global Innovation Fund grant in 2017. In response, a number of professors both within and outside Columbia pointed to the allegations as undermining the integrity of the history department.
In January 2019, the Standing Committee on the Conduct of Research finalized its recommendations for action to be taken in response to Armstrong’s misconduct, according to documents obtained by Spectator. The documents also outline how a number of the chapters in question were submitted as part of Armstrong’s tenure application in 2003.
The committee’s recommendations, which were implemented starting April 9, included notifying the American History Association, Cornell Press, and the Weatherhead East Asian Institute of the outcome of the investigation, modifying Armstrong’s book to indicate that corrections had been made, and stopping the usage of either version of “Tyranny of the Weak” as a textbook for Columbia courses.
Though the committee also suggested that findings be publicly announced, citing the widespread nature of the allegations, Tolstoy’s statement was not shared with faculty outside of relevant departments.
“Generally, findings of research misconduct are communicated to the public through retractions or corrections published in the scholarly literature. Where such a retraction is not feasible, the University may choose to notify the relevant community,” Tolstoy’s letter read.
After multiple rounds of review by the Executive Vice President for Research Compliance, Training and Policy Naomi Schrag and Provost Coatsworth, the University declared that the research misconduct case was closed on April 9 and ultimately announced that Armstrong would retire.
When enforcing punitive measures against tenured faculty, the University has never completed the process required by its statutes to remove a faculty’s tenure rights, a Spectator investigation found last spring. The best case outcome for disciplinary proceedings, ranging from academic misconduct to sexual assault, is often the retirement of a faculty member—negotiated between University representatives and the faculty members themselves.
In response to the findings, Armstrong said he had not yet seen the letter sent by Tolstoy, but that he apologized for the errors in his work.
“I deeply regret the shortcomings of my research and the issues found in my book, which I have done my best to address and correct,” Armstrong wrote in a statement to Spectator.