Last October, hundreds of students, faculty and community activists rallied on Columbia University’s campus to protest the hanging of a noose on the office door of a popular African-American professor. Now this same professor, Dr. Madonna G. Constantine, has been fired from her teaching post amid charges that she repeatedly plagiarized the work of two former students and a colleague.
Constantine, 45, a tenured professor who has taught psychology and education at Columbia’s Teachers College for the past decade and is an expert on race relations, had originally been sanctioned by the university back in February after an 18-month investigation into the plagiarism charges.
Though she was able to hold onto her job at the time, Constantine immediately appealed the sanctions and hired an attorney to defend herself against the allegations, claiming that she had been “specifically and systematically targeted” by university officials. She later filed a grievance against Dr. Susan Fuhrman, who is president of Teachers College.
Sources say that the decision by Constantine to challenge the plagiarism findings ultimately forced university officials to reject Constantine’s appeal and to suspend her, effective immediately. Constantine has until July 15th to challenge her termination, but the decision to fire one of only two Black women full professors at Teachers College came as a blow to her longtime supporters.
“During the months since the college levied sanctions against her, professor Constantine continued to make accusations of plagiarism, including in at least one instance to the press, against those whose works she had plagiarized,” officials wrote in a letter sent out earlier this week to the entire faculty.
Officials at Teachers College point to the investigation of Constantine’s work by the law firm, Hughes Hubbard & Reed, which concluded that there were “numerous instances in which she [Constantine] used others’ work without attribution in papers she published in academic journals over the past five years.”
Constantine could not be reached for comment, but her attorney, Paul Giacomo, faulted Columbia, adding that the “action of seeking termination of our client’s employment is retaliatory and hostile and has the effect of punishing her for asserting her right to due process.”
Giacomo says that Constantine may bring a wrongful termination lawsuit against the college either in federal or state court.
Before the noose incident and the subsequent plagiarism charges, Constantine was well-respected in her field. She earned a bachelor’s from Xavier University of Louisiana and a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Memphis. She worked at the University of Texas at Austin and Temple University before she arrived at Columbia. She is the co-author of the book, Addressing Racism: Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings.
Nine months later it is still unclear who placed the noose — long associated with lynching and a symbol of racial hatred — on Constantine’s door. New York City Police declined to comment on the incident, but a grand jury was convened earlier this year to hear evidence related to the case.
Following the incident, Teachers College held a series of meetings to allow students the opportunity to express their concerns about the incident, but some students say that they remain confused over what to think about the school’s decision to let the popular professor go.
“Many of the students feel very conflicted,” said a student who knows Constantine, but did not want to be identified. “The last few months have been very trying for everyone. No one knows what to make of this situation. It’s just so confusing.”
According to a report by The Associated Press, New York Gov. David Patterson signed legislation last month, which boosted noose displays to the same category of crime as cross burnings and swastika displays.
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