Columbia's Knotty Noose Problem

There's still no culprit for a notorious noose at Teachers College—but plenty of evidence behind the firing of Madonna Constantine

Cort didn't report the incident until years later.

Constantine had arrived at Columbia Teachers College in August 1998 as an assistant professor, having taught previously at Temple University in Philadelphia. She had a doctorate from Xavier University in New Orleans and a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Memphis. Constantine's specialty was teaching educators how to recognize and successfully deal with racial and cultural differences in their jobs.

"She had a huge personality," says one colleague. "She's one of those people who makes the party."

Ivylise Simones

Constantine was very ambitious: She aspired to run the department and become prominent in national associations. As the winter 2003 semester began, however, Cort learned that Constantine had taken a job with Ohio State University. It remains unclear why Constantine decided to switch jobs.

Before Constantine left, Cort asked her for permission to begin a second-year project—a large research undertaking.

Constantine at first said no, but then agreed. She told Cort that she had to get it done by the summer.

"I had to kill myself to get it done," Cort recalls.

Her research would look at the effects of burnout on school counselors—a topic dear to Cort, because she came to Columbia in part to escape the stress of that job.

Constantine then made a strange demand: She ordered Cort to list her name—not Cort's—as the principal researcher.

"It was only later that I learned that the rule was that I should have been named as the primary researcher," she says. "It's valuable because it lets you publish your research down the road."

Eventually, Cort asked Constantine if she could publish the paper. According to Cort, Constantine said no, it wasn't good enough; the writing just wasn't up to par.

"I just said OK and moved on," Cort says. "All of my classmates got published. I got nothing out of the project."

Later, she found out that Constantine had published the paper as her own.

After her vocal appearances following the noose incident, Constantine has said little publicly since the news of the plagiarism investigation broke in February.

After months of trying, however, the Voice was able to obtain an interview with Constantine's lawyer, Paul Giacomo, approximately a week before his client was fired.

In his first extended interview on the subject, Giacomo made the claim that Cort and Constantine's other accusers stole ideas and research from his client—not the other way around.

"Karen Cort is a liar, and she has been proved to be a liar," he says. "Everything has been rejected by verifiable, written evidence. Everything is documented—it's not just 'he said, she said.' "

Giacomo says he can prove that Cort and the others lifted material from Constantine based on documents filed by his client, which predate, by a period of years, the papers at issue.

"They said enough about my client that's been wrong and can't be backed up," he says. "We have the true story and the true documentation. My client's name will be cleared."

Further, Giacomo says that the law firm retained by Columbia to look into the matter, Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, conducted its investigation in secret, failed to fully investigate the holes in the claims of Constantine's accusers, and ignored evidence favorable to his client.

Even after he supplied that information to the firm, a second report laid out the exact same findings as the first, he says.

"They railroaded her," Giacomo says. "They put out a report with conclusions reached primarily in a vacuum. They never asked us for anything. It's just doesn't make any sense."

Regarding Cort's research project, for example, Giacomo contends that Constantine actually submitted her paper for publication in May 2002—long before Cort began her own work.

"My client did substantial research on the topic at Temple, and she submitted an IRB [a formal project proposal] in 1997," he says. "Years earlier, Madonna Constantine had done the work, and it had similar language to the paper Cort submitted on October 13, 2003."

The Constantine paper, co-authored with another professor, was published in 2005. "The provenance shows it is my client's work," Giacomo says.

In response, the college's investigator suggested that the documents were not authentic, telling Giacomo that their authenticity could not be verified. Giacomo acknowledges that Temple could not independently provide copies of the records.

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion," Cort says in response to the charge that her allegations are lies. "But there's no reason for me to do all of this if I'm lying—it doesn't make any sense. It actually put me in harm's way. I was just a student." Constantine's Ohio State job would be short-lived. She soon wanted to return to Teachers College—and, more importantly, Dean Darlyne Bailey, a close friend and the school's acting president at the time, wanted her back. Another dean hired Constantine without posting the job or conducting a search for candidates.

At the time, Bailey defended the hiring by saying that Constantine had only taken a leave of absence. (Bailey declined to comment for this story.)

In February 2004, Constantine assumed control of the prestigious Winter Roundtable conference, succeeding Professor Robert Carter in the job. Constantine got a raise, and a large annual stipend of as much as $50,000. The size of the stipend, known at the college as a "seed fund," far outstripped what most professors get. (Giacomo said he can't comment on the figures.) Most importantly, she was subsequently made a full professor, which meant tenure; she also became chair of the department later that year. Now it would be very hard to fire Constantine.

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