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

When Christine Yeh, another professor, first heard that Constantine had returned with a better job and more influence, she was dismayed, a friend of hers tells the Voice.

Yeh and Constantine had published a paper together in 2001. But Yeh was also the first person to clash with Constantine. She left Teachers College in 2005 for a research fellowship in San Francisco. Yeh, who did not respond to repeated calls from the Voice, told The New York Times in February that Constantine was one of the reasons she decided to leave.

Toward the end of 2005, Yeh was contacted by the editors of an academic journal, who were reviewing a paper she'd submitted for publication. There was a problem, they said: Yeh's paper had already been published in another academic journal about six months earlier under Constantine's byline. The title and some of the wording were different, but they were essentially the same paper.

Ivylise Simones

Yeh, finding herself accused of plagiarism, had to prove that she didn't steal the work. "She wanted to get away from TC over Constantine, but now she was forced to defend her ethics," the friend says.

Around the same time, Constantine decided to take a sabbatical and would relinquish her title as chair of the department during her leave. The faculty elected Professor Suniya Luthar in November 2005 to replace her. Going through the department's files, Luthar soon began to find things that disturbed her.

During Christmas break in 2005, Yeh called to report that Constantine had stolen her work, and she said that she could prove it. Luthar was also approached after the new year by Tracey Rene Juliao, one of Yeh's former doctoral students, with a similar story: She too claimed to have had her work plagiarized by Constantine.

As the months passed, others came to Luthar, claiming that Constantine had stolen their work or committed some other kind of misconduct.

Meanwhile, Luthar—after examining the files of the chair's office—started raising awkward questions about how the department had functioned under Constantine. For one thing, she found that Constantine had been diverting the lion's share of department resources to the people in her circle, including Derald Wing Sue and Marie Miville, at the expense of other professors. (Miville did not return the Voice's calls, and Sue declined requests for an interview.)

"Everything is supposed to be divided fairly, but there was an unequal distribution of resources," one insider says. "And the budget was kept in a strange way: Things which were supposed to be on one line were on another. Luthar made sure the funds were distributed equally."

There were also allegations that college funds had been used for personal purposes.

Giacomo, Constantine's attorney, declined to comment on the alleged misuse of department funds, but he did say he had evidence that Yeh and Juliao have falsely accused Constantine of plagiarism.

"We have the same type of multiple previous documents, verified by third parties, by other journal editors, all predating Yeh's work—papers Constantine did at Temple in May 1997, and even submissions to other journals. Yeh's publication didn't come until 2003; Constantine's submission was in 2001, and that's been verified by the editor. We have seven years of documented authorship," he says.

As for Juliao's claims, Giacomo says the pattern is similar. "There was an article published in 2006 by Constantine and another author, Rhonda Bryant, but the provenance goes well before Tracey submitted her dissertation," he says. According to Giacomo, the draft manuscript was submitted in March 2003, and this is confirmed in Bryant's records.

Giacomo adds the charge that Cort and Juliao would have had access to Constantine's files because she was at Ohio State at the time.

"Tracey would have had access through my client's records at Columbia," Giacomo says. "My client created, and the students copied." In other words, Giacomo is accusing Juliao not only of copying Constantine's work, but also of physically pilfering her files while Constantine was away.

Again, the college, in its investigation, seems to have discounted Constantine's documents, labeling them "unverified."

In January 2006, Luthar brought the plagiarism allegations and other issues to Dean Darlyne Bailey. At the time, Bailey was the vice president of academic affairs, one of the college's top-ranking officials.

"Bailey was not responsive to the issue," one insider says.

Bailey had been largely responsible for bringing Constantine back to Columbia after the professor resigned her post and moved to Ohio State; plus she and Constantine were friends. It may have been a conflict of interest for her to handle the matter in the first place.

Bailey did pass the allegations on to President Arthur Levine, but she also defended Constantine and moved against Luthar, accusing her of trying to undermine the reputation of the department. "[Bailey] said nothing was wrong, and she started to accuse [Luthar] of being a bad chair," an insider says.

Constantine, meanwhile, showed up at Luthar's office and accused her of "gossiping." She threatened to sue Luthar. Someone had apparently tipped her off to the complaints, which were supposed to be confidential.

Bailey's response to the allegations against Constantine was to hire a consultant to assess Luthar's ability to run the department. The consultant, Barbara Bunker, was a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Buffalo. Reached last week via e-mail, Bunker told the Voice: "That was a confidential report which I did for the vice president and dean at the time. I am not at liberty to discuss it. Sorry."

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