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

Bailey eventually forced Luthar to vacate the department chairmanship and selected instead Professor Derald Wing Sue—a certified hypnotherapist, former member of a Clinton-era presidential panel on race, and one of Constantine's closest colleagues. Given Sue's relationship with Constantine, his appointment seemed to be another signal to the rest of the faculty that Constantine was being protected. (Sue did not return phone calls.)

"That was a total conflict of interest," an insider says. "He would have had access to all the information on the complaints."

Over the next few months, faculty allies of Luthar peppered the administration with the kind of impassioned letters that only academics can write, demanding her reappointment as chair. Luthar appealed her removal to a faculty committee, which supported her.

Ivylise Simones

Sue's name was withdrawn as chair. When long-serving college president Arthur Levine left that July, the new president, Susan Fuhrman, opted to appoint Marie Miville—another close ally of Constantine—as co-chair of the department.

Luthar returned to her regular teaching post, but she didn't let the matter drop; instead, she filed a formal grievance. For her part, Bailey continued to call for Luthar's resignation—right up until her own departure, for a position at the University of Minnesota. (Bailey, insiders say, left when it became clear that she would not be named president of the college.)

Reached at the University of Minnesota, Bailey said that she'd been advised by Teachers College not to comment. She acknowledged that she was under no requirement not to comment, but simply preferred to respect the wishes of her former employer.

Karen Cort, meanwhile, began to hear rumors that Yeh and Constantine were fighting over plagiarism charges. "Someone suggested that I might want to look at my own stuff," she says.

She came across an article written by Constantine—along with a University of Missouri–St. Louis professor named S. Kent Butler—titled "Collective self-esteem and burnout in professional school counselors." (Butler did not return repeated phone calls from the Voice.) That sounded awfully familiar, given Cort's own research. "Several months later, I finally printed it out and read it and noticed the similarities," she says.

Cort went to Luthar, who had been deposed as chair but still, as Cort says, "continued to work on" the Constantine case. She told Luthar about the incident involving the rubber stamping, and she mentioned the plagiarism almost in passing.

"Most professors publish in one or two areas, but she has so many publications on a variety of topics," Cort says. "Why? She steals ideas."

In the summer of 2006, college officials and investigators with Hughes, Hubbard & Reed began to ask questions of Cort. She cooperated, citing her account of plagiarism and emotional abuse. Then, in January 2007, the lawyers told her that they had solid evidence against Constantine on the plagiarism charges. Would she be willing to waive confidentiality and allow her name to be released?

Cort declined. "I was concerned that the release of my name would damage my academic standing," she says. "And I was concerned Constantine would act against me."

Juliao and Yeh got similar calls; they also refused. But the trio began to support and advise each other and spent their own money on a lawyer, Lennox Hinds, who once represented Nelson Mandela. However, they asked the college to pay for his services, reasoning that they were at risk of being sued by Constantine. The school eventually agreed. All three, meanwhile, refused to allow their names to be used in the investigation and assumed that their participation was still anonymous.

Then a Federal Express package containing a letter from Constantine arrived at Cort's home. The letter was written on Teachers College stationery and paid for via a college mailing account. "She wrote that she knew I was about to graduate, and she said she had heard rumors that I had alleged plagiarism against her," Cort says. "She vehemently denied it and said if I continued to defame her, she would take steps against me. It was a threat."

Yeh, Juliao, and at least one of Constantine's other accusers also received letters, according to sources. To Cort, this suggests that the professor had someone inside the administration leaking highly sensitive information to her.

Over the summer of 2007, the plagiarism case continued to build momentum. In August 2007, the lawyers began to speak with Constantine about her side of the story. According to Cort, one of Constantine's defenses was that she had been listed by Cort as the "principal researcher," proving that she hadn't stolen from her student.

"She used it against me," Cort says. "She told the attorneys that it was her work, because she was listed as the principal."

Giacomo says he submitted a mass of evidence supporting Constantine's case to Hughes, Hubbard & Reed in September 2007, but that the law firm didn't examine it.

In October, Constantine quietly withdrew her threat to sue Luthar, canceling an earlier legal document she had filed indicating her intent to bring a lawsuit. It remains unclear why she changed her mind.

And so the stage was set for the college to move ahead with its plagiarism case against her. But in October, just when the results of the long investigation were about to burst into full view, someone placed a noose on Constantine's office door.


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