In a move that surprised even college insiders, Columbia Teachers College has fired controversial professor Madonna Constantine, the Voice has learned.
Constantine, a prominent member of the counseling psychology department, earned worldwide fame in November when someone placed a noose on her office door, and then infamy in February, when she was accused of repeated plagiarism by a former colleague and two former students.
In a letter issued today, college officials say they were accepting the findings of an outside law firm, which concluded Constantine had lifted work from her accusers. They also concluded that Constantine acted to obstruct the investigation.
The outside law firm concluded that Constantine, who had been with the college since 1998, had lifted some 36 passages from the work of former TC professor Christine Yeh, and former students Tracey Juliao and Karen Cort.
“It’s kind of unprecedented to fire a tenured professor,” a college insider says. The people who leveled the plagiarism charges said justice had been served.
“It needed to happen a long time ago,” says Karen Cort, a former student who was one of Constantine’s three main accusers. “Finally, they did something right.”
Meanwhile, Professor Suniya Luthar was similarly relieved. Luthar was responsible for bringing the initial plagiarism allegations to college officials back in 2006.
“I’m thankful for young people who stood their ground for these many years,” Luthar says. “This had taken 2-and-a-half years. I’m glad that after all this time, the truth is beginning to come out. I only wish the young people hadn’t suffered so much.”
Teachers College spokeswoman Marsha Horowitz declined to provide a copy of the letter, but the Voice was able to obtain a copy from a source.
In recent months, the college appears to have uncovered an additional instance of plagiarism—a discovery which may have fueled the decision.
The reference to obstructing the investigation may refer to the fact that Constantine sent threatening letters to her accusers on college stationary, using the college mailing account. It also may be related to questions about the veracity of the evidence that Constantine provided.
“The sanctions were not only justified, they were required,” the statement says.
Though an administrative appeal is still pending, the decision could open the way for a likely wrongful termination lawsuit against the college by Constantine.
Constantine’s lawyer Paul Giacomo says the college ignored a “mountain” of evidence that should have cleared his client.
“We presented a mountain of evidence that she had not plagiarized and it was all documented,” he says. “They didn’t mention a single piece of evidence that we supplied to them.”
College officials say Constantine’s evidence was “not verifiable.”
But Giacomo says he has a sworn statement from the editor of the iJournal of Black Studies that vouches for 22 of 25 instances of alleged plagiarism involving Yeh.
“For them to say it’s not verifiable is ridiculous,” Giacomo says. “They just lumped together a foot-thick pile of documents. We are shocked that they won’t deal with our evidence.”
In a previous interview with the Voice, Giacomo had described Cort as a “liar.”
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Cort says in response. “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.”
Giacomo contends the firing is retaliation by the college against Constantine for pursuing an appeal of the plagiarism case, filing a grievance against the president, and not being contrite enough in her public
Teachers College spokeswoman Marsha Horowitz was checking with officials for a response.
After the noose was discovered, Constantine earned international media attention, and even got an appearance on Good Morning America. The police never found the person responsible for the noose, and the story seemed to die down.
Then, in February, the college disclosed that it had been investigating Constantine for 18 months on plagiarism charges. For the past few months, the college had been silent, until now.
Let the litigation begin.