A lawyer for former Columbia Teachers College professor Madonna Constantine — who first came to public attention when a noose was affixed to her office door — claims the school either erased or lost computer hard drives that would have cleared her of plagiarism charges that led to her firing.
Paul Giacomo alleges that after Constantine appealed plagiarism charges against her last year, the college meddled with one hard drive in her office for 19 hours before copying it.
College officials somehow lost a second hard drive that would have been key in proving her innocence.
“All of that was illegal,” Giacomo tells the Voice. “Once you receive a request for records, you can’t mess with them. They have to be safeguarded.”
The charges emerged today as Constantine filed a $200 million lawsuit against Teachers College, their law firm, Hughes, Hubbard and Reed, and her three accusers, former TC professor Christine Yeh, and former students Karen Cort and Tracy Juliao.
The lawsuit, filed in state court, is the latest legal salvo in a bitter war between the college and the professor over her firing for plagiarism.
Constantine was terminated last June after a report found she repeatedly plagiarized the work of Yeh, Cort and Juliao during her decade at the well-regarded West Harlem institution in West Harlem. She was accused of as many as two dozens instances of plagiarism.
But she has refused to simply walk away from the controversy. Instead, she’s filed appeals with the college, an article 78 in state Supreme Court, and now this latest legal action.
As the Voice reported last year, the school was about to disclose the plagiarism findings in October, 2007, when someone placed a noose on Constantine’s door, sparking a huge outcry and a police investigation.
The police were never able to identify the person who did it, but Constantine became an international celebrity and a symbol for anti-racism activists.
Giacomo, calls Constantine’s firing, “an academic lynching.” He claims her accusers executed an “invidious scheme” to oust her.
“What began as academic rivalry and political intrigue within the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College morphed into a calculated plan to use trumped up mis-information to discredit Professor Constantine’s academic accomplishments and reputation,” Giacomo says.
Teachers College spokeswoman Marsha Horowitz declined to comment on specific allegations. “This case is totally without merit,” she says. “And the college intends to defend it vigorously.”
Giacomo issued a press release today, which claims that Constantine can prove her innocence, and contains a series of claims that the college acted unethically at a minimum in pursuing the case against Constantine.
He claims the school had evidence that would have cleared her, but they covered it up.
He claims editors of academic journals have given him documents which show that Constantine authored the questioned papers prior to her accusers.
Moreover, he claims the editor say they were never contacted by the college’s investigators as was claimed.
And he says that Teachers College ignored the statements of students who had evidence favorable to Constantine. Giacomo also claims the school “manufactured” electronic evidence against her.
Even though she has been fired, Constantine is still pursuing her campaign through the internal disciplinary process. A hearing is scheduled for April 23, a fact Giacomo says the school tried to hide from the media and tried to prevent witnesses from being sworn to tell the truth.
Constantine remains unemployed, but she still receives a reduced salary from TC. Photo from Teachers College website.