Madonna Constantine is back in the news. The formerly tenured professor who was fired last year for plagiarism is now filing a lawsuit against Columbia Teachers College. Her claim mentions an NAS article, “The Copyist and the Noose.”
Constantine was investigated from 2006 to 2008 for multiple counts of plagiarism. When in October 2007 the investigation was nearing its closing stages, she reported finding a noose hanging on her office doorknob, access to which could only be granted to someone with a Teachers College ID. The day after the noose incident, Constantine made an indignant public statement on the steps of the College; students rallied around her as she declared, “I will not be silent.”
In February 2008, the investigation ended, concluding that Constantine was guilty of plagiarizing the work of two doctoral students and one former professor. Columbia asked Constantine to resign. She refused, retorting in a letter to Teachers College, “I am left to wonder whether a white faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner...From my perspective, the investigation and the entire process surrounding its outcome are reflective of the structural racism that pervades this institution.”
Constantine alleged that this was all just “a conspiracy and witch-hunt” cooked up by Teachers College, especially in light of the noose: “As one of only two tenured Black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted.”
It took Columbia until June to finally get up the guts to fire Constantine. This week she filed a lawsuit against the College, demanding $200,000,000 and reinstatement to her position. Her lawsuit includes new testimony that, this March, she received a photograph of a noose in the mail.
The mystery of who-placed-the-noose-on-her-door remains unsolved. Although there is no evidence that Constantine placed it there herself, some have suggested that she did so in order to establish her victimhood and boomerang accusations back on those who would incriminate her. Even if she did not plant the noose, her overstated emphasis on her race seems to detract from her credibility. She resembles a child who, due for a spanking, tries playing dead in hopes of arousing the parent’s sympathies. So far, the College isn’t buying Constantine’s act.
Reflecting her desperate efforts to vilify the institution that fired her, the 92-page lawsuit, as the New York Post puts it, “veers into spy-time territory with its allegations of coverups, evidence destruction and conspiratorial ‘schemes.’” Most notably, the lawsuit repeatedly calls the actions against Constantine “academic lynching.” It determines, “The manner in which the scheme was hatched and carried out is tantamount to an academic lynching.”
Then, on page 33, the lawsuit complains that “all of the Defendants made a number of defamatory statements about the Plaintiff which were memorialized in the press.” Included in the list of 18 defamatory statements was the full text of the NAS article, “The Copyist and the Noose.”
Now let’s back up a moment. Constantine’s lawsuit avers that the articles not in her favor were based on slander by the “Defendants.” These are, as listed at the top of her grievance: Teachers College, the three people whose work Constantine was found to have plagiarized, and the attorney and law firm who investigated the plagiarism charge.
“The Copyist and the Noose” includes five quotes by Constantine and her student supporters, and only two quotes from Teachers College persons. The first was from the College’s president Susan Fuhrman, who said she was committed to solving the noose case: “There was no desire to hinder the investigation—far from it. This was a despicable act ... and we are doing everything we can to find out who did it and prevent such occurrences in the future.” The second quote is of a Columbia spokesperson saying, “Teachers College takes academic plagiarism very seriously, and must take appropriate disciplinary action when it is uncovered. Such misconduct is completely at odds with the ethos of our institution, our faculty, and our students.”
It seems a stretch to label these two quotes “defamations” that brought down “public contempt, ridicule, aversion, shame and disgrace” on the convicted plagiarist. Constantine’s citation of the NAS article as an example of slander lacks merit. Most likely what prompted her to count it in her yoke of injustice was that NAS linked her case with critical race theory. In 1991, critical race theorist and Columbia Law School professor Patricia Williams wrote Tawana Brawley, who had made a false claim that she had been raped by six white men. Williams wrote that Brawley was “the victim of some unspeakable crime. No matter how she got there. No matter who did it to her—and even if she did it to herself.” Perhaps Madonna Constantine listed our article in her lawsuit, not because it was defamation, but because it made her uneasy. We seem to have struck a nerve in bringing in the “even if she did it to herself” principle.
Yesterday a Teachers College faculty committee began reviewing Constantine’s firing. We hope that in this thorny process, the College will choose to uphold the integrity of its education by staying true to course.