ASU Professor Matthew Whitaker Demoted Over Apparent Plagiarism

ASU Professor Matthew Whitaker Demoted Over Apparent Plagiarism

Popular Arizona State University professor Matthew Whitaker has been demoted in the aftermath of his second plagiarism scandal, just weeks after he won a $268,000 no-bid contract to teach Phoenix police about "cultural consciousness."

In a recent email to ASU faculty, Interim University Provost Mark Searle states that "significant issues" were discovered in an investigation of his 2014 book, "Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama."

Whitaker was busted down to an associate professor and was made co-director of ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, which he founded.

Here's the text of Searle's email: 

Dear Colleagues
Please find attached a letter from Dr. Matthew Whitaker. After concerns were raised about his book “Peace be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama” an investigation ensued in keeping with ASU policy. Results of that investigation identified significant issues with the content of the aforementioned book. As a result of the outcomes from that investigation, Dr. Whitaker has accepted a position as Associate Professor without a Foundation Professorship, and now co-directs his center. He has also composed the attached letter for his colleagues. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Mark

Mark S. Searle, Ph.D.
Interim University Provost
and
Professor, School of Community Resources & Development
Arizona State University
Fulton Center, Suite 420
Tempe, AZ 


Attached to the email was the following July 1 letter by Whitaker:

July 1, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

I write to you today regarding the anonymous online criticisms of my book, Peace Be Still:
Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama. I have struggled to overlook the
personal nature of the criticisms, and to evaluate and recognize that there was merit to some of
them. I alerted ASU administration to the fact that the text contained unattributed and poorly
paraphrased material. I accept responsibility for these errors and I am working with my
publisher to make the appropriate corrections.

Peace Be Still deals with history that is dear to me–told and read to me since childhood. I did
not purport to write original history and I drew upon many established sources. I did intend to
give full credit to all sources. But my critics have revealed numerous mistakes that I made. It is
painful to recognize that I was so careless as to fail to properly paraphrase and cite sources,
despite my reverence and respect for the work of others in this field.

I have been working to make the necessary corrections and to publish a revised and improved
version of the text with a statement of apology and admission of error. I fell short of my own
expectations and those of people I deeply respect with Peace Be Still. As my (current/former)
colleagues, I ask you to accept my apologies for any embarrassment or damage to your
reputation that might have arisen from my mistakes in this matter.


Whitaker's book was the subject of heavy criticism in a blog about him called, "The Cabinet of Plagiarism."

Ann Ribidoux, (a suspected pseudonym), decimates the work with textual comparisons combined with scathing commentary. In one 2014 post, for example, Ribidoux showed how Whitaker apparently lifted and paraphrased several paragraphs from the rather un-scholarly infoplease.com. In another example, Whitaker is accused of under-attributing his use of an entire paragraph on "The Jeffersons" TV show from a blurb on emmytvlegends.org, and making only slight alterations to a piece about author Toni Morrison published on Blackpast.org.

The original "Peace Be Still" appears to remain available in paperback by its publisher, University of Nebraska Press — a fact that concerns some folks.

A May 2014 investigation by Colleen Flaherty of InsideHigherEd.com put sections of the book, including "The Jeffersons" passage, side-by-side with Whitaker's apparent source material, and also references the complaints of a Columbia University professor about him.

Whitaker's an eloquent speaker, a fine writer, a favorite of the news media and community about race relations, and super-knowledgeable in his area of study. He's the winner of numerous awards and accolades. However, the comparisons reveal his scholarship level sometimes resembles that of a sophomore high-school student who put off writing his paper until the night before it was due.

Following a promotion in 2011, his colleagues tried to bust him for what looked like academic dishonesty in his various works, written or otherwise. One of the most interesting earlier examples of his cheating can be seen in a 2010 speech he gave at North High School that's up on YouTube, as first mentioned by anti-plagiarism activist Jonathan Bailey in a 2012 Arizona Republic article.

Just like Bailey said to reporter Anne Ryman, anyone can watch the speech and follow along with Whitaker's unattributed source material, a 2006 article by Michael Powell of the Washington Post. Clearly, his impassioned speech would've lost something if he'd admitted up front that he was reading, word-for-word, fairly large chunks of that article, as well as portions of a separate blog post.

Ryman's lengthy article details how ASU's 2012 investigation into the complaints resulted in an official finding that there was "no compelling evidence of intent to deceive in any case," but also that there were "reasons for concern about occasional carelessness in the use of materials and sources and some less than optimal detail in attribution." The decision by ASU higher-ups that Whitaker would receive no discipline spurred professor Monica Green to resign her position as chairwoman of the History Promotions and Tenure Committee. Whitaker played the race card, saying his colleagues were "out to get (him)" because he's black. (Even though Green, for one, also happens to be black.)

ASU's student newspaper, The State Press, reported in 2012 that the complaining faculty members had compiled "20 pages of report researching his work," quoting Green as saying that she would use Whitaker's work to demonstrate plagiarism to her future students. 

Whitaker's ASU bio now reflects the change of his new teaching title, associate professor of history in the College of Letters and Sciences. He still goes by "founding director" on that page and the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy site, though he acknowledges the "co-director" part on that site's biography portion. The site doesn't yet say who the other co-director is.

The "Cabinet" points out Whitaker's sudden change of titles in a July 3 post, calling the move a "sharp and heavy blow" by ASU. The site goes on to say:

"For years, Professor Whitaker deflected all consequences for his misconduct onto the very people who sought to reveal it. And then, at last, he no longer could.

"What in the end made the difference? ASU is a public university and must follow rules of disclosure, despite the wishes of some to stonewall and even menace those who ask for public documents. At least some of the facts will soon come out. And it is in the University's interest that they do. By sharply penalizing Professor Whitaker, ASU has taken a great risk. It's chosen justice over the appearance of justice, which is never a safe play. Professor Whitaker has been assiduous in claiming the mantle of Phoenix' moral guardian, and it surely cannot be ripped from him in this fashion without those who remove it being accused of their own debased motivations."

His demotion may have come with a corresponding drop in pay. But he's got that six-digit contract between Phoenix police and his company to fall back on. The Phoenix City Council approved a one-year, $268,000 contract with The Whitaker Group, LLC, in a 4-0 vote on May 13. Whitaker will lead the eight-hour sessions for the department's 2,900 employees between now and April 2016, with the possibility of getting a $96,000 extension.

At the May 13 council meeting, Councilwoman Thelda Williams asked Assistant Chief Mike Kurtenbach how Whitaker was chosen. "Kurtenbach explained it was a sole-source request and the department felt imperative to move forward as quickly as possible. He noted staff looked at (Whitaker's) qualifications and determined he was the best choice with local knowledge to provide training to officers," online city records state.

Whitaker's qualifications have taken a downturn, but he's still obviously capable of teaching the class.

That is, as long as he has access to Wikipedia.


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