Arizona State University Professor Matthew Whitaker has withdrawn his company's six-digit, diversity-training contract from the Phoenix Police Department following his demotion for plagiarism.
The Phoenix City Council approved the $268,000 contract with Whitaker's company, Whitaker Group, LLC, in a 4-0 vote on May 13. Officials said at the time that the company was the only one sought for the job, and that Whitaker's credentials had been thoroughly vetted. As we reported today, Mayor Greg Stanton told the city council that the contract should be approved without delay due to the importance of the training, and because Whitaker had an impeccable reputation at ASU.
In fact, about two weeks before the vote, ASU officials had told Whitaker he was being disciplined for apparent plagiarism in his 2014 textbook on African-American history, "Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama." This month, the university demoted Whitaker to associate professor and made him co-director of the race-relations center he founded, ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.
Whitaker had been investigated in 2011 for alleged plagiarism, but an investigation declared his lifting of material had been unintentional.
After he published "Peace Be Still," Whitaker become the subject of aggressive online attacks in an anonymous blog about him called "The Cabinet of Plagiarism."
Two professors, including Princeton history Professor Keith Wailoo, checked out the complaints at the request of ASU and found evidence that Whitaker had plagiarized. Wailoo wrote in a five-page January report (obtained by New Times on Monday) that Whitaker showed "recurring disregard" for the original works of others.
Comparisons of text show the popular, highly regarded professor and community speaker tweaked passages from common Internet sites and used them as his own, would "parallel" the main elements of someone else's work, or — at times — use whole sentences from another source without any attribution.
Following the revelation last week about Whitaker's demotion, (which New Times was the first to report), Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio demanded that Phoenix cancel its contract with Whitaker.
"Phoenix police insisted that this contract was thoroughly vetted, which now turns out to be false," the councilman fumed in a public statement. "The Council and the public were duped into believing this was a non-issue, which is now clearly not true."
Today, Whitaker submitted a letter to the city indicating he was canceling the contract himself. A clause in the contract allows either party to cancel it; Whitaker's company will be paid for his work up until now. The training actually began in April, before it was officially approved. Police are taking a "summer break" from training, but it was scheduled to resume in August, officials said.
"...We find ourselves in a position where we find it impossible to complete the training as stated in the contract," Whitaker wrote in the signed letter, (full letter below.)
He didn't say why it was impossible, and didn't return our messages seeking comment.
It's unclear why Whitaker would give up $268,000 if he didn't have to. The contract contained a provision for a possible $96,000 extension, too. Whitaker's pay was reduced slightly because of his demotion, but he still earns an annual salary of about $154,000.
ASU, via spokesman Gerardo Gonzalez, tells New Times that the university did not demand that Whitaker cancel the contract. Phoenix police referred our question back to Whitaker.
City Manager Ed Zuercher released the following statement on Tuesday afternoon about the flap:
"Since late Friday, city management has been assessing contractual obligations with the Whitaker Group, L.L.C., and gathering facts after details about discipline for plagiarism were released by ASU regarding Dr. Matthew Whitaker. This afternoon, Dr. Whitaker notified the city his company is terminating its contract and will not conduct specialized training for the police department that focuses on cultural and community awareness. We have accepted this cancellation.
"I fully support Police Chief Yahner’s commitment to implement this critical training for the police department. Our mission remains the same: we will continue to provide cultural awareness education for police officers in an effort to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community. Law enforcement across the country faces more challenges than ever before and this vital training is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship between residents and the men and women of our police department.
"A new curriculum provider has not been determined. During the next few weeks, we will make a thorough and thoughtful decision on who will conduct the training for this vital program."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Councilman Michael Nowakowski said in his own statement that a similar training program should be put in place as soon as possible.
"The Cultural Consciousness and Community Awareness training program is critical and the instructor must maintain the values we are reinforcing within our police force," Nowakowski said. "I have asked the City Manager to ensure this training is not delayed with the resignation of the Whitaker Group and that we move quickly to ensure we do not compromise our goal of strengthening community relations.”