Phoenix Officially Demands Return of Funds From Plagiarizing ASU Professor

The city of Phoenix sent an official demand to a disgraced Arizona State University professor today for the money it paid for police-training material the city alleges actually was an egregious copying job.

Phoenix's move is yet another blow to the stained reputation of Matthew Whitaker, a history professor and star race-relations expert for ASU. Following a university investigation in 2012 that found his shoddy scholarship and lack of proper attribution was unintended, a probe this year found he'd plagiarized material in his 2014 book on black American history. Whitaker was demoted from full professor to associate professor and bumped down from director to co-director of ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, which he founded. ASU still pays him $154,000 a year in salary.

"Professor Whitaker needs to stop digging a credibility hole for himself, and just return the taxpayers’ money.” — Councilman Sal DiCiccio

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After news broke of the demotion, the spotlight turned on Whitaker's $268,000 contract with the city of Phoenix to provide diversity training to police. Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who was among those miffed that the training had been conducted in April and May, before the council had approved the contract with Whitaker's company, The Whitaker Group, pressured the professor to voluntarily withdraw the contract.

DiCiccio's office then examined the presentation material that Whitaker was using for the training sessions. When the probe was done, DiCiccio charged that Whitaker essentially had plagiarized his presentation from a similar one put together by the Chicago Police Department, and he demanded a refund from Whitaker.

A letter sent to Whitaker today by Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm reinforces the complaint made by DiCiccio. The content of 52 out of 86 PowerPoint slides used by Whitaker matched that of the Chicago police presentation "in all material respects," Holm stated.

The contract with Whitaker stipulates he'll be paid for the "creation" of presentation material, Holm noted.

When contacted for New Times' August 19 article about the contract allegations, Whitaker called DiCiccio's claim that he'd lifted his presentation material from the Chicago PD "patently false."

"Based on this promise, the City clearly expected to pay for your professional work rather than the Chicago Police Department's work," Holm wrote in a letter. "Instead, we received Chicago's work with minimal formatting changes and a few additional graphics. TWG's breach is especially egregious since Chicago would have given the City permission to use Chicago's presentation without charge." (Italics appeared in the original text.)

The city's demanding Whitaker return $21,900, which is what he billed for, and received, for the hours it took him to prepare the material. Details included in the letter show that Whitaker had billed the city $8,500 for 28 hours of work on an "outline preparation," and 38 hours at $350 an hour for "presentation preparation," "research and reading," and other services.

Before the scandal erupted, Whitaker had been poised to collected $268,000 to provide the training sessions, with the possibility of a $96,000 extension.

"Professor Whitaker needs to stop digging a credibility hole for himself, and just return the taxpayers’ money,” DiCiccio said. “Phoenix taxpayers were ripped off, and we need to send a message to anyone looking to take advantage of our citizens that this will not be tolerated."

Councilman Michael Nowakowski, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety and Veterans subcommittee, released a statement saying he agreed with the action — which was directed by City Manager Ed Zuercher. Nowakowski added: "It is important that we remain committed to providing this training, improving our community relations, and further engaging our police officers in Cultural Competency awareness.”

Click here to see the letter by City Attorney Brad Holm to Matthew Whitaker 
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.