Controversial Arizona State University professor Matthew Whitaker has been demoted from a full professor to an associate professor over allegations of plagiarism in his newest book, Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama.
Whitaker was also a founding director of the Center for Study of Race and Democracy at ASU, where he was demoted to a co-director. Between the two demotions, Whitaker will lose at least $20,000 per year.
The story began when a pseudonymous blogger (who claims to be a professor at ASU) made allegations about the book, claiming that the book lifted passages from various non-academic sources including the site InfoPlease and the Archive of American Television. Those allegations were then checked and validated by Inside Higher Ed, which prompted ASU to begin their own investigation.
In the announcement of the demotion, ASU also included a letter from Whitaker, which said in part:
“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.”
However, Whitaker’s plagiarism story goes much deeper than that. In 2011, as Whitaker was being considered for the position of full professor, faculty members at the school raised concerns over plagiarism in both a book Race Work and a speech that he had given.
Whitaker challenged the allegations, saying that faculty members were “out to get him” and were upset over his promotion, in part because he is black. However, after ASU investigated, the school found that there was no “intent to deceive” but expressed concerns about “occasional carelessness”.
After Whitaker’s promotion was approved despite the allegations, professor Monica Green resigned her position as chairwoman of the History Promotions and Tenure Committee. The ordeal, by several accounts, was extremely divisive among the faculty at ASU.
But while the recent demotion might be seen as vindication for Whitaker’s earlier critics, it isn’t likely to harm his career significantly. In May, the Phoenix City Council approved a $268,800 contract between the Phoenix Police Department and Whitaker’s consulting firm to provide “cultural consciousness training” for the department.
However, following the demotion, members of the Phoenix City Council are saying that the no-bid contract was approved with barely 24 hours notice and should be cancelled.
The department’s chief has said that discussion will take place next week after he returns from out of town travel.
But even if the contract is cancelled, it will not likely be the end for Whitaker. His publisher is yet to pull the book and, though ASU demoted him,l the impact on his salary and position is minimal.
Still, Whitaker’s once-promising career has been forever marred by plagiarism allegations. While he might have been able to put the first accusations behind him, this one has already proved to be much more difficult to shake.
Even though he may not receive the harsh treatment other academics have for similar practices, there’s not much doubt now that plagiarism will serve to be an anchor weighing down his career from now on.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of WriteCheck.