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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Illinois chancellor who fired Salaita accused of serial self-plagiarism

Zionist Censorship at Illinois University as Money Buys  Influence

Ali Abunimah Sat, 10/11/2014

A massive issue in the United States.  Steven Salaita, who had been contracted to lecture at Illinois University had his offer withdrawn after tweeting various pro-Palestinian messages.  University Chancellor Phyllis Wise sacked Salaita, who had already given up his previous job.  T he decision follows pressure exerted by big funders.

A boycott of Illinois amongst academics has sent shockwaves through the institution.

Tony Greenstein
Chancellor Phyllis Wise

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise faces allegations of unethical behavior dating back two decades. 

(Ronald Woan/Flickr)

Chancellor Phyllis Wise, the top administrator who fired Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after complaints from pro-Israel donors, is facing allegations from academic peers of unethical conduct that may stretch back two decades.

Evidence has emerged of several instances of duplicate publishing – a widely condemned form of unethical behavior sometimes called “self-plagiarism.”

It occurs when an author publishes the same research or the same or substantially similar paper in multiple venues without acknowledging the fact, in effect passing off the old research as something new.

Duplicate publishing is considered especially damaging in the medical sciences: the same results for a drug study published multiple times in different journals can give the false impression of numerous independent studies showing that the drug is effective.

Because of the risk that duplicate publishing may “double up creating faulty data,” the group Publishing Integrity and Ethics says retraction is often appropriate in cases of duplicate publishing.
Wise has already publicly acknowledged one case and The Electronic Intifada has requested comment from her regarding the other allegations reported in this post. No response has been received from Wise or the University of Illinois.

In one instance, research for which Wise was not the lead investigator was apparently republished in another journal with her as the lead author and the names of some co-authors removed.
As The Electronic Intifada has previously reported, there is already reasonable suspicion that Wise may have unlawfully disposed of public documents that could shed light on pro-Israel donor influence over her decision to fire Salaita.

The “missing” document and contradictory statements on the Salaita case by the university’s president Robert Easter have fed widespread doubts about the university administration’s honesty and transparency.

The allegations of unethical academic behavior will cast further doubt on the integrity of Wise’s statements regarding Salaita and are likely to increase the pressure on the beleageured chancellor.
More than a dozen university departments have already passed votes of no confidence in Wise over her handling of the Salaita appointment.

Wise “corrects serious errors”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Friday that Wise has made “a significant correction to a paper, published in 2006, that presents non-original work as original.”

This fact was first reported by the website Retraction Watch.  The Chronicle explains:

According to a correction in the journal Neuroscience, Ms. Wise’s paper contained “a number of serious errors” and was “written in a way that misleads the readers to think that it is an original article.” The article, “Estrogen Therapy: Does It Help or Hurt the Adult and Aging Brain? Insights Derived From Animal Models,” is a review of a 2001 article co-written by Ms. Wise. But the previous article receives no attribution.

Several of Wise’s questionable articles involve studies on the effectiveness of the hormone therapy estradiol, which is sold under various brand names.

One analysis of ethical issues in scientific publishing states that the “unethical” practice of duplicate publishing “is done to increase the number of publications” an author can list on her CV and is “more common with the pharmaceutical industry.”

Wise told Retraction Watch “she agrees with the correction” to her 2006 paper and that “there are no plans to correct any other papers.”

But she may have to revise that position based on additional allegations that are surfacing.
More cases emerging

A September posting on the website PubPeer appears to have uncovered another egregious case dating back twenty years.

PubPeer describes itself as an “online community” that reviews scientific research after its publication.

It says it is maintained by a “diverse team of early-stage scientists in collaboration with programmers who have collectively decided to remain anonymous in order to avoid personalizing the website, and to avoid circumstances in which involvement with the site might produce negative effects on their scientific careers.” 

This allegation concerns the 1994 paper “Changing diurnal and pulsatile rhythms during aging” (by Phyllis M. Wise, Nancy G. Weiland, Kathryn Scarbrough, Jonathan M. Lloyd) in Neurobiology of Aging, which PubPeer notes is a duplicate of another paper published the same year in the journal Experimental Gerontology.

“Neither paper cites the other and they have different coauthors, although they share the same first author. One claims to be the Nathan Shock Memorial Lecture delivered by the first author in 1991, while the other does not,” PubPeer states.

But then, the post notes, “Upon further examination, both papers are taken almost verbatim from an earlier publication,” a 1990 paper titled “Contribution of Changing Rhythmicity of Hypothalamic Neurotransmitter Function to Female Reproductive Aging” in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

PubPeer states: “Again, this paper has different coauthors and the same first author. Ninety-nine percent of the text of both later papers appeared previously in this paper, which is cited in neither.”
It also notes that the same figures have appeared, but with slightly different labeling.
“Is such triplicate publication with errors remotely acceptable in this area of science?” the post asks.

Another case noted on PubPeer concerns a paper co-authored by Wise and first published in the Journal of Neurocytology in 2000.

The PubPeer posting alleges that this is a duplicate publication of data that had already appeared in a 1999 article in Neuroscience.

In the 1999 publication, Wise is not the lead author, but she has been promoted to lead author in the later version.

Diagrams from both articles then appear “without permission” or attribution in a third article published in 2000 in Biology of Reproduction.

Federal grants

Both the Neuroscience and Biology of Reproduction articles say that they were supported by grants from the Glenn Foundation and from the US government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). They both list one NIH grant number in common.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the NIH, recently published a paper on its website on “unethical publishing behavior,” which includes precisely the kind of duplicate publishing in which Wise is accused of habitually engaging.

The paper states that “studies have suggested that retractions for plagiarism and duplicate publication have been increasing in recent years.”


Given that Wise has repeatedly cited her paramount concern for the integrity of the University of Illinois in her decision to fire Salaita, she owes the citizens of Illinois and the university community an immediate, full and frank response to these allegations.

Her institution’s and discipline’s ethical bodies should immediately examine her full record of publications to determine whether these allegations are substantiated and whether there is more evidence of misconduct.

Many of those commenting on the PubPeer and Retraction Watch postings have noted that a student would be subject to severe sanctions, if not expulsion, for these kinds of offenses.

Separately, The Electronic Intifada is still awaiting a response from the office of the Illinois Attorney General to its request for a review of the University of Illinois’ claim that a document on Salaita handed to Wise by a pro-Israel donor cannot be located.

The Salaita case and theBig Money takeover of state universities

September 15th 2014

Responding to an academia-wide furor about the firing of a faculty member over a series of provocative tweets on Israel and Gaza, the University of Illinois board of trustees last week took a vote on the case.

They voted 8 to 1 to uphold the firing. This can rightly be seen as a blow to the very concept of academic freedom, but there's another sinister undercurrent to the case: there's evidence that major donors put pressure on the board and the university administration to dump the professor, Steven Salaita. If so, it wouldn't be the first time that financial donors have tried to manipulate university administrations into doing their bidding, but it's certainly one of the most disturbing examples of a bad trend.

As we all know, there are no free lunches...We are not going to be able to hire anyone...if we do not work out an acceptable arrangement with Koch and its funding partners. - A Florida State University department head, explaining the strings attached to a 2007 Koch donation

First, the background. As we reported last month, Salaita is a respected scholar in American Indian studies and Israeli-Arab relations whom the University of Illinois hired away from Virginia Tech and placed in a tenured position. Salaita's moving expenses to the university's Urbana-Champaign campus were paid, and he was given a class schedule for the current semester.

Then a series of tweets he wrote about the Israel-Gaza battle surfaced. They were passionate and provocative. One read, "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?" Others suggested that Israel's bombing of Gaza would spur anti-Semitism. His twitter feed is here 

The university revoked Salaita's appointment. Among its defenses is that, while out-of-classroom tweets like his would not lead to a faculty member's firing, Salaita wasn't really a faculty member because the board of trustees hadn't yet rubber-stamped his appointment.

University Chancellor Phyllis Wise said that she merely had decided not to refer Salaita's appointment to the board, so in effect he wasn't fired, just not hired. Salaita's supporters see that as a transparent pretense, since the trustees' vote is typically a pro-forma ratification of decisions that university departments and administrators already have made.

Even before the trustees' vote last week, emails became public showing that Wise and her fellow administrators were inordinately responsive to donors unhappy with what they saw as Salaita's anti-Israel tweets. One donor told Wise that two fellow donors "both have less loyalty for Illinois because of their perception of anti-Semitism" and pushed against Salaita himself: "He gave me a two-pager filled with information on Steven Salaita and said how we handle this situation will be very telling," she told members of her staff.

For any university, but especially a public institution such as Illinois, the encroachment of donor pressure on the administration is a harbinger of the destruction of academic freedom. Wealthy donors are able to step in and exert strong influence because public funding sources, such as the state legislature, have systematically withdrawn support for public universities.

Wealthy donors today seldom have an interest in independent, objective academic study; they're interested in advancing their own notions of how the world works or should work--in ideology, not ideas.

As we reported earlier this summer, examples of this trend have been proliferating in recent years. In 2007, the Charles Koch Foundation offered Florida State University millions of dollars to set up a libertarian hive in its economics department, according to documents recently disclosed by the Center for Public Integrity.

The university's response was weak: "As we all know, there are no free lunches," then-economics chairman Bruce Benson told his colleagues. "The reality is that we all live and work in an environment that is subject to all sorts of political manipulations.... We are not going to be able to hire anyone (for the funded program) if we do not work out an acceptable arrangement with Koch and its funding partners."

Koch didn't get all the oversight it wanted, but did get a strong say in who got appointed, or not appointed, as faculty for the program.

More recently, Arizona State accepted $1.129 million from the Charles Koch Foundation, and then went looking for a professor to focus on "the relations between free-market institutions and political liberty in modern history"--a specification that sounds more like the mission statement of a Koch lobbying group than the qualifications for a university professor.

It certainly appears that the board of trustees of the University of Illinois is marching to the donors' drums, throwing principles of academic independence to the side. The only trustee to support Salaita in last week's vote was James D. Montgomery, an African American attorney who recalled protesting racial discrimination on the Illinois campus 55 years ago: "I guess I was almost as vocal as professor Salaita when I carried my picket signs around this campus," he said.

As a final irony, consider that the chairman of the trustees, Christopher Kennedy, is the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. His approach to the Salaita controversy is to see it as a matter that can be papered over with a financial settlement: "We want to be fair, but we don’t want to be pushovers," Kennedy told the Chicago Tribune"Either they will sue or we will settle." 

That's what happens when questions of academic principle get reduced to dollars and cents--the university comes to believe it can trample any principle, as long as there's money to make it go away.

The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn't really broken into the mainstream. With a few exceptionsno major newspaper has covered it. Now that the Times has, I'm hoping Salaita's story will get even more attention, possibly from the networks as well. Second, in addition to covering the basics of the case, the piece shows just how divisive and controversial Chancellor Wise's decision has been, and how isolated it has made the University of Illinois.

The decision, which raised questions about contractual loopholes and academic freedom, almost immediately drew pushback from the academic community. Thousands of scholars in a variety of disciplines signed petitions pledging to avoid the campus unless it reversed its decision to rescind the job offer. A number of prominent academic associations also urged the university to reconsider.

In the past few days, several people have followed through on promises to boycott the institution. Two scholars declined invitations to speak at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study/MillerComm Lecture Series this fall, and a campus-based project called off a four-day national conference that it was scheduled to host there in October.

David J. Blacker, a professor of philosophy and legal studies at the University of Delaware, notified the Center for Advanced Study on Aug. 20 that he no longer wanted to participate. His lecture had been scheduled for Sept. 29.
Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,” he wrote to the committee, the University of Illinois “has apparently chosen ‘enforced silence.’ It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and nonnegotiable issue of academic freedom.”

Mr. Blacker added that he “would be delighted to reschedule my talk” if the university should decide to reinstate its offer to Mr. Salaita.

The following day, Allen F. Isaacman, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, also pulled out of the series, offering a similar message. His talk had been scheduled for Oct. 30.

“The University of Illinois’s recent decision to disregard its prior commitment to appoint Professor Salaita confirms my fear of the administration’s blatant disregard for academic freedom,” Mr. Isaacman wrote in a letter to Wayne Pitard, a professor of religion and head of the lecture-series committee. “I do hope that the university administration will reverse its decision before it does irreparable harm to your great institution.”

That same day, the Education Justice Project, which is part of the department of education policy, organization, and leadership at Urbana-Champaign, announced that it was canceling the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which it had been scheduled to host.

This decision has not been easy,” Rebecca Ginsburg, an associate professor in the education policy department, said in an announcement posted on the project’s webpage. The project’s leaders reached the decision only after speaking with would-be presenters and attendees, she wrote. “We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.”

Ms. Ginsburg could not be reached for comment Friday; university administrators also did not respond to calls for comment.

On the campus, tensions are just as high.

That evening, however, faculty members in the American Indian studies program, a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in Ms. Wise’s leadership, criticizing her handling of the last-minute withdrawal of the offer to Mr. Salaita.

“In clear disregard of basic principles of shared governance and unit autonomy, and without basic courtesy and respect for collegiality, Chancellor Wise did not consult American Indian studies nor the college before making her decision,” reads a statement posted on the program’s webpage.

“With this vote of no confidence, the faculty of UIUC’s American Indian studies program also joins the thousands of scholars and organizations in the United States and across the world in seeing the chancellor’s action as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” the statement says.

The note goes on to encourage other departments to do the same, and to question whether the chancellor deserves the confidence of Illinois’s full faculty.

My only objection to the piece is that its numbers are out of date.

Cancelled Lectures

As of today, five scholars, not two, have canceled lectures or turned down an invitation to a University of Illinois campus. (And there may be more I am not aware of.)

In addition to David Blacker and Allen Isaacman, Eric Schwitzgebel has canceled a talk he was due to give on campus in December and also notified the organizers of a conference on experimental philosophy that he would not be able to deliver the keynote address, as he had been invited to do.

Jonathan Judaken, a humanities scholar, was asked to deliver the keynote address at conference at the UIUC in October; he was also scheduled to speak, while on campus, at the Program in Jewish Culture and Society. He has turned down the invitation. Despite his opposition to the idea of an academic boycott of Israel, and despite his visceral reaction to Salaita's tweets, he believes the academic freedom issues in this case are so vital that he must boycott the UIUC.

[Chancellor Wise's] new doctrine of civility ostensibly created to foster a climate where open dialogue, discourse, and debate must be respected has actually planted the latest land mine in this academic battlefield. The result will be opposite of what she intends. Now faculty and students will feel more anxious than ever that views or viewpoints that go beyond the policed confines of what administrators -- or worse, the lapdogs of the watchdog groups -- define as the norm, will be able to be expressed as part of an open conversation.

It is consequently on the basis of the principles of faculty governance, academic freedom, and freedom of speech that I will not speak at Illinois until Salaita's job offer is upheld.

This all could have been avoided if Chancellor Wise trusted faculty governance procedures. The faculty who hired Salaita were fully aware of his position on Israel and Zionism and fully equipped to determine if it would negatively impact his ability to teach his classes. There are international experts on the faculty who could have aided the administration in assessing Salaita's tweets. It is faculty as the leaders of the communities of inquiry in universities and colleges that are best equipped to judge in such cases.

Contrary to the muddled ways it is being used today as a political cudgel, academic freedom is about the right of academics to say what they will without the interference of groups outside the academy policing their positions. Faculty governance is about giving faculty the right to make all decisions within the academy pertaining to their domains of expertise, most significantly hiring decisions. And freedom of speech is our most basic right as Americans.
Campus watchdogs who monitor the academy claim they do so to uphold what is best in higher education. But Salaita's case shows once more that they threaten to turn campuses from refuges of critical inquiry into battlegrounds of political correctness and narrow norms.

And Julie Livingston, a Rutgers historian and MacArthur Fellow, has canceled a talk at the University of Illinois at Chicago (a UIUC sister campus, whose chancellor came out in support of Chancellor Wise). Livingston writes:
"With great sadness I am writing to cancel my upcoming talk at UIC scheduled for September 17, given your chancellor's recent statement of support for the actions of Phyllis Wise and the U of I Board of Trustees in the Steven Salaita case. While I had been looking forward to engaging with colleagues and students at UIC, I cannot in good conscience visit your campus until the Steven Salaita matter is resolved in a manner that upholds the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that are fundamental to American higher education and the necessary exchange of ideas, especially where difficult and potentially polarizing issues are concerned. I very much hope that your leadership will listen to their faculty and to the several thousand scholars (including myself) who have signed a pledge to boycott the University of Illinois, reflect on their actions, and reverse the errant course on which they have embarked in this matter. Should that happen I would welcome very much the chance to come and speak."

So five cancellations or refusals of an invitation.

No Confidence Votes
In addition, three departments at the UIUC, not one, have taken a vote of no confidence in the leadership of UIUC. In addition to the American Indian Studies department vote discussed by the Times, the Asian American Studies department and the philosophy department have voted no confidence in the chancellor. 

Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.


The philosophy vote is especially important, to my mind, because it demonstrates the power of the boycott. Of all the disciplines, philosophy has been the strongest in defending academic freedom at the UIUC. Over 530 philosophers have joined the boycott, more than any other field. Why that's the case, I'm not sure. But the fact that philosophy is the only department at UIUC—besides Asian American and American Indian Studies (where Salaita's  connections are strong)—to have voted no confidence is symptomatic of the power of the boycott. Seeing so many of their colleagues across the country and around the world take this strong stand, the philosophers at UIUC have now communicated to the administration that the campus is growing increasingly ungovernable. Chancellor Wise will not get any peace on campus till she and the trustees reverse their decision. As even this generally negative piece in a local paper acknowledges.

This is why I  want to press one of the newer boycott initiatives, from Alan Sokal of NYU, for natural scientists. Getting support among the natural scientists is critical, as they are often a favored constituency at big research campuses like UIUC. They draw the big money from federal grants; they have a lot of power. I want to urge any one of you who is a natural scientist to join this boycott pledge and to urge your friends and colleagues in the natural sciences to do the same. With just the right amount of pressure from all of you, we might see something similar to the philosophy vote on the natural sciences side of the UIUC campus.

For a complete list of the boycott statements, go here. While I haven't gotten a complete update on the numbers, we have at least 3849 signed up for the boycott as of tonight.


The American Association of University Professors has issued a strong statement on the Salaita affair. Here are some of the highlights.

The letter details the extensive dealings between Salaita and the University of Illinois subsequent to his signing of the offer letter he received in October 2013. Among other things, the AAUP reveals that Chancellor Wise invited Salaita to a welcome reception for new faculty.

Toward the end of January, Professor Salaita wrote to Professor Byrd about scheduling a visit to Urbana-Champaign in order to make arrangements for a place to live for him and his family. He states that they visited the area in March and subsequently initiated the purchase of an apartment, including payment of “earnest” money, which was subsequently forfeited when the agreement was voided following the abrupt notification regarding his appointment. During this visit, the AIS faculty hosted a dinner for him and his family to welcome him to the faculty. In early April he was notified of his fall teaching assignment, and he finalized his course book orders in mid-summer.
In the intervening months between his October 2013 acceptance of the appointment and early August 2014, when you notified him of its termination, Professor Salaita received information from various offices of the university, indicating that they had been informed of his appointment, including an invitation from your office to attend your August 19 reception “welcoming faculty and academic professionals who joined the Illinois community in 2014,” as the invitation stated. Nothing was said to Professor Salaita about board action still to come, and we are informed that it is not uncommon for board action on new appointments to take place only after the appointment has begun and the appointee is already at work.

Because the AAUP recognizes that Salaita was in fact hired by the UIUC, they reach a vastly different conclusion about what Chancellor Wise has done to him and what Wise must now do.

Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation.
Until these issues have been resolved, we look upon Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue. Under the joint 1958 Statement on Procedural St andards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, any such suspension is to be with pay. As detailed earlier in this letter, Professor Salaita has incurred major financial expenses since he accepted the University of Illinois offer. We urge–indeed insist–that he be paid salary as set in the terms of the appointment pending the result of the CAFT proceeding.
Brian Leiter has an interesting followup on the AAUP letter, which I urge you all to read, along with the fascinating comment thread that ensues.

The AAUP brings up the issue of Salaita's financial standing. If you haven't donated to the fund set up by his friends and colleagues to help him fight his case and support his family, please do so now. Click on this link and then go to the right-hand side of the page. People often urge individuals in Salaita's situation to sue. He may have to. But lawsuits cost money. Like a lot of money. Unless you're independently wealthy, they're hard to paid for. Like really hard to pay for. So please help Salaita out. And while you're over there, check out these awesome testimonials from his former students. You know, students: the very people Chancellor Wise and Salaita's critics claim to be protecting.

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