Thursday, November 19, 2009

Revoking tenure for a minor error? Or a case of intellectual dishonesty?

An article yesterday in In Denver Times detailed the firing of tenured professor Angelina De La Torre of Metro State College in Denver.  Her transgression?  According to the article - and this post is based on what is reported in that article - this was the reason:
"During a post-tenure review process, which every tenured professor is subject to every five years, De La Torre submitted her updated curriculum vitae, or dossier. On the dossier, she listed a paper as having been published in 2005 in a specialized academic journal.

A review of the dossier showed that the journal did not contain the article De La Torre claimed to have published in 2005.

The college’s investigation report said she 'intentionally' lied on a review of her performance. According to the Handbook for Professional Personnel, the code of conduct for professors, such dishonesty is grounds for dismissal."

De La Torre's defense was that it was an honest error; she had presented the paper at a conference and had submitted it with a check for $25 with the understanding that it would be published in one of the organization's journals.  She had assumed it was, but evidently hadn't seen it in print.  She said she had spoken to the organization's executive director who gave her the information about the issue of the journal in which her article appeared.  Her article did not appear in the journal she had claimed on her CV, and the Board of Metro State this month upheld her firing.

This case raises interesting questions.  Is this a case of an honest error by a professor who had, according to the article, an otherwise illustrious career at Metro State?  Or does her mistake cut to the core of the concept of academic honesty: not taking credit for something you did not write?  One could argue that punishing someone so severely, to the extent of revoking their tenure, seems to be overly draconian for what many could see as an honest mistake.  After all, De La Torre was already tenured, and was undergoing a post-tenure review; the argument goes that she likely had little to gain by adding one publication to her CV that she hadn't written.  But as faculty members, our worth and reputations are very tightly entwined with our academic honesty and integrity.  Anything that calls that integrity into question could be perceived to be enough to warrant dismissal, particularly if called for in the faculty handbook.

De La Torre has said that she will sue the university to get her job back, so we will have wait to see (assuming her suit goes forward) if and how the court will rule.  One lesson we should all learn from this case, however, is to be very cautious with our curriculum vitae and similar materials that we use to describe our scholarly and other accomplishments.  Even if she does prevail, and gets her job back, I am sure that the experience both she and Metro State have been through has damaged both parties.


  1. I'm wondering how one would (legitimately) never notice that one's article didn't come out. Maybe it's just because I'm so junior and every publication is so important at this stage, but I pay close attention to a journal that has accepted my final proofs and eagerly await a copy.

  2. Yup - this probably was an issue that worked very strongly against her case.

    I trust you're having turducken for Thanksgiving?

  3. I was hired to do a job-share at a small school district. I do a 50% contract with another teacher. After 4 years of teaching, I was tenured. At the end of my 5th year, the district pulled my tenure and said I was still a probationary teacher because I had not worke 75% of the days in a school year. This is in CA. I was just wondering if a tenured can be taken back like the district did to me???

  4. Calkari -- I can't answer your question. The place to look would be your union contract (assuming you're unionized). This should clearly spell out all the rules for awarding of tenure.