The Volokh Conspiracy

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"Caught up in a Storm of False Accusations, Professors Found Themselves Fighting to Clear Their Names"


A fascinating, and frightening, story from the Chronicle of Higher Education (Sarah Brown & Megan Zahneis) (free registration required); an excerpt:

An email sent to nearly a dozen people at the University of Georgia, where [Cassia] Roth is an assistant professor, alleged that she had plagiarized parts of her master's thesis and doctoral dissertation, stealing the work of the sender, another young female scholar.

Then the accuser went further: Roth, she wrote, had stolen the sender's syllabi, and was posting her photo on pornographic websites.

"She is an imposter, a serial plagiarizer," the sender wrote of Roth, "and she needs to be held accountable for her actions."

Roth recognized the name of the sender. It was a former graduate-school classmate of hers, someone she'd considered a friend when they studied history together at the University of California at Los Angeles….

The Chronicle is not naming the woman at the request of Roth and others she targeted, who are concerned about her well-being. This article will call her by an initial, R.

From late February to May last year, R., then an assistant professor of history at Union College in New York, leveled serious accusations against at least 16 people, including 13 former Ph.D. students at UCLA. The vast majority of the victims were women, and most of them are now faculty members at institutions across the country. The frenzied email-harassment campaign included allegations of plagiarism and sexual misconduct that, according to the targets, are completely false. (The victims who spoke with The Chronicle have been exonerated by their employers.)

The harassment campaign prompted weeks-long investigations and upended the scholars' lives for much of the spring semester, at a time when the pandemic was also causing professional and personal upheaval. What's more, almost none of the targeted scholars had tenure.

Even though their institutions cleared them months ago, Roth says, she and others fear they could now be associated—forever—with the false claims. The accusations they faced are the sort that can derail careers and permanently damage credibility.

"It's a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what." The flip side is that, for every topic, someone will lie about it; the only variable is who.