"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.

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  1. Anonymity needs to be ended on the Internet. We can’t let people hide behind fake user names to promote misinformation, disinformation, and Anti-Semitism on the internet.

    1. Had you read the above, you would find that the sender used her real name, and that the CHE decided not to publish it.

      What wasn’t said — and I’m just guessing here — is that this has “mental health” written all over it. I’ve seen stuff like this before, anyone who has been around student affairs for any length of time has, and that’s why I wonder why this was taken so seriously with so many people being named.

      Unless, of course, there is some validity to the underlying allegations, perhaps research that wasn’t being properly attributed and I’ve seen that happen too.

      1. ” is that this has “mental health” written all over it.”
        If the person’s identity is known the best cure for this “mental health problem is a dozen simultaneously filed law suits.

        1. The victims have asked that the perp’s name be withheld because they think she is truly nuts.

          I’m not sure male victims would react the same way…

          This begs the question: Is R. hot?

          1. Does it matter? Never stick your dick in crazy.

          2. Let’s see… (former) Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. What do you think?

        2. IANAL — *can* you sue someone who is committed? Who would answer the suit — how would you even make service?

          And outside the world of lawyers, suing the mentally ill (while perhaps personally rewarding) doesn’t look good on your CV, nor is something likely to impress the tenure committee.

          Furthermore, sue for what? I’m guessing — just a guess — that you’d be suing someone with no assets who’s working at Starbucks. Would *you* take a case like that on contingency?

          1. Ed,
            Why do you assume that R is mentally ill or even more that R is institutionalized?

    2. >RabbiHarveyWeinstein
      April.16.2021 at 2:17 pm
      Anonymity needs to be ended on the Internet. We can’t let people hide behind fake user names to promote misinformation, disinformation, and Anti-Semitism on the internet.

      This is … perfect

      1. I like to remind people that the Federalist Papers were published anonymously. Yes, 234 years later we know who wrote them, but at the time they were anonymous.

        I presume for a reason…

        1. But do you know the reason? Hint—it had nothing to do with the reasons people typically have for using false names on the internet.

  2. It is situations like this which is why due process is so incredibly important, no matter how serious the charges nor how reprehensible the accused may appear to be.

    I will never forget the 1999-2000 UMass Amherst “Campus Pond Rapist” hysteria — and every one of those reported rapes were hoaxes. As was the allegation a decade later that UMass had failed to punish a rapist — it actually was a case of extortion and when the man played the voicemail for both the police and dean (and they verified it’s legitimacy) they knew that no rape had occurred.

    1. Due process itself is a tort inflicting severe damage on the false targets. Those engaging in due process, like lawyer scumbags, should be made to pay for these damages out of personal assets. See my note below. A kid in Life Skills Class will understand it.

    2. I looked this rape hoax up, and all I can find is comments from Dr. Ed about it going back about 9 years….

      Jesus, dude.

      1. I looked this rape hoax up, and all I can find is comments from Dr. Ed about it going back about 9 years….

        As usual, the problem is your willful blindness (or, if you prefer, rank incompetence in using a search engine). Clicky clicky on the very first hit.

        Unless you’re claiming that one of “Sut Jhally & Jackson Katz ’82” is Dr. Ed.

        Jesus, dude.

        1. It also doesn’t help that the two regional newspapers — the Northampton Gazette and Springfield Republican are too small to make most search engines. The problem is that something like 4/5ths of Massachusetts’s population resides in the eastern 1/5 of the state and hence the 413 area code is often largely forgotten.

    3. The hardships that the accused were put through is amazing. As an editor I see a few claims of plagiarism every year. And I do check each of the few hundred submissions that I process each year for signs of plagiarism.
      Relevant software is used on many campuses. And theses at major universities such as UCLA are in the available data bases.
      It is surprising that charges were not summarily dismissed as being without merit in most cases unless compelling evidence were supplied by the accuser.

  3. “The Chronicle is not naming the woman at the request of Roth and others she targeted, who are concerned about her well-being. ”

    R. is not concerned about their well-being so this is a stupid gesture.

    1. “R. is not concerned about their well-being so this is a stupid gesture.”

      Unless she is currently in a locked psych ward.

      Things get *really* messy at that point because, ethically (and perhaps legally), the CHE would be required to ask R for her version of the story — which they aren’t going to be allowed to do. Furthermore, while it’s very relevant to the story to say that she’s been committed, you can’t print that….

      But what you can do is what the CHE did do.

      On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that there is some truth behind the allegations. Grad school can be quite cut-throat and I’ve had my stuff stolen, bleep happens and unless it is exceedingly egregious, you ignore it and go on.

      Implying that someone is mentally ill is the easiest way to discredit what may be legitimate allegations, even if the person actually *is* mentally ill.

      And with the level of bullying that I’ve seen in grad school cohorts, posting someone’s photo to internet porn sites really would not surprise me. I haven’t seen *that* done, but I’ve seen bullying on that level, and women tend to be more vicious.

      1. “locked psych ward”
        HIghly unlikely, but easy for the plaintiffs to ascertain.

      2. It’s very easy to figure out who “R” is based on the information in the article.

        All one needs to do is visit an Internet archiving site (such as archive.org), and check out the Union history faculty last year and compare to this year.

        “R” is making no effort to hide, is searching for work, and is not currently based in the US.

    2. “R. is not concerned about their well-being so this is a stupid gesture.”
      Amen. The women targeted need to seek damages

    3. She may well be concerned for her own safety.

      Remember the Astronaut and Navy Captain who drove 900 miles wearing a diaper to attack another woman who was romantically involved with her ex?

      Some people are truly nuts.

  4. “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.”

    No concern about other people she might harm? This shows the problem with taking all accusations seriously, no matter how spurious.

    1. Neither of us know how spurious the accusations were.

      Say you’re a provost and get an email that one of your professors stole someone’s syllabus for underwater basket-weaving, with a copy of “R”‘s syllabus attached. So you pull out your list of teaching assignments and see that the accused professor actually *is* teaching underwater basket-weaving.

      So you call over to the department secretary and ask her to quietly fax you a copy of that syllabus — and it’s identical to the one she’s accused of having stolen.

      What do you do then?!?

      Higher Ed is a strange world, and I’ve seen enough strange things to believe most anything until I know all the facts.

      1. Absent any other information about misconduct I put it in a file to revisit if there are more substantive charges.

    2. It’s self defense. If you name them they claim harassment and death threats. And then they setup a patreon or start a gofundme campaign to fundraise as a “victim”. It’s a crybullying tactic that you see over and over. Never naming the culprit solves that.

  5. Someone is mentally ill. They make false allegations. The target of the lawyer profession should be anyone else who has acted on these. An investigation is an act of intimidation. It inflicts fear on the target, not to mention legal expenses. The investigative body is the real tortfeasor. If I receive an accusation, for example of plagiarism, I do not even mention it to the target. I ask for undeniable proof from the accuser.

    Is the U of Georgia a government entity? If it is, the officers are government officials. Lying to a government official is a crime. I then refer the accuser to the local prosecutor. If convicted, part of the sentencing may be to get help. Everyone is ahead, and the targets of the false allegations have not been disturbed.

    An investigation meets the criteria for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Democrat scum bags who are always engaging in this tactic, to bully real Americans, should pay for the damages. That Chinese Commie hoor, Nancy Pelosi, needs to pay Donald Trump a $billion for 2 fake impeachments, meant to harass. To deter.

    1. Hey, lawyer dumbasses, you did not even ask the important question. Does the accuser possess weapons? You need to send the State Police to her home, dumbasses. The stupidity of this profession is frustrating and shocking.

      1. 10% of murders are committed by paranoid people, 1500 in the US, and 80000 in the world. The overwhelming majority of mass murders are committed by them.

        The Supreme Court decision is 100% to blame for these preventable murders. After their killings, the mass shooters qualify for involuntary treatment. You lawyers killed 90000 innocent people since that decision, you traitor, mass murderers. One of them happened to be my mother.

    2. DaivdBehar — neither of us know all the facts here.

      *IF* she is in a locked psych ward, she is not going to harm anyone.

      Even without that, once you know, with certainty, that mental illness is behind the behavior — well, we didn’t execute Hinkley, did we?

      I’m not saying it is, nor do I know anyone who writes for the CHE anymore, but the way this is written leads me to suspect that 90% of this is below the surface. And what *do* you do when mens rea isn’t there?

      1. R. does not appear to be locked in any kind of psych ward. Her web page suggests she is effectively judgment-proof for other reasons, though.

    3. “Someone is mentally ill. ”
      More of your crappola accusations.
      People who deliberately seek to damage others need to pay a penalty

      1. “The Chronicle is not naming the woman at the request of Roth and others she targeted, who are concerned about her well-being”

        That’s a direct quote, please don’t accuse me of fabricating it.

        1. Ed,
          That direct quote says nothing about “Someone is mentally ill. ”
          The the direct quote was from David Behar not you

          1. Don has supernatural beliefs. He defers to delusional people in professional courtesy.

            1. David,
              Some here are thick headed. Some are just annoying, but you just spout reams of nonsense. You actually know know nothing of this case, nothing of the parties, yet you proclaim that R is mentally ill. Who the hell are you to judge that?
              The person who is constantly delusional is yourself, and I sure don’t defer to you.

  6. Professor Volokh….Seems a relatively simple matter to identify ‘R’. = R., then an assistant professor of history at Union College in New York…

    Isn’t this a straight-up case of defamation, and/or libel? Or slander?

    1. C_XY,
      Good point and is yet another reason why R’s targets should sue immediately as part of an affirmative defense

    2. Defamation (or libel/slander) of whom, by whom? Of the other professors, by R.? Probably. A tweet thread by Dr. Roth names R. and asserts that R. also impersonated the people she accused.

      Contrary to some claims in the comments here, R. does not appear to be in any kind of (US-based) mental institution. Her full name is straightforward to find by using the former affiliation you quoted, and perhaps uniquely identifies her on the English-speaking web.

      1. There is presently no woman with the initial R who is in the Union College history faculty or has anything to do with UCLA

    3. Good catch XY — I keep going back to the CHE either not being able to ask her to tell her side of the story (and also not being able to state why they couldn’t) and/or the CHE not *wanting* to ask her side of the story.

      If you’ve ever dealt with the media, you learn that there is a template they follow and the CHE’s always was to ask anyone whom they name for comment.

      Maybe this was sloppy editing — and my guess is that the first draft had her name in it — and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the editor wouldn’t let them name her, and this was their way to brag that they did know who she was.

      I also note the qualifier “then” — which sorta implies something, doesn’t it?

      Prof V: *CAN* one sue a mentally ill person for libel/slander?
      Yes, I know someone once sued God (*the* God), but are the ravings of a lunatic considered libelous? NB: I am not saying that she is, I am asking in general.

      I once had a crazy person tell me that he had ripped down his smoke detector and stomped it into little pieces (a concern because it *is* radioactive) because “Mohammad f*cked Montana.” I quoted him in my report, adding that it wasn’t clear if he was referring to the State of Montana or the then-popular teen singer Hannah Montana (aka Molly Cyrus).

      I had a different client tell me that the US Government (FBI, CIA, DIA, etc) was trying to prevent her from listening to NPR — and didn’t have the heart to tell her who *provides* NPR…

      So seriously, *can* you sue the insane for libel, or is it like trying to sue a 5-year-old for defamation?

    4. As an alumnus, it took maybe 2 minutes to identify. Verifying took noticeably longer, but only because R and Roth’s areas of focus are dissimilar to put it mildly. Count my vote in the ‘She’s crazy’ bin.

  7. It looks like the evidence- and due process-free systems that feminists have championed in civil court (family court, specifically) and on college campus Title IX tribunals have come back to bite some female faculty members.

    This would not be news if the victims cited here were male.

  8. Just as a matter of journalistic ethics, there is a problem with this kind of charitable anonymity. If you make an eye-catching accusation about someone, but for some altruistic purpose try to do them the favor of withholding their identity, you invite trouble.

    Readers—especially those familiar with a cast of characters surrounding your story—will take an interest, but assign blame to whichever person they think plausible. Some readers will be certain they know who it is, and be wrong. They will repeat the story as certainty to others, including the mistaken identity, and omitting that they are guessing. Some may attribute that mangled tale to the original publication.

    Who knows how many innocents will suffer ricochet damage? Potential for that kind of bad outcome ought to rule out gratuitous anonymity in connection with published accusations. Always identify the target of a published accusation, and spell the name correctly. But not before you know you have the facts right, and have satisfied yourself that the story is important enough to legitimize making an accusation in the first place.

  9. Now he qualifies for involuntary treatment, according to the stupidest people in our country, the US Supreme Court.


    1. Get your meds, Dave, befor it is too late

    2. *This* is interesting:
      “But the FBI eventually determined no that crime had been committed, nor that Hole had been talking about any racially motivated idology. He was not given back the shotgun, authorities said.”

      If he wasn’t able to possess firearms, which appears to be the case here, how’d he get the rifle?

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