College dismisses visiting professor mid-semester

Bernard Moore, former visiting assistant professor of political science, was dismissed from the College on Monday after pleading guilty in federal court in the District of Columbia early last week to fraud in excess of $820,000.

A press release published by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Nov. 9 and first reported by The Washington Post on the evening of Nov. 10 announced Moore’s guilty pleas to one count each of student aid fraud, bank fraud and Social Security representative fraud. The statement of facts that Moore agreed to as part of his plea offered a detailed account of his extensive history of fraud schemes, which began in 1985 and, according to online court records, included a credit card fraud conviction in 1987, for which he went to prison.

In addition to mounting over $500,000 in purchases with at least 90 false credit cards in the past six years, Moore employed a number of aliases and fake Social Security numbers over the course of two decades, using them to gain admission to universities and access to loans. According to the DOJ report, Moore never in fact received a bachelor’s degree and relied on a false educational history in gaining admission to Claremont Graduate University and, later, Howard University, where he received his Ph.D last spring.

Moore faces up to 41 months in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 17, 2010. Both he and his lawyer were unavailable for comment.

Moore’s departure marks the first time in at least 25 years that a faculty member has been dismissed mid-semester.

The College learned of Moore’s conviction from reading the story in the Post the same evening it was published. After confirming with Moore that he was the same Ernest B. Moore referenced in the article, the College suspended Moore for five days before announcing his dismissal on Monday. Jim Kolesar, director of public affairs, said the College had had no prior knowledge of either the federal investigation or Moore’s past legal troubles.

During his time at the College Moore also worked as a visiting researcher at Yale University and as a senior policy fellow for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.). According to Ira Cohen, Davis’ spokesman, the Congressman and his staff were aware of Moore’s prior conviction as well as of the possibility that he was under investigation, but they did not find out that he had pled guilty until the story appeared in the Post. Moore’s position has since been terminated.

“The Congressman knew that he had been to prison, but what we didn’t know was that he was continuing this conduct,” Cohen said. “I don’t think there was any secret about [the prior conviction].”

“He obviously lied to the Congressman about many things, so at this point we don’t take anything for granted about what he said or didn’t say,” Cohen added.

It is unknown when Moore first became aware of the investigation against him, though the plea agreement filed with the U.S. District Court on Nov. 9 shows Moore to have signed the document on Sept. 30. According to Ifiok Inyang ’11, a student in Moore’s “Black Leadership” course this semester, Moore had canceled their Nov. 9 class meeting beforehand and had instructed students instead to meet with a reference librarian regarding their class research projects.

In addition to “Black Leadership,” Moore was scheduled to teach a course titled “Congressional Leadership” in the spring, as well as a Winter Study class on federal courts. Alex Willingham, professor of political science, will be teaching the remainder of Moore’s course this semester, while the class planned for the spring has been canceled. Alternative arrangements are still being considered for the Winter Study course.

Following a similar panel event that he organized last fall, Moore had arranged for a group of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members and other black leaders to visit campus this past Monday, but the event was canceled in light of Moore’s guilty plea and then-suspension. According to an e-mail from Interim President Wagner, ethical standards for the House of Representatives require that members only attend events certified by the Congressional Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Given Moore’s fraud and conviction, the Committee asked that the event be re-certified without Moore’s involvement, a process that would take a minimum of 14 days.

Elsie Scott, president and CEO of the CBC Foundation, confirmed this account and said she had spoken briefly with the College about the possibility of rescheduling the event. Given the upcoming holiday season and next year’s midterm elections, however, Scott expressed doubt that the panel could be held before November 2010.

Hiring visitors

Since news of Moore’s financial fraud first emerged, details about his false credentials and numerous fictitious identities have raised questions as to how the College found itself among the list of institutions he deceived.

Moore joined the faculty in September 2008 as a visiting lecturer in political science and taught five courses over that academic year, specializing in areas of constitutional law, race in politics and the judicial system. Moore applied for a tenure-track position in the department a few months after he began teaching but was rejected and instead eventually appointed as the W. Ford Schumann ’50 Professor in Democratic Studies for the following year, another visiting role.

While the College asks employees joining the College if they have felony convictions, it does not conduct background checks during the hiring process and relies on candidates’ honesty in trusting their claims, revealing at least in part how Moore’s blotted credentials slipped by unnoticed. The College has released few details about Moore’s hiring in particular, but there seem to have been no formal lapses in the way the process was carried out.

The facts that Rep. Davis and his staff knew of Moore’s criminal history and that many of Moore’s students have over the past week provided accounts detailing his professorial conduct as academically lacking and ethically questionable have further raised questions as to whether adequate mechanisms exist at the College to detect instances of misconduct, both prior to and after hiring.

For visiting faculty such as Moore, hiring procedures are less stringent than for tenure-track faculty. While certain guidelines must be followed for all faculty hires at the College – the submission of a cover letter, curriculum vitae (CV) and letters of reference, as well as an interview with the specific department – the hiring of visitors relies less on formal protocol and is largely conducted and overseen by individual departments.

“Tenure-track members are expected to be producing scholarship, which isn’t applied to a visiting professor,” said Andrea Danyluk, acting dean of the faculty. Hiring practices reflect this difference, as tenure-track candidates – unlike visitors – are always required to submit writing samples and give a campus talk as part of the application process, as well as be interviewed by certain members of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP).

“There isn’t uniformity in materials solicited for visiting positions,” said Danyluk, noting that hiring practices for visitors vary across departments. She noted that while some departments conduct the exact same process for visitors as for non-visitors, others might require fewer materials.

For example, given that the College’s guidelines for hiring visitors don’t mandate a writing sample, Danyluk noted that it is possible that a visiting professor be hired without submitting one. “It depends on the type of position we’re looking for,” she said. “If we’re looking for faculty to just teach one course then what we really care for is for that person to be a good teacher, so in that case we don’t ask for as much scholarship. If there’s the possibility of advising a thesis, for example, then obviously we’d also focus more on scholarship.”

Jim Mahon, professor and chair of political science, of which Moore was a faculty member, explained that the department does require a writing sample as part of its standard application process for all positions. In line with Danyluk, he also noted that since visitors are chiefly hired for their teaching, the department does not weigh scholarship as heavily in evaluating their candidacy. According to Mahon, Moore’s application file testified to significant teaching experience at Howard University, which is where he earned his Ph.D last May.

While Moore was hired while still completing his dissertation, Danyluk said that such a situation is not unusual.

Reviewing visitors

Many of Moore’s former students have come forward in the last week, voicing significant criticism of Moore’s teaching style and concerns regarding his professorial conduct. There is no indication that students brought their complaints before either the political science department or the administration prior to Moore’s reappointment, yet the series of events draws attention to the visiting faculty review and reappointment processes in place at the College.

The College does not require that departments conduct classroom sit-ins for visitors or for tenure-track professors, either before or after they join the faculty, though some departments do so on their own. According to Mahon, the political science department relies on Student Course Surveys (SCS) and an additional department-specific form with narrative comparison questions to gauge students’ experiences. Danyluk said that SCS are taken into account while considering visiting professors for reappointment, but that it is uncommon for student interviews to be conducted, as done in the case of tenure-track faculty.

According to the Faculty Handbook, candidates for visiting faculty positions are judged primarily on their teaching strengths and occasionally on how they might enrich the campus through specific experiences or certain areas of expertise.

The W. Ford Schumann ’50 Professorship in Democratic Studies, which Moore was appointed to after spending his first year as a visiting lecturer, is designed for those with experience in political and non-governmental organizations. Danyluk acknowledged that Moore’s work in public policy played a factor in his reappointment. “In this particular position, there was also an expectation that Professor Moore would bring to the College something else, such as practice,” she said.

Institutional comparisons

Conversations with administrators at several other institutions demonstrated that the College is not unique in its hiring processes and expectations for visiting professors, though differences do exist.

Patrick Reynolds, associate dean of the faculty at Hamilton, stated that the process for filling both visiting and tenure-track positions is almost identical there, even though the tenure-track openings do attract many more applicants. He added that all potential visiting faculty are required to give lectures at the college prior to their hiring.

While former teaching experience is highly valued, “how much of it weighs in is at the department’s discretion,” Reynolds said. He noted that, despite the similar processes, scholarship was a much greater factor when evaluating tenure-track candidates, in whose hiring both individual departments and the CAP are closely involved. “With them, one really looks for scholarly potential,” Reynolds said.

Jim Higginbotham, associate dean for academic affairs at Bowdoin College, agreed, adding that more time is usually spent understanding a tenure-track candidate’s research background. For visiting professors, meanwhile, the chief criterion remains teaching, though past experience also plays a factor. To evaluate the quality of teaching, departments often invite visiting candidates to give sample lectures, and the college also relies on recommendation letters that specifically discuss how a candidate performs in the classroom.

“This is getting more and more common now,” Higginbotham said, “We look hard at teaching.” When asked if the college was willing to make more compromises in hiring visiting professors, Higginbotham replied, “Marginally so.”

At Brown University, meanwhile, individual departments both lead and oversee the hiring of visitors, though the University does sometimes conduct national searches. Jessica Smith, senior faculty personnel representative at the University, described the hiring process for visitors as significantly less rigorous than for tenure-track candidates. “The dean of faculty’s office just does the paperwork to approve the department’s recommendations,” she explained, referring to the procedure for visitors.
All three institutions said they do not conduct background checks on any of their applicants or employees.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Galinsky and Katy Gathright, Record staff.