Restoring our academic integrity

The Williams “faculty fraud” should give the entire Williams family great pause and requires immediate response. Professor Bernard Moore’s actions in falsifying his academic credentials and short changing his students must be confronted visibly and rectified visibly.

Start by what it was not. The College art museum was not swindled with a fake original. No one from the Development Office embezzled Alumni Fund contributions. A professor has not been convicted of spousal abuse. All the above are bad – all would reflect badly upon the College. But, what occurred in the political science department and in the classroom was far worse. Ersatz Professor Moore threw a poison dart at the core of the Williams experience – what we endearingly call “The Williams Education.” He threw Mark Hopkins off the log and replaced him with an empty suit, except for an active cell phone looking away from where his students sat.

In our current American culture, we experience these frauds regularly. Just consider the number of Congressmen who travel directly from Capitol Hill to federal penitentiaries. And for those of us lawyers, especially in Washington, D.C., the experience is even more frequent. So armed with experience, yet no facts at my command, there are plausible theories I can divine as to why Professor Moore was able to con both faculty and administration, but apparently not the students, and still escape scrutiny from his colleagues even when his classroom inadequacies were exposed. But, theories without facts are just that and therefore simply speculation not worthy of newsprint. When someone does compile the facts, then an accurate conclusion can be reached in a full and complete way.

What is not speculation, however, is that harm, maybe even great harm, has been perpetrated upon the College. Our fundamental premise as an academic institution has been mocked, successfully and for over a year, by an impostor seeking only financial gain. We must make every effort to preclude a repeat. As a Williams grad, an involved alum and former Alumni Fund Vice Chair and a practicing lawyer, I suggest the following:

The trustees need to conduct a thorough investigation. The faculty and administration failed here – they should not be asked to investigate themselves. The trustees should hire skilled, independent legal counsel to lead the effort. The ultimate report, with as few redactions as possible, should be made public, embarrassing as it may be. The goal should not be to blame but to identify what systemic failures led to the outcome and what reforms should be instituted in response. Such an investigation will be expensive, particularly so if a top tier, experienced lawyer is retained, since administration, faculty, students and others all would be interviewed and, if he agreed, Professor Moore as well. But recession or not, budget cuts or not, our integrity as a top tier academic institution allows for no less.

The College should be more upfront about the scam. The Web site says not a word. There is no press release about Professor Moore’s dismissal. One round of e-mails announcing a dismissal is simply not enough transparency in a fraud of this magnitude and significance. Bad news, especially titillating to those not involved, doesn’t vanish just because one ignores it. We appear to be hiding something by remaining silent. Ask Tiger Woods.

Finally, the students enrolled in Moore’s classes need recompense. They were cheated out of the single most important facet of their Williams experience: a dedicated teacher from whom they could not only learn the substantive material, but also the process of learning itself. How to do so is also for the Trustees to decide.

Four years at Williams produces a lifetime of learning. Forty years past graduation, I can affirm that seemingly inane platitude with real life experience. We cannot allow one man’s folly to tarnish that truth, and by acting quickly and decisively we will not. Far more injurious than the fraud itself is the inevitable human tendency to ignore it or, worse still, cover it up. We have Richard Nixon, even before Martha Stewart, to prove that point. And closer to our intellectual home, the current furor over the subversion of legitimate science in the climate dialogue illustrates that academics and their institutions are no more virtuous and self-regulated than the rest of us. Williams need be better.

Lawrence Levien ’68 is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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  • Norman Birnbaum 1946

    If faculty and administration cannot be trusted to an honest effort at self scrutiny, as Mr. Levien suggests, then the College is in such disrepair that no remedy will help. We can note Mr. Levien’s very collegial concern for the fees to be paid to the “top tier” legal personage he wishes to send to Williamstown. Perhaps it will occur to him, upon reflection, that even eminent Washington law firms have been found to be staffed by fallible humans He is a partner in a large firm with a rather assorted set of clients, a firm which moves in terrain in which law, lobbying, and politics meet. One would have to be hopelessly naive to suppose that
    the public good, in these circles, invariably counts for more than billable hours.

  • Vicky

    This commentary is rich coming from Larry Levien. I’ve experienced Larry’s lack of character first hand. He will say or do anything in the pursuit of his professional goals, including lying through his teeth on the record, no matter who or what those lies harm. Larry acting indignant at someone committing an act of dishonesty is a complete joke. He’s well known for it himself in the labor law community. Uphold our Williams morals and ethics yourself, before you condemn others, Larry.