Poll: Readers Sound Off About Joe Ellis's Suspension
SPARE US THE MORAL OUTRAGE
What an unquestioning bunch we are. Do we imagine that a Globe reporter was doing an investigation of Joseph Ellis's military background? Or is it more probable that someone in the profession had somehow been irked by Ellis, and had this juicy story with which to slam him?
Spare us the moral outrage. Until I picked up the Globe on the morning of its expose, I had no idea Ellis claimed to have been in Vietnam. I knew him instead as a brilliant writer who has written the definitive works on Adams, Jefferson, and the new nation. I also knew him as a generous and kind scholar, eager to engage with and to support the inquiries of others. I will continue to think of him in these ways, but will think less both of the newspaper which had never before put him on its front page until it was ready to destroy him, and those of my colleagues who are so ready to devour another when he bleeds.
HE THREW AWAY HIS DIGNITY
I approve of the Mt. Holyoke actions, if it is indeed true that Ellis falsified his own history, as a history teacher. His job was to tell the truth as far as he could discern it. That was his sole source of professional dignity, and he threw it away [see John Ruskin, Roots of Honor]. It's not like he was teaching a course labeled"plagiarism" or"The Dark Arts of the C.I.A."
Charles M. Barber
Mount Holyoke's action is a step in the right direction, but a small one. For lying to students over the years he should be dismissed from the faculty.
Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus, Connecticut College
ELLIS SHOULD BE PUT OUT TO PASTURE
Joseph Ellis has established himself in the private sector better than almost all of us non-academic working stiffs. So why should the university not put him out to the pasture where he has made his main excellent and well documented record? Why should a university subsidize someone of such renowned royalty prominence, but with a fork-tongued devotion to personal accuracy? This is very confusing, my academic folk. You are looking a little suspect on this one. A year's slap on the hands for dividing history and fact is much pathetic.
All of this again shows that there is a quite separate record betwen the acacemic world and the real world.
And let me say that I have loved every word Joe Ellis has written. So this is painful to write, but also painful to note that the academic community can be so loose on its judgement. This is aquite sad.
REFORM THE SINNER
By grossly exaggerating the facts and his own role in history in a classroom, Prof. Ellis violated the rules of honest scholarship which we all try to abide and instill in our students. The punishment Mt. Holyoke inflicted indicates the seriousness with which it views the violation. Ellis has been publicly humiliated by the press and its many commentators, financially penalized, suspended from his job for a year, and deprived of his chair at least temporarily. At this point, I think the school should think about ways to rehabilitate this sinner into its ranks after he has suffered these consequences. (Otherwise, they should have just fired him to begin with.)
Alexander von Hoffman
ONE THING EVERYBODY'S FORGETTING
In my view, Mount Holyoke College let Professor Ellis off much too lightly, for one compelling reason that few seem to have considered--the fact that Professor Ellis also served for several years as Dean of the Mount Holyoke faculty. This position gave him both the primary responsibility and the power to uphold and enhance the academic standards, accopmlishments and aspirations of his faculty colleagues. He all but decided who on the Mount Holyoke faculty was deserving of tenure and promotion-- who should receive"merit" salary increases, and who ought to be penalized. He exercised his (presumably)"high" academic standards to judge his colleagues and determine their futures, even as he grossly misrepresented himself to them-- and to his own students.
A breach of ethics and faith this enormous deserves greater censure by far, in my view than the one just announced
James Brewer Stewart
James Wallace Professor of History, Macalester College
It's surprising the scandal broke as a result of a newspaper investigation. Was it a personal vendetta? A settling of accounts?
To me, Ellis sins' amount to peccadillos--they are as venial as they are flagrant. Yet there are groups in the US who'll react with unforgiving fury to a falsified military record.
It's unclear to me what claiming to have been a paratrooper or an anti-war protester would to bring to the classroom and even murkier why Ellis would risk his integrity for the sake of being a 'man of action' on paper.
I think that Mt. Holyoke has the ethical and moral responsibility to insist on the integrity of its faculty. It's the only barrier between history and entertainment.
His embellishment of his personal history was unprofessional, but not actually criminal. A reprimand is suitable unless the university has verified that Joseph Ellis falsified his research.Margo Gann
I think that the decision is fair. It could have been more severe. Those of us who are asked to fail students guilty of plagiarism should tell the truth. James M. Russell
It clearly is the absolute least they could do. Robert J. Wilensky, MD, PhD, Adjunct in History, George Mason University
It's the very least they could do. How we really be"historians" who attempt to reveal facts about the past if we can't even get the facts about ourselves straight? Carol Sue Humphrey
I personally think the profession ought to censure this guy. He gives us all a bad name! Bill Bowers
It is probably wise to have Prof. Ellis"step down" now that calumny is swirling about him. Too bad he didn't think of the impact when he said the things he did about his false past. RLSemes
I applaud Mount Holyoke's decision. I taught there for five years and know something of the standards they set for themselves and their students.
GEEZ, THIS IS A TOUGH ONE.
I think I agree with Holyoke's decision, given that Mr. Ellis was representing himself in a fraudulent matter--creating historical contexts for himself that were false. I think what he did is a disservice to the historical profession, to his students, and to his colleagues and I do think that there should be repercussions for his actions.
On the other hand, Mr. Ellis is a fine writer and has demonstrated that he can do historical research and that he is an effective teacher. I believe that he has contributed to the field as a whole, but he has also seriously undermined his own work through his misrepresentations. It'll take him a long time to rebuild his reputation as a historian, if he will ever be able to do so. And sadly, I don't really have any sympathy for him because he made the decision to portray himself in such fashion. We all make choices. Some are bad and some are good. His were bad.
Cheers, Evelyn A. Schlatter, Ph.D.
University of New Mexico Press
I DON'T THINK THE LIES THAT JOSEPH ELLIS TOLD ARE GOOD OR WISE
But I do not think he should be punished in the way Mt. Holyoke has chosen to punish him. He should not have done what he did but his deceptions are hardly uncommon. We will forego the list of political figures who have created awards, distinctions, heroic behaviors. Most of the books politicians/statesmen claim to write they did not.
Is the academy different? No, but it is assumed it should be, and worse, it is assumed that is is. The academy in many ways defines excellent teaching as mesmerizing lectures that students adore hearing. In my 35 years of teaching in colleges and universities I think I can fairly say that those who excell in this show-biz version of education are in general men.
One of my colleagues was enraged with Ellis' behavior, condemning it largely because it will create a spirit of disillusionment among our students. I think that is probably a good thing. Professors are, alas, no more virtuous than any other group of citizens.
Ann J. Lane
Professor of History, University of Virginia
Director, Studies in Women and Gender, University of Virginia
I agree with the decision because he had the success and the credentials to know the difference and could have presented his Vietnam materials in dramatic form without having to have said he was the participant. His vanity got the best of his judgment. He could have been dramatic and effective even in the third person.
The administration at Mount Holyoke had to make a difficult decision. On the one hand, Ellis lied about his past. He directly violated the honor code, and consistent adherence to the honor code is one of MHC's greatest achievements. On the other hand, Ellis has spent the greater part of his life serving Mount Holyoke. He could have left MHC after American Sphinx hit the stands. God knows other places wanted him. But he stayed and continued to play an active role as both a mentor to students and a member of the department.
Professor Ellis will be paying for his weakness of character for the rest of his life; he will never escape this public shaming.
I support MHC's decision. It suggests both compassion and principle. And as for outside perceptions of MHC, we've survived several wars and many scandals in the past 150 plus years; the story of Joseph Ellis merely adds more texture to our history.
Renee Sentilles '88
It's at least what his actions merit; indeed, it might be considered mild punishment. Fabricating evidence is a cardinal offense in academe. Ellis grossly violated the trust of his students and the ethical precepts of his profession.
HOLYOKE RATHER LATE
...and comes only after national pressure was put on the school. Ellis is a tragic figure because he has squandered his obvious talents through intellectual dishonesty. From my perspective as an African American historian, this is part of a pattern that was also reflected in his unprofessional attacks on the proponents of a Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship. Before the DNA evidence came in, he referred to them as"fools and liars". Instead of suspending judgment, he chose to make ad hominem assaults on the integrity of those who disagreed with him.
FORMER TRIAL LAWYER'S VIEW
I take a very dim view of lying. A former trial lawyer, I know how prone people are to exaggerate and how likely they are to forget the past and invent something to fill in the gaps. But doing so repeatedly, in front of people who expect you to not only be an expert in the past but a careful guardian of evidence, gave the College little room but to suspend Ellis.
From what I know of Ellis' situation, he manufactured several fictitious pasts in order to embellish his history lectures. In a lawsuit, that kind of embroidery is close to perjury. At the least, if it's caught, one's client or employer stands to lose a great deal of money and prestige.
He is a fine historian, justly praised for his written works. But I don't see how he can use one set of rules for writing history to be read and another for speaking history to be heard. Either you try to be faithful to the evidence in all your professional work, or you just admit that you're playing with your audiences.
At one time, I served in elective office. There, the temptation to exaggerate or invent one's past to enhance one's appeal to the voters was powerful. I saw several colleagues, or erstwhile colleagues caught doing so, embarrassed horribly and tossed out at the next opportunity. It's not a pretty sight.
Asst. Professor, History & Environmental Studies
Univ. of Kansas
TAKE THE LIBRARY CARD TOO!
Memories of all the former students who served (and died) in Vietnam and all the COs who sacrificed plenty while stateside cause no sympathy for Joseph Ellis. I look forward to reading his autobiography.
HOW DID HE GET A CHAIR?
I'm a much published PhD from Harvard who had now become an independent scholar. So much has been said over the last decades about the plight of the"Lost Generation" of scholars in history and American Studies of my age cohort (55). That is just the begining of my salvo against the Ellis horror. He has a" chair"? How did he get it? By lying and posing?
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO HISTORY? Is this the tip of the iceberg, given one other encounter in my experience. How many other narratives are fudged?
I am appalled. Ellis should be drummed out of the profession. Mount Holyoke should not give him the time of day, let alone a slap on the hand. SUCH A SELF-SERVING PRETENDER WHO NEGATES ANY ACADEMIIC ETHICS AND STANDARDS THAT SHOULD BE TAUGHT AND PRACTICED AS INTRINSIC! What is he teaching his students? Be a scam like me? That's NOT history, and I hope that the AHA, OAH, and ASA will take note.
Blanche M. G. Linden, Ph.D.
At first I thought he should be fired, but now I think the school made a sound decision.. The Vietnam wanabe's are a disgrace under any circumstance and are especially hurtful to the history profession. Perhaps he should be required to attend counseling prior to continuing teacher. (His book"Founding Brother's is terrific.)
Paul Pedisich, Assistance Professor (History), Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX
TAKING A STAND
I'm pleased. It's about time institutions of higher education took a stand on principle. We give lip service to academic integrity, and ethical behavior and all too often turn a blind eye or excuse misconduct. Right is right and wrong is wrong. For too long relativism and political correctness have overshadowed issues of princple. What kind of example has he set for his students? Why should they worry about footnotes or selectively omitting facts from their work if the professor can get away with lying? It doens't matter if it was about personal or academic issues. Congratulations to the administration.
Anne Cipriano Venzon, Ph.D.
11 I'm sorry to see a man who has served history as well as Joseph Ellis have to go through this, but an action of this sort was clearly necessary (I won't get into its adequacy). By doing what he did he has cast doubt on what all of us who teach do in the classroom, and has given aid and comfort to all the irresponsible myth-peddlers who are constantly seeking (all too often successfully) to shape popular understandings of the past. It is our integrity, far more than our pedigrees, to which we owe our authority as teachers; we need to guard it with our lives. A student of the Founders (who knew that in their inmost beings) should have known that, and emulated it.
IT'S A MYSTERY
I don't know whether the punishment for Joseph Ellis is fair or not, but I'm glad the college finally took the charges seriously. I hope he does reflect on what happened and why, and I very much hope he writes about his experiences. You hear about politicians and others lying about their war record, or inflating their personal hiistory, or fabricating parts of their resume, but the explanations for these things never seem to satisfy--often these are people who would have been successful without these lies. So often, they seem beside the point. So, it is a mystery. Ellis could help make things right by providing some true insight into this phenomenon and posting his conclusions--for free--on the Internet.
NEVER LET HIM TEACH
I believe that integrity and truthfulness is an uncompromising requirement in the classroom as well in scholarship. Mount Holyoke is corect in suspending Ellis and I would judge him unfit for the classroom in the future. It was a slip or exaggeration for affect that he subsequently revealed as a teaching method to those he instructed. His was a fairly elaborate and sustained set of lies among many audiences. I would never reinstate Ellis.
HIS LIBRARY CARD
Until someone can show me how Ellis' fantasized time in Vietnam has compromised his research abilities, and/or his analytical skills, and /or his ability to present material in a classroom, I will maintain that Mount Holyoke has acted foolishly. We have all had courses from BS artists. I prefer the ones who BS about their personal lives to those who manufacture BS about the subject matter. Ellis seems to be in the former category.
I am open to being shown the error of my assumptions or logic.
P.S. I am glad he got to keep the library card, but what about parking privileges?
Gregory Holmes Singleton, Ph.D. Chair, Professor and Resident Old Curmudgeon Department of History, Northeastern Illinois University
PUNISHMENT TOO LIGHT
I want to be fair and do not know specifically what Ellis claimed in his classes, which is all that is important in terms of school policy. However, if reports are true, and he indeed used his non-existent"Vietnam experience" as the basis for a great deal of his course, then a suspension is far too light. It is equivalent to forging a Ph.D. If this was not a basis for his class, but was just some fraudulent claim he made at various times---in other words, if he wasn't"teaching" on his non-existent expertise---then the punishment is appropriate.
CHANNELING JOHN ADAMS
I'm rather surprised. Perhaps the college president's ill-advised earlier comments criticizing the Boston _Globe_ for deeming the matter newsworthy have seemed, to her and other relevant worthies at Mount Holyoke, to require a more severe punishment of Ellis than they would have meted out otherwise.
Ellis already had said that he would no longer teach the Vietnam War class. That might be for the best - if he sticks to teaching about the revolutionary period from now on, he won't be tempted to make up stories about his own involvement (unless he starts to talk about channelling John Adams). I do think the teaching of recent American history has been, in a certain sense, compromised by the rather widespread I-WAS-THERE attitude taken by many teachers of post-1945 U.S. history (an attitude that usually involves no fibbing). It is common for baby-boomer historians to teach about this period when their training and publication lies in other periods. They're just naturally interested, THEY WERE THERE, and they use that personal connection as the source of their authority on the subject, rather than the usual professional sources. Many times I have wondered if the Depression generation of historians took a similar attitude toward teaching the history of the interwar period. Maybe they did.
Incidentally, I don't think that kind of personally based authority is necessary in order to capture students' interest in the recent past. I teach courses on the Vietnam War and the 1960s, and I find that students are often relieved to find that these courses are not being taught by a boomer who is going to tell them they'll never understand things the way he does - since HE WAS THERE and THEY WEREN'T.
Wow! I think that ranks up there with the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. There is no way he deserves to lose an endowed chair for having inflated his war record.
Jamie Bronstein Associate Professor of History New Mexico State University
It's comparable to the penalties most colleges apply to serious student plagiarism. It seems reasonable, fair, for repeated, sustained falsification of the historical record.
Jonathan Dresner Assistant Professor Department of History Coe College
LET OFF LIGHTLY
All of us have to edit and choose. Some of us even, in our lectures, may slightly embellish a story for the sake of the telling without denying our students the facts; after all, conversational speech is different than a written work. But to make up the past, rather than narrating or analyzing it, is for novelists. While we as historians can learn about writing from novelists, we cannot imitate them.
Thus, Mount Holyoke has let Professor Ellis off lightly. I have been tougher on students who have committed similar acts. So have we all. We can make excuses for him, but that does not mean we can excuse him.
Michael Green Ph.D., Columbia University, 2000 Professor of History, Community College of Southern Nevada
It makes every historian--every professor--fair game for any disgruntled student who can try to show that Prof X gave out"false" information in class -- and X knew it was false because the student had pointed out this particular source that says it's false. Hence student demands the college president appoint a committee to investigate and punish the professor for falsehood.
There is something curiously postmodern about the Ellis case: what caused the trouble was irrelevant colorful claims & background details ("I was nearby") rather than core historical questions about the Vietnam war itself.
(Here's an alternative: maybe the rule should be that professors can include any falsehood about history in their lectures, but no exaggerations whatever about their own experiences?)
Richard Jensen professor of history emeritus, U of Illinois
Mt.Holyoke's decision about Joseph Ellis seems fair, especially if there is--and remains--no evidence of his having distorted any history beyond his own. But it remains a sad comment on political correctness that pseudo-historian Tony Martin of Wellesley College--certainly a comparable institution--has escaped all but the mildest punishment for years of not only teaching but also writing about alleged Jewish domination of the African slave trade, among other historical distortions. One cannot help but compare the two cases and their rather different outcomes. Has historian David Garrow, who initially called for Ellis' firing and permanent banishment from all classrooms, ever had anything to say about Tony Martin? I wonder. Or, for that matter, what would Garrow have said if Martin Luther King, Jr., had lived long enough to have been hired as a college or university professor? Would King's well-documented plagiarism of someone else's doctoral dissertation have prompted Garrow to demand King's banishment from all classrooms as well? Or are the standards of professional behavior different when political considerations kick in?
Howard Segal Professor of History University of Maine
It's the least he deserves. James Munson
What took them so long? Gene Mahan
Let them that never yarned cast the first stone. John Tarver
Only one year? William Mandel
HIGHER STANDARD FOR ELLIS THAN BUSH
I’m surprised that a teacher caught lying about his war record has generated so much interest.
I bet that the Boston Globe is thinking that too.
You see, this is the third piece of investigative journalism by the Globe which has uncovered someone hiding from their real military record. Neither of the other stories garnered much attention on the network news.
Just over a month ago the Boston Globe reported that George W Bush’s nominee to be ambassador to Ireland had problems with inflating his military service.
The nominee, Richard J Egan , had like lied about being a Korean War veteran when, in fact, he had only enlisted three weeks before the end of the conflict.
But the Egan story was much more startling than that: the Globe also reported that Egan had been convicted of going AWOL in 1954.
Still, there was scant attention given to the Egan report and Egan remains the nominee.
Then there was last years Globe investigation of then candidate George W. Bush’s military records.
The story should have created a firestorm. It was a remarkable piece of investigative journalism in which the Globe's Walter Robinson pretty much blueprinted how Bush had skipped out on an entire year while a member of the Texas Air National Guard.
It fell, for the most part, on deaf ears.
Now we have the specter of a professor being held to higher standards by the media than a man picked to represent our nation abroad and the man who holds the highest office in the land.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETARY
The decision was fair and appropriate. There is no excuse for his behavior. His case needs to be used as an example to deter this type of misrepresentation. Claiming to be something or someone else is plagiarism of the worst variety. A discredit to those veterans who served and risked their lives to preserve"his" right to free expression and academic freedom. Why would such a talented individual need to embellish himself instead of giving the credit to those who deserve it? Would his students have thought any less of him if he used guess speakers to illustrate/reinforce his lectures. If an individual can be disinterred from Arlington National Cemetery for falsifying his service record, a professor must at least be held accountable for this despicable falsehood. Perhaps he should voluntarily"disinter" himself from his position.
RUSH TO JUDGMENT
I am unhappy that we are being asked to deliver a quick, off-the-cuff opinion on the basis of rather incomplete information, just like so many of the pundits of talk radio and TV. We are familiar with several serious charges of personal misrepresentations that even without fully knowing the context appear to be quite reprehensible. But worst of all for us in the historical profession, we have very little documentary evidence and none that I know of from the report of the faculty committee that considered his case. Whether the penalty was appropriate depends, I think, upon knowing what kinds of evidence his colleagues weighed in reaching whatever conclusions they reached. It doesn't help for us to render instant judgment in this sad case. Nor am I sure that we know the full extent of the penalty.
Paul E. Bushnell Professor of History Illinois Wesleyan University
ELLIS AND MELVILLE
The following is a slightly edited message I posted to the Melville discussion group (Ishmail-l@Hofstra.edu) in June.
I will go out on a limb and make a prediction prior to my actual reading of Ellis's books on the founders of our republic: Joseph Ellis has constructed a liberal persona that appeals to the spirited and idealistic young adults he teaches at Mt. Holyoke. Having established his liberal credentials, the reader of his books on Jefferson et al can trust that his interpretations of elusive, self-deceptive Jefferson's character (as in American Sphinx) are not motivated by counter-Enlightenment ideological commitments.
It is a well-tested strategy for conservative critics to take a contradictory figure (like Jefferson or Melville) and criticize him from the [democratic] Left (!) in order to discredit that part of his thought that is radically democratic and emancipatory. Perhaps Ellis has done this; I don't know yet. Readers of my book (on the Melville Revival) will note what a high priority it was to reinterpret the Jeffersonian legacy (along with Tom Paine's) for the Harvard social psychologists interested in" civilian morale" in the late 1930s and afterwards. Whether or not Ellis deviates from their protocols, I am eager to discover.
Clare Spark, Ph.D. author, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001)
I find the actions taken by the administration a trifle severe, considering his only transgression was telling a falsehood about his service in the Vietnam War Theatre. While it is unfortunate his ego led him to claim he had taken part and done things he did not do, it has little to do with his ability to reach students in a meaningful manner. A suspension, without salary, for a year is a bit severe in my opinion. Of course I only know what I read in the newspaper. If there is more to the story, then I might have to reevaluate my stance on the matter. Having served in the USMC Reserve, I do find it sad he felt the need to claim service time to which he was not entitled.
WITH OT WITHOUT PAY?
Suspended with or without pay? To remove him for a year with pay is tantamount to a paid leave. The removal of his chair title is significant but not enough by itself. The Elliot Gorn piece in the Chronicle and OAH Newsletter is totally on point.
TOO MUCH IMAGINATION
I think it was a good decision. What Ellis did goes a bit beyond normal historical interpretation. Intellectuals prize imagination in thinkers but not like that!
WHY PUMMEL A GOOD MAN?
Professor Ellis is receiving very heavy punishment. First, he has been publicly humiliated over a period of weeks. Now he has been suspended for one year, apparently to make certain that the honor system of Mount Holyoke is upheld. So we know he has a personal weakness. Has it invaded his published scholarship? No one claims that it has. I hope some fine institution will bring Ellis on staff for this coming academic year. He has long-since seen the error of his ways. Why pummel a good man when he is already down? Now is the time to give him a hand up and assure him that we value him and we value his considerable talent as a historian.
Marvin R. Zahniser Professor of History Emeritus Ohio State University
DOUBLE STANDARD FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS?
Sir: If there is an honor code that would mandate a comparable suspension for a similar offense by a student, then I agree completely.
HE GETS TO KEEP HIS LIBRARY CARD?
It is difficult to gauge the suspension handed down by Mount Holyoke. How do you treat a famous historian who obviously lacks respect for his own profession? Joseph Ellis permitted hubris to cloud the one thing which historians across the political spectrum can agree upon--a respect for their subjects. By posing as a historical actor in a certain situation--in this case a combat soldier in Vietnam--Ellis denied the real actors in Vietnam a voice in what was their struggle. His job is to interpret the past, not to be a part of it. And while historians, by trade, create history, this is not a shining example of what we mean by this. As the Vietnam conflict is such a well documented event, it is hard to believe that he was so lazy that he could not find examples from"real" men and women who were a part of the interpretation of Vietnam that he presents in his class. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Ellis thrived on the adulation. Adulation that was evoked by being involved in history rather than that for merely teaching history.
In recent years, professional historians have increasingly lost their share of the public arena to others, such as journalists, who often present history in a more digestible form. The deceptive practices of a Pulitizer-winning historian does little to help us reclaim a more public space or even a little more respect. As for his punishment....why does he get to keep the library card? If he relied upon research instead of his own fabrications, Ellis would not be in this situation.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME
I believe that Professor Ellis is suffering from his own form of Post Traumatic Stress Disability. He may not be a veteran of the war, but he is a victim of it. As a teacher in the U.S. Army at West Point, he did not have to do any combat duty. Yet he was instructing those who would and who did. How many of his former students were killed? How many were wounded? Perhaps the memories of these events altered his perspective on the past. Perhaps he is suffering from survivor's guilt. Those were difficult times to be living. There was a great moral burden placed on all young men at the time. Women had to confront the issue as well, but did not have to confront the draft and their response to it. It should be noted that many women did speak up in opposition to the war. Others served as nurses, etc. What was the moral thing to do? Serve or resist? Speak out against or sign up for? The country as a whole was deeply conflicted on this. I am a combat veteran of Vietnam and I was wounded in action over there in 1966. I eventually concluded that the war was not just and was in fact immoral. I did speak out against it. I did join the group known as Vietnam Veterans Against the War and worked in both the 1968 Eugene McCarthy campaign and the 1972 George McGovern campaign. I now teach history on the high school level. I believe that Professor Ellis had to be called to account for his false representations. The response of the college seems appropriate. Perhaps Professor Ellis could turn his attention to the period of the Vietnam War and using his scholarly talents make a contribution to a better understanding of it. There were many victims of the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese call it, the American War. Yours truly, John J. Fitzgerald
I've known very gifted people like Joseph Ellis. They seem to be basically insecure and unsatisfied with their own accomplishments. There might be a bit of"Miniver Cheevy" in high achievers, but also quite a bit of Napoleon. It would be amusing if it weren't so sad.
Gerald Lange, Representative of the State of S.D.
THE DEAN'S VIEW
I am an historian, and a dean of Arts and Sciences. For three years, I was chair of a PhD-granting history department in the midwest.
An endowed chair is a privileged postion--a position of intellectual leadership within not only a department, but also the wider college and university and the national community. This leadership position, in turn, means that the Endowed Chair has responsibilities for intellectual probity. As a chair, I was fortunate to hire for an endowed chair in my department, and this was a major search--we had excellent scholars apply for the position, and our hiring decision helped boost the department's national presence. But the Endowed Chairs also became university leaders, together with other endowed chairs--we looked to them for intellectual leadership. I have the same perspective as a Dean--our Endowed chairs are people to whom many junior faculty turn to for guidance about about their research and publications. Students flock to take courses with endowed chairs, and they serve an important function in recruiting"the best" of the top students every university and college is trying to recruit, whether for undergraduate or graduate studies. The wider community turns to Endowed Chairs for guidance about complex issues--the stem cell debate, for example, led the press in my community to our Endowed Chair in Philosophy, a bioethicist who is nationally known for his work.
Charlotte G. Borst, Ph.D. Dean, Arts and Sciences and Professor of History Union College Schenectedy, NY
Makes sense to me. We're in trouble if historians make up history. Still, pretty sad.
COMPARABLE TO BUSH'S GUARD EXPERIENCE
I don't know enough detail about Joseph Ellis' fabricated Vietnam service to decide whether the one-year suspension is appropriate, too much, or too little. It depends on whether and to what extent the fabrication was incorporated into his writing and teaching as a historian.
Since teachers must be honest with their students, some punitive measure was essential. The revelation that Ellis lied about his own past raises questions about what else he might have fabricated.
The matter has implications beyond Joseph Ellis' fate. Anyone in a position of responsibility must be trustworthy, and promoting a false image of oneself destroys trust.
When I learned of Ellis' suspension, therefore, I immediately wondered whether the precedent will be applied to George W. Bush. He claims to have served his entire six-year stint in the Texas Air National Guard, but his military records include an 18-month period in which there is no record of him reporting for the required weekend or annual two-week duty. He was suspended from flying after failing to report as ordered for a mandatory physical, and was never reinstated. He performed only 36 days of duty following the mysterious gap. He served the last eight months of his required stint"on paper" in the inactive reserves after leaving Texas for Harvard University.
If a teacher and historian should be held accountable for misrepresenting his military experience, the Commander in Chief must certainly be held accountable for the same offense.
HIS LYING UNACCEPTABLE
I believe that the suspension of Joseph Ellis was just, his foolish lying about his war record is just not acceptable in a profession where honesty is as basic as courage in police work.
SUSPEND MOUNT HOLYOKE
Let's suspend Mount Holyoke! We have all made the wrong comments in classrooms.
ELLIS IS THE MILLY-VANILLI OF HISTORY PROFESSION
As an historian and history teacher, I consider the actions taken against Mr. Ellis to be absolutely appropriate. For a professor to knowingly misinform his students about his past experience(s) in war and the civil rights movement is simply unconscienable. Mr. Ellis is, for lack of a better phrase, the"Milly-Vanilli" of the historic profession. It is a discredit to those many veterans who actually fought in Vietnam and to those who actually participated in the civil rights movement in the South during the 1960's.
HISTORIANS RELY ON REMINISCENCES
History teachers' primary responsibility is to show students how to tell the story -- whatever the story is -- honestly and accurately. As we emphasize histories of"ordinary" people more heavily, reminiscences play a more important role in historical scholarship. While we have to expect errors of perspective and lapses of memory, and while we should forgive anyone for making a mistake of pride, historians ought to condemn a professional for fabricating history. Ellis compromised the trust his students place in his work; after all, if the false stories he told weren't central to his teaching he would not have told them. Mount Holyoke did right, then, to suspend him indefinitely.
I think this is an atrocious decision : the fact that he lied, repeatedly, and has continued to dissemble, had brought disrepute on himself, his department, and the College. It was, at minimum, an act which can be classified -- using normal AAUP and 'educational establishment' nomenclature -- as 'moral turpitude'.
For those of us who so strongly have supported, as a principal, if not THE principal, value of academia, the concept of academic freedom, with its many dimensions (including the implicit requirement that the academic act with honesty ), this illustrates well what many of us have long thought --that in a number of allegedly 'hallowed halls' , such as Mount Holyoke --honor, honesty, and principles are not really important.
Among other things, I shall discourage anyone I know from having any truck with Ellis, Mount Holyoke, or any of its sister colleges. The fact that (a) Ellis did not act honourably and resign ; and (b) that Mount Holyoke did not fire him, bespeaks most ill of both. They have both acted most dishonorably and are deserving of complete condemnation by those to how academic freedom, and honesty, are important academic virtues.
MY DAUGHTER WENT TO MOUNT HOLYOKE
As a parent of a Mount Holyoke daughter, Class of 1994, I am saddened by the incident, but, as David Garrow wrote in the _Boston Globe_ in June, professors should adhere to the same high standards of truth and accuracy in the classroom as they do in their published work. However, professors certainly can tell students, as I do when teaching about the 1960s, how I felt about issues, even those that I viewed from afar.
Marcia Synnott, History Department, University of South Carolina
HISTORY AS GOSSIP
It was the LEAST they could do; without unquestionable credibility as to factual assertions (as opposed to interpretations of facts), we historians are nothing but what Ambrose Bierce called us in The Devil's Dictionary:"broad-gauge gossip[s]." The year suspension is probably enough, but I would be opposed to his return to any endowed chair anywhere.
Broeck N. Oder
WISE AND FAIR
I think this is a wise, fair, and honorable decision on the part of Mount Holyoke. If our profession does not hold its own members to standards of honesty and integrity, what can we expect from the students we try to teach? From the public we try to inform? How can we call for integrity in written work from our colleagues as well as students and not demand this in all of the parts that we play in our roles as historians? A clear statement from the university that Prof. Ellis's fabricated stories will not be tolerated by the academic community is necessary.
Maire Murphy Univ. of Virginia Ph.D Candidate, U.S. 20th Century History
HE GOT WHAT HE DESERVED
He got exactly what he deserved. He is lucky that he was not terminated. I can assure you that I will never read his books or articles again, not will I ever recommend them to students. How are we to believe anything that he write?
On the assumption that Dr. Joseph Ellis told the rather large fibs about his personal life (with morals drawn for the history he taught in the classes he taught) as reported in the press, I think that the Mt Holyoke trustees's sanction -- suspension without pay for one year from teaching and removing him from his endowed chair -- was the least that they could have done. Yes, people are fallible, and they make mistakes, and there should be forgiveness in life also, but there should be some penalties in the academic life, as there are in other occupations and professions, especially, in the academic life, for dishonesty and lack of integrity.
Hamilton Cravens Professor of History Iowa State University
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Madalan - 4/21/2003
In all too many instances the media knowingly will re-direct our focus. The reader that travels with along with them probably never will get to the issue. For the rest it is just time-consuming in detour. Myopic considerations often are in abstract patterns - never once touching the issue. Whether Ellis was in Vietnam is his personal fantasy, he has his dreams.
Is anyone reading this.
Look, if you have traveled with me this far you deserve the issue; the issue is his job description. Mr.. Ellis works at one of our highly rated university's, he is considered an American historian of importance and teaches to open-minded students five days per week. These students are vocal about the honor of getting in his class - they are proud to be in his room, his class .. even if they are not in his class - if you know what i mean. An historian, the Pulitzer winner, highly thought of from his academic peers from all over the world. He is teaching every day, to our students, at least one lie that we know for a fact is a lie. He knowingly wrote and continues to teach his Jefferson & slave baby story. After the publication of his Jefferson tome, his co-author a DNA specialist had proven and then shared his proof with Mr... Ellis. The facts are that one Jefferson at least did combine with a slave to produce one child. Was it Thomas? Not too likely because he is 1 in 25 Jefferson's that may have been the pop. Anyway, the point is Mr... Ellis has a job description that he is not following; his history teaching has not included the corrected information. Yes, it matters, but only to a person that expects to hear the truth.
Dave Livingston - 1/19/2003
As a veteran of fighting in Viet-Nam, Lieutenant, 1st Infantry Division, 1966-7; Captain, 101st Airborne, 1969-70 it is tiresome to encounter these stories, Eliis is far from the only one, of Viet-Nam War wannabes. I don't care what his school does to or about him. Now that his lies about his service have been exposed it is my hope he'll have the good sense to tell no more false war stories.
From time-to-time one is told, "Forget Viet-Nam. That was a long tome ago." It is difficult to comply with the advice if other people keep bringing up the subject of the war.
John Donovan - 7/30/2002
What became of Joseph Ellis after all the noise about him lying
about being in Viet Namm?
Beau Archer - 7/17/2002
I'm wondering what happens now that Dr. Joseph Ellis is coming back.
Ellis's suspension began August 17, 2001.
With Fall 2002 session beginning in September, Dr. Ellis returns to
teach again at Mount Holyoke College in a few weeks.
Dr. Ellis was suspended without pay by Mount Holyoke College for lying
about service in the Vietnam War. Ellis got to keep his library card at
Mount Holyoke and I guess the loss of his $135,460 annual salary
was softened by outside compensation, perhaps from organizations
like Ford Foundation.
The suspension seems less like a punishment and more like an opportunity for Ellis.
I am wondering if this student was right in her prediction:
"I predict that when classes are back in session Ellis will be
staring at a lot of empty seats." - MHC senior in Daily
Jolt, Aug. 3, 2001. http://mhc.dailyjolt.com/forum/read.html?id=4522
I believe that before the Ellis disgrace becomes only a painful memory,
and probably within another year, the Mount Holyoke community will be
wishing he would disappear.
Neil Larry Shumsky - 8/22/2001
The ways in which some historians and/or university faculty have responded to the Ellis affair are just as disturbing as the affair itself. It seems almost inconceivable to me that someone who has accepted the recognized canons of either profession would countenance Ellis' behavior. Without question, any of us would punish a student who fabricated footnotes or information in a paper, and if a colleague was found to have manufactured footnotes or information in a publication, we would believe that that person deserves severe punishment, probably more severe than Ellis received. Whether the intended audience is the reading public, our colleagues, or a group of students, we are imparting information, and have the obligation to be truthful to the extent that that is possible. The major differences between the cases I have mentioned are that Ellis was delivering the information orally rather than in written fashion, his audience was probably less able to check his sources, his audience probably had less competence to check his sources, and Ellis was in a position of authority over his listeners. All of these differences, however, make his misdeeds even more serious than if he had fabricated letters from George Washington to John Adams. He got off pretty easy.
Vince Nobile - 8/21/2001
It was fascinating reading the comments on the Ellis issue. Over the years, I've met hundreds who lay claim to being Vietnam veterans, though certainly none with his prestige. A quick question or two usually reveals their fabrications: Where were you stationed? or, what outfit were you in? usually does it. When they say, "well, I can't really remember", or give a location that only sounds Vietnamese, its pretty clear what's happening. This occurs so often it no longer bothers me. What's really insulting about Ellis, however, is his claim to have been an antiwar/warrior. Ellis can have the Vietnam experience. The only pride I ever took in being a Vietnam veteran was when I joined VVAW and tried to stop the war. That's the experience that is sacred in my mind, and I feel a personal sense of betrayal when Ellis fabricates that part of his military experience. I'll make a deal with Ellis, though. I'll forgive his fibs about his war and antiwar record if he allows me to put on my Vitae that I wrote a book on John Adams. V. Nobile
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