The Case of Louis Roberts





Mr. Monfasani is a professor of history at the State University of New York at Albany.

Editor's Note In mid-February the media, including the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times, reported that Louis Roberts, the chairman of the classics department at the State University of New York at Albany, had stepped down following allegations of plagiarism. Below is the memo that triggered his resignation as chairman. It was written by Mr. Monfasani, a member of the Albany department of history.

MEMORANDUM
TO: The University of Albany, SUNY, Community
FROM: John Monfasani, Department of History
DATE: February 10, 2002
SUBJECT: Professor Louis Roberts, the Flagrant Plagiarist

I write to bring to your attention that one of the most honored and well paid professors on campus (over $98,000 according the information supplied me by UUP) is a gross plagiarist, that the administration has been informed of the facts of the matter for over a year, and that as of this moment, as far as I have been able to ascertain, there have been no repercussions. Indeed, almost no one outside a small group of individuals even knows of the scandal. I myself only found out last month. Let me explain.

While on a research trip in Europe this past January, I received an email message from Chris Schabel, a young American medievalist teaching at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus, whom I first got to know at a conference in Copenhagen some years back. He asked what was happening with the Roberts case. I responded,"What case?" His subsequent responses and the evidence he provided constitute the heart of this memo.

While working on his recently published book, The Synodicum Nicosiense and Other Documents of the Latin Church of Cyprus, 1196-1373, Schabel discovered that in his Sources for the History of Cyprus. Vol. VIII. Latin Texts from the First Century B.C. to the Seventeenth Century A.D., published in 2000, Louis Roberts had plagiarized more than 50 pages (even footnotes are taken verbatim) from two old sources, John L. La Monte,"A Register of the Cartulary of the Cathedral of Santa Sophia of Nicosia," Byzantion, 5 (1929-30): 439-522; and Claude Delaval Cobham, Excerpta Cypria. Materials for a History of Cyrpus (Cambridge, 1908; reprint New York, 1969). Schabel published his discovery on pp. 21-22 of his Synodicum Nicosiense. I've attached a photocopy of these pages as well as samples from La Monte, Cobham, and, of course, Roberts.

To be precise, pp. 196-229 of Robert's book are lifted from La Monte, though you wouldn't know it from the single reference to La Monte by Roberts at the end of n. 451 on p. 196. Roberts took from Cobham without attribution either through direct quotation or adaptation or a mixture of both techniques the texts that are on pp. 163-65,166, 167-69, 175-87, and a short text on p. 39 (Pomponius Mela).

As a secondary charge, Schabel exposes Roberts as incompetent and amazingly ignorant in the material that he seems not to be plagiarizing. The mistakes Schabel points out are, to be frank, laughable to anyone who knows medieval documents.

Finally, in respect to the material Schabel has published, I wish to point out that it appertains only to those parts of Roberts' book that directly interested Schabel. After Schabel's evidence, everything Roberts has published in this book and elsewhere falls under suspicion. A plagiarist of this magnitude, one may at least hold as an hypothesis, follows a certain modus operandi; and it is merely fortuitous that this particular set of thefts rather than some other or others have come to light.

When I returned from my trip, I contacted Professor Paul Wallace in Classics, whom Schabel had informed of Roberts' thefts in December 2000. Professor Wallace confirmed that he himself had verified Schabel's evidence and had brought it to the attention of Vice President Carlos Santiago in January 2001. There was a meeting between Wallace, Roberts, and Santiago soon after; but nothing of signficance that I know of has happened since. I myself telephoned Vice President Santiago after returning, but he had nothing to add to what Professor Wallace had already told me.

Louis Roberts is presently chair of Classics and director of the Doctorate in Humanistic Studies. He's been chair of other humanities departments as well. He is a former chair of the UA Senate. He, as much as anyone on campus, should be held to the highest ethical and professional standards. Yet, he has demonstrably disgraced his colleagues, his university, and the scholarly profession. Nonetheless, as I said at the start, there seem to be no consequences to his shameful scholarly behavior. I did not ask to be the one to blow the whistle on Louis Roberts at UA, but no one else seems ready to do so.


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More Comments:


Michael Goodich - 1/1/2003

We medievalists are delighted to discover that the multiple sins of plagiarism are not restricted to Americanists and modern historians. Unfortunately, in many cases the whistleblower is more often the victim of academic vengeance than the perpetrator him/herself. Those who persist in 'airing dirty linen' are more often regarded as troublemakers than praised by their colleagues. Sloppy scholarship and outright plagiarism are often the result of careerism, a desire for quick advancement or power. In one case at my own university, despite the open secret of charges of plagiarism, the alleged perpetrator has been frequently rewarded by the institution, which prefers to sweep the evidence under the rug. This is the situation within many other guild-like professions aside from the academic world, such as the medical and legal professions. I fear that the Roberts, Ambrose, Bellesiles and other cases reported recently are nothing compared to a far wider phenomenon at a time of fierce competition for positions, fame and glory.


Bucky - 3/4/2002

Dear History News Network,

Someday I would like to pursue a career as a professor of history or as professional history writer. I thought that I was qualified for the job. However, in reviewing my current academic credentials, I discovered that I have never stolen anyone else's words or work. Alas, the only things that I have ever taken credit writing are things that I have actually written. Do you think that this will hold me back from my career goals?


Sincerely,

Honestly Underqualified in Houston