After threats of dismissal, a tenured professor at Fort Lewis College has been cleared of allegations of plagiarism and copyright infringement, with President Dene Thomas, albeit begrudgingly, deciding to take no disciplinary action against the 17-year faculty member.
This spring, Grand Junction-based author Steven Baker told FLC administrators that a column published by The Durango Herald on Dec. 8, 2016, and written by FLC history professor Andrew Gulliford closely resembled a book Baker published in 2016 about Pacomio Chacon, a sheepherder best known for the artwork he would leave on aspen trees while in the field.
“I was surprised to see something that looked very much like my work under his byline,” Baker told the Herald on Wednesday. “I was told by the college they’d look into it and I would never know the outcome because it’s a personnel matter.”
Gulliford and his lawyer declined to comment on the matter after Thomas’ decision not to pursue disciplinary action. Also, all people who testified on behalf of the college and all but one who testified on behalf of Gulliford also declined to comment on record.
The few who are familiar with the situation called the college’s actions unreasonable, shocking and embarrassing for the school.
“This has been a great waste of energy, time and money,” said Peter Decker, a former chairman of the FLC Board of Trustees and former history professor at Columbia and Duke universities. “I think the college embarrassed itself. It’s actually shocking the college would bring such charges with such weak evidence.”
In April, former FLC Dean of Arts & Sciences Maureen Brandon, leading the college’s investigation, issued Gulliford a “notice of charges” that said after review, “I believe it possible, if not likely, that you plagiarized material from Mr. Baker’s book.”
The two main examples of plagiarism, the college claimed, revolved around Gulliford’s use of the term “master folk artist” and a reference to how many bears Chacon and his brother killed one winter.
“This allegation is extremely serious and demonstrates a lack of professional judgment and academic integrity,” Brandon wrote. “You are hereby notified that the College will pursue a sanction of dismissal.”
According to college records obtained by the Herald, Gulliford requested a hearing, which is part of the college’s disciplinary process according to the FLC Faculty Handbook. The President’s Office selected Gene Dackonish, a Grand Junction attorney, to conduct the hearing.
At the end of September, Dackonish concluded that Gulliford is not guilty of the college’s allegations of wrongdoing. In his report, Dackonish broke down and rejected each of the college’s arguments that Gulliford’s work had plagiarized Baker’s book.
“Neither dismissal nor other disciplinary action is warranted regarding Dr. Andrew Gulliford as a breach of Fort Lewis College’s ethical and professional conduct policies has not been proven by a preponderance of the evidence,” Dackonish wrote in his conclusion of the investigation.
However, his findings serve only as a recommendation to Thomas, who has ultimate say on disciplinary actions, which could include dismissal.
On Oct. 18, Thomas sent a letter to Gulliford that said:
“Although I do not agree with the hearing officer’s conclusions, I have determined it is appropriate to accept the hearing officer’s recommendation that neither dismissal nor other disciplinary action is warranted,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas declined to explain the particulars of why she disagreed with the hearing officer’s findings. But in a phone call to the Herald earlier this week, she said: “I think anyone who wants to read Andrew Gulliford’s article and read the book could draw their own conclusions, and see if they agree or disagree with me.”
In both allegations of plagiarism, the hearing officer determined the use of that information fell into the arena of public domain, and that, in addition, it is “presumptuous and hypocritical of Mr. Baker to criticize Dr. Gulliford” for using the same information Baker used in his book, also “without citation.”
The hearing officer, likewise, dismissed Baker’s claims that in his Herald column, Gulliford used two of Baker’s photographs without credit or permission.
Decker, who served as an FLC trustee for eight years, testified on behalf of Gulliford in the August hearing.
“Why the college proceeded on this I’ll never know,” Decker said. “I’ve seen plagiarism cases, but I’ve never seen one quite as vindictive as this one, and I’m not certain why.”
Gulliford has been a professor with FLC since 2000. In fall 2015, he took a sabbatical to research, among other topics, sheepherding and cultural artifacts left by sheepherders. He began writing his monthly Gulliford’s Travels column for the Herald in 2006.
“To have a hearing officer set down the college on every point they made, I’m really distressed by it,” Decker said. “I think the college shot itself in the foot.
“If you are going to charge someone with plagiarism, you better have damned good evidence behind it,” he added. “They sure got a black eye.”