Andrew Gulliford, professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College, has requested the school’s Board of Trustees reimburse him for $37,000 in legal fees he incurred fighting plagiarism charges that he was eventually cleared of.
In addition, he said the lack of respect and fair hearing of his side in the dispute has created a situation that could harm junior faculty recruitment and an ongoing search for a new president.
He wrote in a letter delivered Friday during a meeting of the Board of Trustees: “Why would a young untenured assistant professor seek a job at a college where tenured senior professors are threatened with dismissal?”
In the letter, Gulliford said his accuser, Steven G. Baker, used the same source as he, a 1987 interview transcript available to the public in a U.S. Forest Service office, and the situation was a case of “parallel research, not plagiarism.”
Baker’s claims of plagiarism came after The Durango Herald published Gulliford’s monthly column Dec. 8, 2016, about Pacomio Chacon, a sheepherder best known for the artwork he would leave on aspen trees while in the field.
Baker’s allegations revolved around two main examples in which Gulliford used the term “master folk artist” and a reference he cited of how many bears were killed by Chacon and his brother one winter.
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.”
In his letter to the trustees, Gulliford wrote: “I have spent hundreds of hours on my defense and incurred thousands of dollars in legal expenses. I responded to charges May 25, 2017. Maureen Brandon (dean of arts and sciences), who wrote the formal charges against me, testified at the hearing that she never even bothered to read my response.”
Gulliford requested a hearing, which is part of the college’s disciplinary process, according to the Fort Lewis College Faculty Handbook. Gene Dackonish, a Grand Junction attorney, conducted the hearing.
At the end of September, Dackonish concluded that Gulliford was not guilty of the college’s allegations of wrongdoing. In his report, Dackonish 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.
The hearing officer also dismissed Baker’s claims that in his Herald column, Gulliford used two of Baker’s photographs without credit or permission.
His findings served only as a recommendation to FLC President Dene Thomas, who had ultimate say on disciplinary actions. Several weeks after receiving the hearing officer’s conclusions, 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,” she wrote.
At the time, Thomas declined to explain to the Herald the particulars of why she disagreed with the hearing officer’s findings.
“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,” she told the Herald in late October.
On Friday, several trustees and Thomas, who is retiring at the end of the academic year, each declined to comment on Gulliford’s case and the Faculty Senate resolution to reimburse him for legal expenses. All of them said the situation was a personnel matter on which they could not comment.
However, later Friday, the college emailed a statement to “firstname.lastname@example.org,” a list for announcements to faculty and staff, on behalf of the Board of Trustees. The statement said the board had received a resolution from the Faculty Senate and the FLC Chapter of the American Association of University Professors on Gulliford’s case and said the trustees “thoughtfully reviewed the resolution and letters and took public comment.”
The letter said the board adheres to procedures established in Part II, Section 17 of the Fort Lewis College Faculty Handbook in dealing with faculty disciplinary matters.
The trustees letter stated, “Pursuant to that process, consistent procedures are followed for each disciplinary complaint in order to ensure that fair and impartial consideration is given to the accused faculty member.”
In an email to the Herald, Gulliford called the trustees’ statement disappointing. He added that the handbook is in “serious need of revision as it relates to disciplinary procedures and to protect First Amendment rights.”
He noted the faculty is currently working on revisions to the cited section of the handbook “so that best practices will be utilized in the future.”
He added if trustees respect FLC faculty, they will welcome the changes. “Our disciplinary procedures must include faculty peer review so we are commensurate with colleges and universities across the nation,” he wrote in his letter to trustees.
Gulliford also asked trustees to further examine problems exposed in the adjudication of his case.
He wrote: “The faculty expect that the Board of Trustees will, in the interest of transparency, seek a full understanding of this event, its financial costs, and that the Board will review possible ethical violations by College administrators.”
FLC has, so far, spent at least $26,000 on the hearing. According to records provided to the Herald through a Colorado Open Records Act request, the college paid $22,606.29 to Dackonish, the hearing officer who oversaw the case and rendered a decision. The expenses included legal services, travel and lodging in Durango. It also spent $3,578.90 for research and travel expenses for Elenore Long, a witness who testified in the hearing on behalf of the college. The Colorado Attorney General’s office also provided legal services in the case, but on Friday, FLC spokesman Mitch Davis said the office had not yet notified the college of its costs.
Gulliford began his monthly Gulliford’s Travels column for the Herald in 2006.