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Prexy's letter rebuking Joseph Ellis

August 17, 2001

Dear Members of the Mount Holyoke Community:

I write to inform you of the College's disposition of the disclosure, first published in the Boston Globe on June 18, that Professor Joseph J. Ellis had falsely claimed military service in Vietnam, a charge he subsequently confirmed in a phone call to me and in a statement published on June 19 in the Globe. On June 27, the College's Faculty Advisory Committee on Appointments, Reappointments, and Promotions assumed responsibility for an inquiry into the matter.

In an intensive series of meetings, including a session with Professor Ellis, the Advisory Committee reviewed and considered, among other documents and information, his syllabus and file of lecture and discussion notes for his Vietnam course, which he voluntarily shared with the Committee; student evaluations from his entire career at the College; and solicited and unsolicited letters and email messages from his students and colleagues as well as from other members of the Mount Holyoke community and the public. The Advisory Committee has submitted its confidential report and recommendations to me. I thank the Committee for the care, intellectual rigor, and thoughtfulness with which it conducted its inquiry, and I now share with you, the Mount Holyoke community, the final resolution of this painful and difficult matter.

First, as President of the College, I strongly rebuke Professor Ellis for his lie about his military experience in his course entitled "The Vietnam War and American Culture" as well as with colleagues and others. Perpetuated over many years, his lie about himself clearly violates the ethics of our profession and the integrity we expect of all members of our community. Even though his fabrication appears to have been an aside in an otherwise responsible, intellectually challenging course that immersed students in a crucial chapter of U.S. history, it was a particularly egregious failing in a teacher of history. Misleading students is wrong and nothing can excuse it. Professor Ellis illegitimately appropriated an authority that was not his and abused his students' trust. His misrepresentation damaged collegial relations within the College and hurt the Mount Holyoke community and others outside it.

Second, Professor Ellis will be suspended for one year without pay. In addition, he has agreed to step down from his endowed chair until such time as the Trustees may wish to reinstate it. The year away should give him and the College time for reflection and repair. This sanction is consistent with our honor code for students and its emphasis on education, reflection, and ultimately restoration to an honorable place in our community. Professor Ellis has accepted the College's censure and sanctions. He has apologized to me personally and has expanded his earlier public apology. His statement will be posted, along with this letter, on the Mount Holyoke Web site.

This is a very difficult matter for Professor Ellis and for all of us who know and admire him as teacher, colleague, and friend. He made a terrible mistake. We cannot condone it. Moreover, we deplore the disrespect Professor Ellis's lie has shown to Vietnam veterans, and, on behalf of all of us at the College, I apologize for any pain his misrepresentation has caused them and their families.

While the College must censure Professor Ellis for his serious failing and the damage it has done, yet, we also must acknowledge his twenty-nine years of truly distinguished teaching, scholarship, and service to the College. One cannot review his record without being impressed with the power and effectiveness of his teaching, the substance and grace of his writing, and the way his administrative contributions have, in countless ways, been woven into the fabric of the College. The Advisory Committee and I believe that Mount Holyoke College can unequivocally condemn Professor Ellis's lie and impose significant sanctions at the same time that it can accept his apology and make room for his return and future service to the College.

I earnestly hope that Professor Ellis and the Mount Holyoke community will find educational and restorative benefit in this painful experience.

Sincerely,

Joanne V. Creighton

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