President Barry Mills sent Professor of Economics Jonathan Goldstein a six-page letter of censure this week, effectively ending the eight-month-long dispute between Goldstein and College officials over a 2008 paper the professor began disseminating last August.

"I place this letter, along with a copy of the Investigative Committee's report, in your permanent file," Mills wrote in an April 21 letter to Goldstein. "As also recommended by the [investigative] committee, you are hereby on notice that similar offenses in the future will yield more severe sanctions."

"The letter is to put [Goldstein] on notice, to let him know that what he did is not acceptable, and that any future offenses will be considered more seriously," said Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood.

The decision handed down by Mills was precisely that recommended by the investigative committee's April 3 report as punishment for research misconduct.

"The Committee recommends that a letter of censure describing these offenses and a copy of this report be placed in Prof. Goldstein's permanent file," the committee had written in the report. "That letter should indicate that subsequent, similar offenses would yield more severe sanctions."

Goldstein said on Thursday that he disagreed with Mills' letter of censure, though he acknowledged that the punishment "could be associated with a slap on the wrist."

"My oversights and activities did not rise to the level of research misconduct, clearly stated in the Faculty Handbook," Goldstein added. "Yet I'm being punished for that."

In the letter, Mills acknowledged that while the research errors in Goldstein's paper "may not have been failing to cite your sources and to adhere to the confidentiality of the source, you are responsible for recklessly performing your research."

Goldstein's 16-page study, "The Tradeoff Between Extra-Curricular Activities and the Academic Mission of Small Liberal Arts Colleges: Why Some Schools Are Poor Educational Investments," studied various policies at 36 small liberal arts schools and ranked them according to three factors: grade inflation at the school, the percentage of athletes at the school, and whether the athletic director at the school had Division I, II, or III experience. In the study, Bowdoin ranked 36th of the 36 schools in the survey.

Goldstein's research misconduct charges claimed that his paper "made reference to 'official' sources, but such sources are not cited, nor does the paper explain how the '36 nationally ranked liberal arts colleges' for which comparative data is presented were chosen," according to a copy of the charges. In the second "failure to cite" charge, no sources were cited for one table in his study, which was taken from the "Franklin and Marshall Grading Survey of Selected Institutions."

The investigative committee on April 3 found that Goldstein's "misconduct in research and the violation of confidentiality in his use of clearly labeled confidential materials are serious offenses and should be sanctioned."

Goldstein acknowledged in the April 10 Orient that he made several notes to himself to cite the table, but stated that he had unintentionally forgotten about the table citation. He had maintained his innocence during the investigation, arguing that the administration stifled his free speech because of the embarrassing findings of the study, while also asserting that the investigation into his work had been poorly examined.

The letter

Mills, in his approximately 2,800 word letter, described his decision to censure Goldstein, though he also presented his own interpretation of the events surrounding the dispute.

In the letter, Mills objected to Goldstein's argument that the research misconduct charges were brought up against him because Goldstein's findings were embarrassing to Bowdoin. "This claim is both wrong and reflects a complete misunderstanding of what is at stake," Mills wrote in the letter. "To all those who claim that your 'mistake' in failing to cite doesn't matter and that your breach of confidentiality is a trumped up charge, I point out that we have standards at Bowdoin College."

"The honesty of the mistake goes to mitigation of the sanction, not the finding of a violation," Mills wrote a paragraph later. "If we ignored your violations, what should we tell our students? Should we tell them that faculty are held to lesser standards?"

Mills also addressed Goldstein's insistence that a specific provision in the Faculty Handbook absolves him from any wrongdoing. The Faculty Handbook states, "misconduct in research...does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data."

"There is a provision relating to honest error but that provision is intended to deal with data that may be compiled incorrectly or interpreted incorrectly, not a bald-face failure to cite the source of the data," Mills wrote.

Mills also addressed the actual methodology of Goldstein's paper, which he found problematic.

"I have a copy of your paper and have had it reviewed by internal experts to test your methodology," Mills wrote. "There are serious questions as to the methodology, so at this time, it appears that the summary conclusions you reach regarding Bowdoin and other peer institutions are unsubstantiated."

"We must be rigorous in our analysis of the issues, however, and reach conclusions that are based on fact and well-reasoned opinion," Mills added two sentences later. "You show me the facts and analysis that prove the depth of the problem you assert, and you will have a partner in me to remedy this situation. To date, I have yet to see the data that proves your point."

Mills concluded at the end of the letter that it was time to "move on."

"We face enormous challenges at this time in our history and should not be diverting our attention and efforts in this manner. You claim to be working in good faith to improve the College. I am eager to work with all faculty—including you—to achieve the best for Bowdoin and to further promote and protect excellence in our academic program and pride in our community."

Mills declined to speak with the Orient beyond the scope of his letter.

"The letter is long and comprehensive," Mills wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday. "There is nothing more to say on the matter, it expresses my views completely and accurately."

"From the College's point of view, it's over, and the letter has been sent," added Hood.

A full version of Mills' letter can be found at

Goldstein's reaction

Goldstein said on Thursday that he had not carefully read Mills' letter since receiving it on Wednesday, but said he thought the College investigation into his work set a bad precedent for future research at Bowdoin.

"I think this sets back academic freedom at the College decades," Goldstein said. "Why would one ever pursue a controversial issue again, taking the risk that the administration may not agree with the position you take, and therefore subjecting yourself to be accused of research misconduct?"

Despite the long-running dispute over his work, Goldstein said that he plans to move forward with the study; he hopes to finish a more academic version of the paper for eventual publication in a journal.

"I had no intention of letting the administration suppress my speech or control my ideas or thoughts, and I will continue with the project," Goldstein said.

He added that he would also not alter the way he conducts research in light of the charges.

"It won't change my [research] habits," Goldstein said. "But I think it sends an ominous message to the rest of the faculty that they better be very particular and careful with their research, even their first drafts."

Goldstein also said that he would consider disseminating his work in the admissions office again, although he did note that the academic version of his study would probably be a "tougher read" for prospective students and their parents. It was Goldstein's initial distribution of his study last August in the admissions office that sparked the quarrel between Goldstein and College officials.

"I certainly value my right to free speech," Goldstein said. "And if I deem it something to help advance my research—which is the primary reason I went to admissions in the first place—I don't see any reason why I wouldn't do that."