A Book She Didn't Write

March 19, 2007

A week after Ohio University announced that Thelma Wills Foote would become the next chair of African-American studies, with the rank of full professor, the university announced that she wouldn't be coming to the university after all.

The second announcement followed an investigation into her publication record and the university's conclusion that she claimed to have co-written a book in which her publicly noted contribution consists of only five paragraphs.

When Foote, a Harvard University Ph.D., applied to the university, she had two books on her publication record: Black and White Manhattan: The History of Racial Formation in Colonial New York City (Oxford University Press) and (with Tina Andrews) Sally Hemings: An American Scandal: The Struggle to Tell the Controversial True Story (Malibu Press). It was the second book that was problematic.

Norman Goda, chair of history at Ohio, had been asked to review Foote's qualifications for appointment as full professor. He had not been a member of the search committee that selected Foote, and was reviewing background materials, but couldn't find anything to back Foote's claim that she had written the Sally Hemings book. Goda then notified Ben Ogles, dean of arts and sciences, of his concern.

Ogles, after finding that the book in question wasn't in the university's collection (not shocking as Malibu does not appear to be a scholarly press), bought the book. He could find credit only for Foote contributing five paragraphs. The work is credited entirely to Andrews, a television actress whose credits include appearances on "Falcon Crest" and "Days of Our Lives" and who produced a television movie version of the Hemings book.

When Ogles wrote to Foote, she wrote back that her contributions had been "ex-nominated" (meaning not acknowledged, she explained) and that this was a common television industry practice, but that she regretted the way she described her contribution to the book. Ogles then tried to verify Foote's contributions with Andrews, but did not hear back.

The university said that on Wednesday, Foote sent a one-sentence note withdrawing her acceptance of the chair position at Ohio. "The way in which she represented the work and the possibility that she would not have the credentials for (the rank of full professor) raised serious concerns for me, the chair of the department and the chair of the search committee," Ogles said in a statement. "In the end, I believe she decided to withdraw rather than face the possibility that we would rescind the offer."

Foote, who most recently taught at the University of Southern Denmark, could not be reached for comment. But while the university was investigating the situation and before she withdrew, she told The Post, Ohio's student paper: “You know how people are; they tend to seize on people’s mistakes and make the worst of them.”

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