Professor Claims Princeton Defamed Him

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — A former dean of Princeton’s school of architecture sued the university, claiming it defamed and demoted him because of bogus rumors of plagiarism.
     Alejandro Zaera-Polo claims Princeton fired him in 2014 after months of rumors and a university investigation stemming from an anonymous post accusing him of copying a Wikipedia entry on façades for a prestigious international architecture exhibit.
     He claims the university, its President Christopher Eisgruber and Dean of Faculty Deborah Prentice defamed him after a recklessly performed investigation “that seemingly confirmed the widespread, false, and damaging public rumors” about him. He sued them on May 24 in Mercer County Court.
     Zaera-Polo was dean of Princeton’s school of architecture in 2012 and 2013, after teaching at Yale University. In 2012, the prestigious 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale festival asked him to contribute to an “Elements of Architecture” exhibit, which included writing a chapter in the exhibition catalogue.
     Shortly after the exhibition, an Aug. 3, 2014 anonymous post on an online architecture forum, “Archinect,” claimed a group of Princeton students had accused Zaera-Polo of taking whole sections of his chapter from a Wikipedia entry.
     “Supposedly large portions of his text were plagiarized verbatim,” the anonymous post claimed, Zaera-Polo’s complaint states, citing the post. “This offense normally gets serious academic review and possibly could have him removed as dean.”
     The anonymous poster also claimed that the exhibition’s curator had “practically disowned” Zaera-Polo’s part of the exhibition. “What’s even more shocking is that the source that he is accused of plagiarizing is Wikipedia (!),” the post added. “He is obviously not an academic, but, I mean, come on. Wikipedia?”
     Two months after the anonymous post, Zaera-Polo says, President Eisgruber asked him to step down as dean. In an October 2014 news release, Princeton announced his resignation, saying he wanted to “devote greater attention to his research,” without referring to the plagiarism allegations, Zaera-Polo says.
     University officials informed the curator of the Venice exhibition, Rem Koolhaus, of the rumors, and in March 2015 Koolhaus emailed the school to support Zaera-Polo, saying the chapter for the exhibition catalogue was intended as a “polemic, not an academic document,” according to the complaint.
     Zaera-Polo says he sent a personal news release stating that the allegations of plagiarism were “demonstrably false.”
     Zaera-Polo, who still teaches architecture at Princeton, was “relocated to a shared office in a basement;” Princeton scheduled an alternate lecturer to give a class on façades, Zaera-Polo’s specialty, at the same time as Zaera-Polo’s class on the subject; and failed to list Zaera-Polo’s class in the Spring 2015 course catalogue he says.
     Zaera-Polo claims the anonymous post must have come from somebody associated with Princeton, which violated its employment procedures by prohibiting him from correcting information about his resignation.
     “Absent the public release of all information concerning the allegations against [Zaera-Polo] and the process by which those allegations were addressed, plaintiff will be unable to publicly defend his reputation and mitigate the damage that has been done, and continues to be done, to his personal, academic, and professional reputation,” the lawsuit states.
     Princeton said in a statement that it is “confident that the officials and faculty members who investigated and adjudicated the claims against Professor Zaera-Polo did so fairly and in accordance with university policies and procedures.”
     In a 2015 statement, Princeton said that Zaera-Polo was fired “in large measure because of statements he made in writing that indicated he was unfamiliar with the university’s policies on plagiarism and that he may have directed his collaborators to breach the rules of the university.”
     Zaera-Polo co-founded international architecture firm Alejandro Zaera-Polo & Maider Llaguno Architecture, which has offices in London, Barcelona, New York City and Zurich.
     He seeks punitive damages for breach of contract, defamation, trade libel, breach of faith, and tortious interference with contract. He is represented by David Kohane with Cole Schotz, of Hackensack.

%d bloggers like this: