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Florida professor fired for ‘extreme negligence’ in race research

Damage to university from his actions ‘approaches catastrophic,’ provost said

A public Florida university fired a professor after completing a months-long investigation into allegations of research misconduct in racial bias studies.

Criminologist Eric Stewart “demonstrated extreme negligence in basic data management, resulting in an unprecedented number of articles retracted” and “numerous other articles now in question,” according to a five-page termination letter Provost James Clark at Florida State University sent to Stewart earlier this month.

“The damage to the standing of the University and, in particular, the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice and its faculty approaches the catastrophic and may be unalterable,” Clark continued.

Reports were provided by FSU’s misconduct inquiry committee in 2019 and 2020 in response to misconduct allegations against Stewart, according to the July 13 letter, which noted Stewart had responded that the reports “indicate that the misconduct claims were rejected by multiple panel experts.”

But the provost’s letter continued, “In the four years since the initial issues arose, you [Stewart] have not taken any meaningful steps to remedy the situation, you have not re-created or attempted to re-create any of the studies, you have not pursued any remedial action, and you have even refused to cooperate with your FSU colleagues and coworkers who requested to work with you on these matters.”

The College Fix reached out to Amy Farnum-Patronis, director of news and digital communications at FSU, for comment on the case.

“The termination letter speaks for itself,” Farnum-Patronis responded. “We have nothing to add.”

The termination letter was posted online by Retraction Watch, a nonprofit founded by scholars Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus.

“Public attention is correlated with action,” Oransky told The Fix when asked why it is important for individuals to speak up when they witness research fraud.

Stewart (pictured) left his job in March, years after an investigation into his research began and after six race-related studies coauthored by him had been retracted, The College Fix reported in April.

“Professor Stewart’s 16-year FSU career appears to have ended, signaled by his abrupt March 2023 absence,” The Florida Standard reported.

“His sudden, unexplained replacement may indicate the looming end of the investigation, with enough evidence of fraud discovered to justify termination,” according to the paper.

The Fix reached out to Stewart through his university email and received an automated response that the recipient is “currently unavailable.”

Most recently, the academic journal Criminology retracted on December 12, 2019, a study co-authored by Stewart called “Ethnic Threat and Social Control: Examining Public Support for Judicial Use of Ethnicity in Punishment.”

In the discredited article, Stewart had argued “that as black and Hispanic populations grew, the surrounding white populations wanted more racially discriminatory sentencing,” The Fix reported.

Stewart himself “identified a mistake” in the data, and a co-author, Justin Pickett, “has publicly stated his view that the identified discrepancies are not attributable to researcher error,” according to the publisher’s retraction statement.

“Scientific fraud occurs all too frequently….and I believe it is the most likely explanation for the data irregularities in the five retracted articles,” Pickett wrote March 2020 in an Econ Journal Watch article, “The Stewart Retractions: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis.”

“The retraction notices say honest error, not fraud, is the explanation.” Pickett wrote. “Fortunately, if that is true, Dr. Stewart could easily prove it: recreate the original sample that produces the findings in Johnson et al. (2011) and then publicly explain how he did it.”

Pickett teaches criminology at the University of Albany, according to his university bio. The Fix reached out to Pickett, who declined to comment.

“There’s a huge monetary incentive to falsify data and there’s no accountability. If you do this, the probability you’ll get caught is so, so low,” criminologist Pickett told the Florida Standard. “There’s too much incentive to fake data and too little oversight.”

Stewart began working at FSU in 2007 as an associate professor of in the college of criminology and criminal justice, according to his curriculum vitae.

Stewart’s work garnered nearly $3.7 million in funding, according to his C.V. He worked on grants from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Justice.

Stewart made $190,000 per year at the university, Fox News reported in April.

MORE: Former professor pleads guilty to defrauding Chinese students for over $1 million

IMAGE: Florida State University/Facebook

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Anna Lofgren is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island where she studies secondary education. Anna has been a guest columnist for The Providence Journal and hosts two FM radio shows through her university.