ASU professor accused of plagiarism on admin leave

Matthew Whitaker (Source:

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio wants a consultant to pay back the city $21,800, for monies paid to develop a course to teach police officers cultural awareness. DiCicco said Dr. Matthew Whitaker does not deserve the money he was paid after billing the city 66 hours of preparation work because the material was copied from a course already developed by the Chicago Police Department.

"Professor Whitaker charged the city for training materials that were largely copied from the Chicago Police Department," DiCiccio said. "He ultimately was paid more than $21,000 in taxpayer money for work that he didn't do, and he needs to pay it all back."

The councilman’s slide-by-slide analysis of the PowerPoint presentation Whitaker created for the Phoenix Police Department shows that of the 84 slides, 52 were exact copies or slides with only minor changes from the presentation compiled for the Chicago police course.

“The City of Phoenix paid him $21,000 to basically copy somebody else’s work," DiCiccio said. "Then he then went on to want to copyright it to make sure that no one copied it."

On the bottom of each slide Whitaker created, there was a copyright symbol followed by The Whitaker Group, L.L.C.

DiCiccio called on city management to pursue a refund from The Whitaker Group.

The private consulting firm is owned by Whitaker, who is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race & Democracy at Arizona State University. Until recently Whitaker was a full professor at ASU. He was demoted in July to associate professor and co-director of the Center for plagiarism. It was the second investigation for plagiarism Whitaker was at the center of since 2011.

In May, the City of Phoenix entered into a $268,000 contract with The Whitaker Group to develop and teach cultural competency training for Phoenix police. When the plagiarism scandal and demotion became public, Whitaker withdrew his contract and stopped teaching the course. But by that time the city had already paid him for preparation and several weeks of teaching.

Whitaker responded to DiCiccio’s refund demand by saying that he sourced the Chicago Police Department in writing and verbally throughout his course curriculum, outline and visual presentation. He also said on a number of occasions, he spoke directly with the main Chicago sergeant who developed the course.

Whitaker admitted a large portion of his course and presentation was taken directly from the Chicago model, but he also said that he had to do readings and research and go through each slide to adapt the presentation to the Phoenix area. He said he easily put in the hours for which he billed the city.

As for the copyright on the bottom of each slide, including the slides identical to the Chicago slides, Whitaker said he was not trying to claim something as his own when it was not. He just uses a template for all his visual presentations and that template has his company’s copyright on the bottom.

When contacted, Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said they give their Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy Training materials to any police agency that asks for it for free. He said it is designed to better the profession and was developed by his department in conjunction with Yale University.

When asked who from Phoenix asked for the materials, Guglielmi said his department was contacted by ASU Police; Chicago provided it to ASU.

Guglielmi said his agency would not have given it to a consulting firm to market and charge departments to teach it. He said the developer of the course had no idea Whitaker was using it to make a profit.

A spokesman for ASU confirmed that ASU Police Chief Michael Thompson did ask for a copy of the material from Chicago. Mark Johnson said Whitaker was on an eight-member advisory panel to the department when Thompson first took the helm and was given a copy of the material to review as part of that committee.

Johnson also said Whitaker taught a class to ASU police last fall on cultural bias, not based on the Chicago material, but did so in his capacity as an ASU professor and was not paid separately for teaching the course.

Whitaker defended his actions of using the Chicago material by saying every communication he had with Chicago P.D. was under the auspices of his consulting company. Whitaker said all his written communication and Chicago’s responses came from his consulting company’s email.

When asked if he told Chicago P.D. he was profiting from teaching a course based largely on its materials, Whitaker said he didn’t specifically say that, but when he said he was teaching it through his consulting company he thought that was implied.

Chicago P.D. said aside from providing their materials to other police agencies, they have often traveled to other states to teach the trainers at various academies how to teach the cultural diversity training. Guglielmi said they would have gladly come to Phoenix to train the trainers, at the cost of only room and board. In other words, training that the city was willing to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars to Whitaker to teach could have been done for just a few thousand dollars.

Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump said they didn’t know the Chicago course existed until it was presented to them by Whitaker. Crump said the department was in a rush to get the cultural training into the 40-hour block of in-service instruction officers were starting in April, and some decisions were made in haste.

Crump also points out that Whitaker was introduced to the Phoenix P.D. leaders by city management. Whitaker met with City Manger Ed Zuercher and Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney in December 2014.

In late January, Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner received a packet of information from Whitaker that included a cover letter, tentative goals, an outline and a draft contract for the training. That was before Yahner and Asst. Chief Mike Kurtenbach were introduced to Whitaker on February 9, 2015.

The city of Phoenix released the following statement. "We are disappointed to hear that another allegation of plagiarism surrounding Dr. Whitaker has surfaced. We are in a fact finding process. That means we are reviewing the curriculum as well as legal options connected to the agreement between the city and the Whitaker Group. We will move forward to not let this unfortunate experience deter us from our intent to strengthen awareness between the police department and the Phoenix community. We are putting together an RFP to continue the training. "

Julie WattersCity of Phoenix Public Information Director

Copyright 2015 CBS 5 News (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Recommended for you