The Michigan Daily - Thursday, November 18,.1993-7
*Woman fights Columbia
over dissertation failure
By MICHELLE FRICKE
DAILY STAFF REPORTER
0 When Prof. Constance Benson
gan investigating the life and work
of Ernst Troeltsch for her Ph.D. dis-
sertation almost eight years ago, she
realized her work was controversial,
but she never imagined she would
end up in court.
But that is exactly where she is
headed as she challenges the failure
of her thesis, which she completed as
doctoral student at Columbia Uni-
Litigation began this past June,
butBenson---a religious studies pro-
fessor at Fordham University -
served a new round of papers against
ColumbiaandUnion Theology Semi-
nary three weeks ago, giving the insti-
tutions until Nov. 24 to reply to her
Although Prof. Wayne Proudfoot,
*e dissertation committee chair, had
recommended her work for an aca-
demic merit scholarship, Benson was
failed after the dissertation was pre-
sented in an oral defense. Benson and
her lawyer, David Slater, argued she
was failed for "arbitrary and capri-
cious reasons" after Benson refused
to revise her findings.
Her case claims Columbia vio-
its own procedural rules - form-
g Benson's dissertation committee
with six rather than five members and
failing the work on the basis of a tie
Slater charges these were both
"arbitrary and unprecedented," and
believes the decision represents
Columbia's "cajlous attempt to de-
stroy Benson professionally." But
Brian D'Agostino, Benson's husband,
*lieves the case has had a reverse
"While they attempted to destroy
her professionally, by fighting this,
she's been turned into something of a
celebrity for turning on this power
structure," said D'Agostino, who is
'Research is an Important part of a student's life,
and if you feel you can't speak or investigate freely
it's like living in a reign of terror.'
handling Benson's publicity. He
added that her manuscript is being
considered forpublication by amajor
Benson's research focused on the
work of Troeltsch (1865-1923), an
eminent German academic and a fa-
ther of modern Protestant ethics. The
attack on her work has been led by
Prof. David Lotz of Union Theologi-
cal Seminary and Prof. Fritz Stern of
Columbia, who Benson claims had
conflicts of interest with her research.
According to Benson's disserta-
tion, Troeltsch was an apologist for
the power structure of Imperial Ger-
many, endorsing the infamous racist
and anti-Semite Paul de Lagarde, who
professed the extermination of the
Jews two generations before Hitler.
The thesis also claims Troeltsch sup-
ported racist theories that legitimized
European colonization of Africa, at a
time when these policies were being
questioned in Germany.
Benson charges the judgment of
her presentation was clouded because
Lotz is aLutheran minister and expert
in the school of Protestant theology,
which includes Troeltsch. She also
claims Stem has close ties with the
Niebuhr family, who professed
Troeltsch's ideals in the English
Columbia officials defended the
committee's decision, claiming the
dissertation was "lacking in academic
merit" and that the professors' asso-
ciations did not affect Benson's fail-
ure. Yet, after appealing to Columbia
officials and the school's board of
trustees for one year, Benson was
unable to receive specific evidence
for her research's failure from the
But Benson has gained support
from 20 outside experts and profes-
sors in the form of letters and affida-
vits. Cornel West, a theologian and
director of Princeton University's
Afro-American Studies Program,
backs the publication of her work,
calling it "the most significant cri-
tique of Troeltsch's politics we have.
"There is no doubt that the thesis
is controversial - and harmful to
Troeltsch'simageas aliberal thinker,"
wrote West in his letter supporting
Benson. "I am not convinced that
Connie's work was evaluated in a fair
and impartial manner - even though
those involved in the process are dear
friends of mine in whom I have great
Others also fear Benson's case is
part of an attempt to censor views
which are not "politically correct." In
a prepared statement, Prof. David
Noble of York University, Ontario,
and Leonard Minsky charge Benson's
case "fits a disturbing trend in which
universities in the U.S. are suppress-
ing academically meritorious research
that is not PC."
D'Agostino echoed these senti-
"In graduate school, research is an
important part of a student's life, and
if you feel you can't speak or investi-
gate freely it's like living in a reign of
terror," the Columbia alum stated.
"How can you do research under those
The future of Benson's academic
career remains uncertain as a judge
will be assigned to the case in the New
York Supreme Court.
While both schools' attorneys
maintain the courts have little prece-
dence in reviewing academic disputes
such as this, Benson is confident the
case will not be dismissed. Yet if it is,
she maintains she will appeal the de-
cision. As her husband stated:
"There's no way you can put the ge-
nie in the bottle now."
Anthony Mojica talks to police after saving 11 people overcome by carbon monoxide fumes in a Chicago home.
Progranuner addresses~ computer laws
By YOSHI ORIBE back was notaccused ofcopying code without the permission of the patent
FOR THE DAILY from 1-2-3, but of supporting com- holder. Since a computer program
The Modern Languages Building patible user commands. Such copy- typically uses many techniques and
bustled with more than 400 students ing wascommonpractice among soft- provides many features it can in-
and professors last night who attended ware companies until court decisions fringe on several patents at once.
aspeech by Richard Stallman, aworld- recently extended their rules on copy- "Until recently, patents were not
renowned com- rights. used in the software field," he said.
puter program- "A copyright on a user interface Copyrights used to cover the
mer and one of means a government-imposed mo- implementation details of a particular
the founders of nopoly on its use," Stallman said. program and did not cover the fea-
League of Pro- The latter portion of the talk cen- tures of the program, or the methods
gramming Free- tered on software patents. used. Because of this, software devel-
dom, an organi- "Software patents threaten to dev- opment was extremely profitable and
zation whose astateAmerica's computerindustry," reaped substantial investment with-
goal is to protect Stallman said. out any prohibition on independent
the freedom to Patents cover techniques that can software development.
write programs. be used to build systems, or particular A change in government policy in
The League Stallman features that systems can offer. the early 1980s, however, applied
aims to eliminate Once a technique or feature is pat- patent laws to all software, and the
two recently established legal con- ented, it may not be used in a system lawsuits are just beginning.
cepts that it feels hinder the computer
programmer's freedom to work -
interface copyright and software pat-
ents -both of which were the topics
of Stallman's speech.
Stallman spoke against user inter-
face copyright. A user interface is the
language used to communicate with
the machine. When the machine is a
computer program, the interface in-
cludes that of the computer, its key-
board, screen and mouse, plus aspects
specific to the program.
Stallman cited a case where Lotus
Software won a copyright suit against
Paperback Software, a small com-
pany that implemented a spreadsheet
utilizing the same keystroke com-
mands used in Lotus 1-2-3. Paper-
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