The big event on campus today (currently highlighted on the main web page) was a talk by Joseph Ellis. The College news release reported:

Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” will speak at Williams College on Thursday, Sept. 25. His talk on “Assessing the Founders,” is scheduled for 8 p.m. in Griffin Hall, room 3.

Ellis, who is a professor of history at Mt. Holyoke College, is known for discussing the American Revolution on a more personal level than is found in many other sources. His well known book, “Founding Brothers,” addresses several pivotal but unpublicized moments in early American history.

Ellis was educated at the College of William and Mary and Yale University. He taught at Yale and West Point before coming to Mount Holyoke in 1972, where he served as dean of the faculty from 1980-90.

I find this situation to be somewhat sleazy. Although Ellis is a Pulitzer Prize winner, his more recent claim to fame involves the controversy over his lies to his students. As Lance Morrow puts it in Time Magazine:

Why did Joe Ellis make up the stories about himself that he has apparently been telling to his students at Mount Holyoke — about his service in Vietnam on General William Westmoreland’s staff, about his work in the civil rights movement in the sixties, even about scoring the winning touchdown in a crucial game for our alma mater, Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C.?

No: Ellis’ lies were simply a disgraceful — and disgracefully stupid –business that betrayed his duty as a teacher and wrecked his intellectual credibility.

What message does Williams send to its students (and faculty and alumni) when it invites speakers who have, repeatedly and brazenly, lied in an academic setting? Was there no other (honest) historian available to make the trip to Williamstown? I realize that Ellis is a celebrity and that, by all accounts, he is a fine historian, but to give him an honor (or am I too old fashioned in thinking that being invited to speak at Williams is an honor?) like this so soon after his transgressions is unseemly. Maybe 10 years from now things would be different, but, right now, his lies are barely cold.

To add insult to injury, Ellis probably received an honorarium (read: speaker’s fee) for his talk. I will try to determine if he did so and, if so, what the amount was.

Your alumni donations (or tuition payments) at work . . .

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