Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ward Churchill and Alfred Chandler

How is that for a mixed pair? And what’s the connection?

Ward Churchill has been suing the University of Colorado, claiming that the academic misconduct for which he was fired was a dishonest pretext, and the real reason was to get rid of someone whose political views made the university’s top brass uncomfortable. The central criticism made of Churchill is that he ghost-wrote articles for other academics and then cited them/himself in his own work. The university said such practice is unconscionable, but Churchill says it’s done all the time.

I don’t know about all the time, but I do know about one very significant time. One of classics of business history, My Years at General Motors, supposedly written by long-time CEO Alfred Sloan, was actually ghost-written by journalist John McDonald. McDonald’s research assistant was Alfred Chandler, then a young (but very well-connected) business historian. Chandler, of course, knew all about the ghosting process, and as the team member with serious academic expertise, he probably had a major impact on the final product.

Chandler went on to write under his own name, becoming the pre-eminent scholar in his field, very well worth reading by anyone who cares about the role large productive organizations in our moment in history. Beginning with Strategy and Structure (1962), Chandler made GM one of his key case studies, drawing on the (unmentionable) research he had done for the Sloan book. Interestingly, his first book was published even before Sloan’s, suggesting that his theoretical work may have influenced the content of the published “evidence” for it, in the form of the Sloan memoir. In any case, Chandler continued to cite “Sloan” in several more pathbreaking works, with never a hint that there was something circular about this.

It’s a good thing for his career that Chandler stayed away from smallpox blankets and “little Eichmann’s”.


Michael Perelman said...

There was a bigger scandal about the Sloan book:

McDonald, John. 2002. A Ghost's Memoir: The Making of Alfred P. Sloan's "My Years with General Motors." (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press).
1: On March 4, 1959 Sloan called McDonald to say that General Motors did not want the book published because its lawyers feared it would "destroy the company."
75-6: "Hugh Cox, who was chief trial counsel for the Du Ponts during the many years of the government suit against Du Pont/General Motors .... was pleased with the book as American history, and could not see what Cravath had against it, except possibly one line in the Product Policy of 1921: "A monopoly is not planned."
48: Their specific objection was the detailing of the 1921 Product Policy drafted by Sloan. Even though the policy specified, "a monopoly is not planned," the lawyers feared the government would still interpret the document as monopolistic since Sloan wanted GM to "cover the market for all grades of automobiles."
152: "The sentence "A monopoly is not planned" occurs in the Product Policy of 1921 -- entitled " Future Manufacturing Lines of General Motors Corporation" -- which was, as I have discussed earlier, the master plan for the new General Motors after the Du Pont takeover. Mr. Sloan and I had dedicated a chapter (chapter 4) of our book to that Product Policy and we had planned to put the original document in our appendix. As I have noted, the policy features a market strategy of "covering the market for all grades of automobiles that can be produced and sold in large quantities," sloganed as "a car for every purse and purpose." Presented in overlapping price classes, the expected volume for each gave the whole a more or less pyramid shape, Chevrolet across the wide bottom, Cadillac at the narrow top. The policy's uniqueness at the time lay in its proposed dynamic interactions with the competition across each price class. It was aimed then particularly and by name at Ford who had only two grades, with the Model T at the bottom and the Lincoln at the top. Afraid to compete head-on with the Model T, which "practically monopolized" the first grade, GM put this interactive pyramid strategy to work on the Model T below and the others above the Chevrolet."
Mckenna, Christopher D. 2006. "Writing the Ghost-Writer Back In: Alfred Sloan, Alfred Chandler, John McDonald and the Intellectual Origins of Corporate Strategy." Management & Organizational History, 2: 1, pp. 107-26.
109-10: "For historians of management thought, there are few books that can surpass the influence of Chandler's classic Strategy and Structure or Sloan's epic My Years with General Motors. Both books, published in the early 1960s, achieved iconic stature within a short period of their publication, and both books still remain in print more than 40 years later. In 2002, however, John McDonald's book A Ghost's Memoir shattered most academics' unexamined presumption that Alfred Sloan himself had written (with perhaps a bit of editorial help) the management classic My Years with General Motors. Indeed, as journalist Dan Seligman explained in his foreword to John McDonald's memoir, even the publishers of Sloan's book had forgotten McDonald's involvement, despite McDonald's equal share of the royalties, when Currency/Doubleday decided to release a new edition of My Years with General Motors in 1990. Upset by the largely contrived history that Peter Drucker wrote for a new introduction to the book, John McDonald decided to set the record straight by writing his own, firsthand account of the `making' of Sloan's famous book. McDonald's account would blow the lid off the hidden history, exposing in the process just why the various accounts of General Motors' historical evolution, written by multiple people in the 1950s and 1960s, appeared to fit together so precisely."
113: "it seems likely that Chandler was also strongly influenced by McDonald's views on strategy given that he had, according to Sloan's preface to My Years with General Motors, `given his [Chandler's] good mind to reviewing successive drafts of the manuscript'." (Sloan, My Years with General Motors, xiv).
114: "... it was John McDonald's particular interest in `strategy', reconfigured by Alfred Chandler's historical perspective, which would come to dominate the terminology of the emerging discipline of corporate strategy."
114: "we should also consider what Alfred Chandler wrote in the second sentence of his acknowledgements in Strategy and Structure: `First of all, I want to thank John McDonald and Catharine Stevens, with whom I started to learn about the workings of big business and to think about the historical development of corporate structure and strategy.'" Chandler, Strategy and Structure, i.
114: "Thus it is only with our subsequent knowledge of John McDonald's ongoing struggle with General Motors' lawyers to release My Years with General Motors that the following disclaimer in Chandler's preface to Strategy and Structure from 1962 becomes intelligible: `[T]he General Motors story ultimately came to be based on information and materials which had been in the public domain before the summer of 1956. Yet I am confident that should information not yet in the public domain become available, it would not substantially alter the history presented here.'60 In other words, having done substantial research in the archives of General Motors, which had subsequently been suppressed by the corporate lawyers from Cravath, Swaine, and Moore, who were working for the automotive giant." Chandler, Strategy and Structure, ii
115: "Alfred Chandler had no doubt learned a painful lesson while working for Sloan and McDonald -- it was best to stay away from the issue of antitrust in the shaping of corporate strategy during the 1950s or risk losing years of academic research to lawsuits and shuttered corporate archives."
116: "Yet it could be argued that Chandler's own historical analysis of both General Motors and DuPont was also circular because both of the corporate case studies were eventually supported by scholarly biographies of Alfred Sloan and Pierre du Pont that were researched and written by Chandler himself. This is not the only instance where Chandler's `predictions' and subsequent `outcomes' have become intertwined, for Chandler's expectation that the multidivisional form would continue to spread would be predicated on the support that Chandler's account offered to the management consultants from McKinsey & Company who used Strategy and Structure to sell the novel organizational form to their international clients. In retrospect, it was almost impossible for scholars to separate Chandler's theoretical analysis from his historical evidence because he was so active in the collection, production and distribution of both the archival input and the theoretical output."

Jack said...

I had followed the Churchill controversy in the press mostly, but now find that I didn't follow closely enough. The NY Times gives this brief description of the charge against
"The university says Mr. Churchill plagiarized and falsified parts of his academic research, particularly on American Indians, and cited this as grounds for his dismissal in July 2007" Followed later in the article by this.
"Throughout the trial, the university maintained that it fired Mr. Churchill solely “for his research misconduct, for taking other people’s work and making it his own, for fabricating research, for falsifying research,” as Steven K. Bosley, a university regent, told the court.
“It was not one time, not even one time on purpose,” Mr. Bosley added. “It was a pattern of misconduct.”

The terms plagiarism, falsification and fabrication are certainly different in intensity from your description of his having ghost written and self cited as a result in other presentations. Is this a case of the UC making much ado about little and bending the truth to achieve its ends?

Peter Dorman said...

Just to remove any doubt, I am not passing judgment on Churchill's case. However, by far the strongest item on the UC bill of particulars concerns citing these ghost-written articles. The plagiarism charge rests on a book WC coedited, and WC made the reasonable point that editors usually don't vet submissions for plagiarism. There is also a question about the accuracy of some of WC's claims concerning crimes committed against Indians. The key charge seems to me to be the one involving ghost-writing-and-citing; the others are rather small potatoes, not the stuff you would base the dismissal of a tenured professor on.

Jack said...

A very quick review via google of the general opinion of a deliberate effort to spread smallpox amongst the Mandan Indians c.1837 provides little support for that opinion. Though at the same time very little mention is made of Churchill's contribution to the issue. Seems like a mountain out of the mole hill phenomenon which may weigh against the UC claim of an apolitical attaempt to oust Churchill. said...


So, just to get this straight, the supposed "plagiarism" was in some paper not actually written by Churchill but that appeared in a book he coedited? I do not think that should count as plagiarism by him, although it could be argued to represent poor editing and bad judgment.

Peter Dorman said...

Barkley, that's my understanding after reading the various news reports. I haven't read the complete report issued by the UC panel, however.

Jack said...

It looks like the jury came in in Churchill's favor. Reinstatement, but only symbolic damages. UC comes out on the short end having to "eat crow" in effect, paying plaintiff's lawyers and appearing to have been under handed in their approach to a difficult situation.