The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 49.0°F | Fair

Wellesley Professor Accuses Counterpoint, Writer of Libel

By Hyun Soo Kim
News Editor

Tony Martin, a professor at Wellesley College, has filed libel suits against the MIT-Wellesley publication Counterpoint and Wellesley Professor Mary R. Lefkowitz.

Martin, a professor of Africana Studies, started the process of serving a suit last December for an article written by Avik S. Roy '93 in the September 1993 issue of Counterpoint. The article discusses a 1991 incident in which a Wellesley student accused Martin of alleged verbal harassment.

Martin said his "lawyer is in the process of doing whatever has to be done. [The suit] is against a specific article, the author, and the magazine itself for publishing the article."

Martin would not elaborate on what specifically he found libelous in the article. "It's in the process of being litigated, so I can't say," he said. "But I found the article libelous and damaging to my reputation."

Samira Khan W'96, editor in chief of Counterpoint, said that it was in Counterpoint's "best interest to say `no comment.' "

Martin has also filed a suit against Lefkowitz, a professor of Greek and Latin, for an article she wrote in the September/October 1993 issue of Measure, published by the University Centers for Rational Alternatives.

Martin would not specify his objections, but again said, "It is a libelous article and damages my reputation."

However, Martin wrote in a broadside, a distributed statement, that Lefkowitz alleged in her Measure article that he called a Wellesley student "a white, fucking bitch" and that "the young woman fell down as a result of his onslaught, and Martin bent over to continue his rage at her." This incident of alleged verbal harassment is the same one referred to in the Counterpoint article.

Alleged verbal harassment

The incident occurred on Oct. 30, 1991. Martin was participating in a Shakespeare reading in the Claflin dormitory living room at Wellesley. He went downstairs to go to the restroom, and was returning upstairs when he was questioned by Michelle Plantec. She asked him if a residence staff worker was accompanying him; guests are supposed to be escorted when traveling inside the Wellesley dormitories.

According to an interview with Martin and Plantec in the May 1993 issue of The Galenstone, a Wellesley publication, Plantec said, "I stopped him and said, `Excuse me, sir, who are you with?' He looked at me and said, `What do you mean?' I said `What Wellesley student are you with?' and at that point he exploded and called me a fucking bitch, a racist, and a bigot, among other things. ... After all this, he went back into his meeting and said the only reason I had stopped him was because he was black.' "

Martin, in the same interview, agrees that there was an angry exchange, but denies that he used profanity. He also said he asked permission from the dormitory desk before going to the restroom. " `Coming out of the restroom, I was rudely accosted by a group of women who were coming up the stairs behind me. ... I tried to ignore them for a short space of time. ... And eventually, when we got to the top of the stairs I became very annoyed, and expressed my annoyance to the people who were behind me.' "

Lefkowitz cited this incident from an article in the May/June 1993 issue of Heterodoxy, a national publication, for her article.

Lefkowitz would not comment on the suit. But she said, "He has been very angry at me about some of my writings on ancient history." Lefkowitz added that Wellesley's history department voted recently not to give credit toward a history major for any of Martin's courses.

Henry A. Sullivan, Lefkowitz's lawyer, said that she does not plan to settle out of court. "We feel very confident that it's a meritless case. We'll defend it to the utmost, and we will win," he said.

Martin and Lefkowitz have engaged in some academic disputes in the past. Martin said, "In the last couple of years, she has written articles referring to me or to some debates with my students. Some articles were critical, some were not. ... I think she has some disagreements about some things I teach about early African influence in early world civilization."

Martin criticized for new book

Currently, Martin is the focus of a controversy at Wellesley for his new book, The Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches from the Wellesley Battlefront.

The book has provoked a response from the Wellesley administration. Wellesley President Diane Chapman Walsh wrote a letter to the Wellesley community condemning Tony Martin's new book as using "recurrent and gratuitous use of racial or religious identification of individuals."

Martin defends his book in his broadside. He wrote, "The Jewish Onslaught was published as a response to the unprincipled attacks, defamatory statements, assaults on my livelihood, and physical threats directed against me for several months. These emanated principally from the Jewish community and its agents, and were triggered by my classroom use of a work detailing Jewish involvement in the African slave trade."

Martin has taught Africana Studies at Wellesley for the past 21 years.