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Independent Investigations Found No Merit To Attacks On Elizabeth’s Groundbreaking Scholarship

Elizabeth is proud of her record as an academic. She also understands that whenever you produce groundbreaking work, it’s going to make waves.

In 1989, Elizabeth published results from years of collaborative research on bankruptcy with two other highly respected professors – Jay Westbrook, the Benno C. Schmidt Chair of Business Law at the University of Texas, and Teresa Sullivan, who later served as the provost at the University of Michigan and the President of the University of Virginia. The three experts spearheaded the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which was called “the most extensive empirical study of bankruptcy ever undertaken.” The book they wrote about the study, As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit In America, was hailed as a “landmark” work that challenged existing assumptions about who goes into bankruptcy and why. It upended the traditional view that people filing for bankruptcy were gaming the system or making poor choices, demonstrating through meticulous empirical work that these people were typically regular families who had hit hard times.

The book received widespread praise and recognition, and won the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award. However, one professor at Rutgers Newark wrote a negative review of the book and even went so far as to accuse Elizabeth and her co-authors of engaging in “scientific misconduct.” 

Because “scientific misconduct” is considered an incendiary charge in the academic community, the National Science Foundation and the University of Texas at Austin immediately launched their own independent investigations. Both investigations ultimately dismissed the professor’s charge and concluded it was without merit.

  • The National Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General’s inquiry found that the accusation leveled by the professor was “based upon misunderstandings,” and completely exonerated Warren and her co-authors.
  • The University of Texas at Austin’s “comprehensive” inquiry “reviewed the full record” regarding the allegations and found that “Professors Sullivan, Westbrook and Warren conducted their research in a proper and ethical way and that the allegation of misconduct is not supported by the evidence.” Moreover, it concluded that Warren and her coauthors had conformed to the “highest ethical standard.”

Elizabeth continued and expanded on this work in subsequent years, becoming one of the nation’s experts on all of the ways that families are being squeezed economically, and has proposed big, structural changes to our government and our economy to rebuild our middle class. These ideas still make powerful people uncomfortable – but Elizabeth has no intention of backing down from the fight.

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The conclusion of this inquiry is that Professors Sullivan, Westbrook and Warren conducted their research in a proper and ethical way and that the allegation of misconduct is not supported by the evidence.
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