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“The G.W.U faculty ought to have had an inkling of Carrillo’s trickery. Ten or so years ago, David Munar sent a letter to administrators there saying that Carrillo was a fraud, but he received no answer.”

A New Yorker article about a literary/academic fraud named Hache Carrillo, who was a colleague of UD‘s (she sat on the tenure committee that wisely turned him down, unlike the unwise GW history department that tenured his fellow fraud Jessica Krug, and as a result spent years very publicly paddling up shit’s creek), has appeared.

You’re probably not interested in the patented New Yorker long-form details of this pretty trivial cultural figure, but the article does feature a neat and sweet summary of the many literary frauds (venture even slightly out of just this one fraud category, and you’ll end up with an article too long even for the long-form New Yorker) who’ve tried to put one over on us in the last decade or so.

Go ahead and think of all the successful, high-functioning frauds who must as we speak be running around our literary landscape befrauding everyone cuz they haven’t been (won’t be?) caught.


I guess administrators like the one in my title are worth thinking about. Before we condemn this anonymous person, let’s stipulate that a lot depends on the letter this person received. Was the letter writer a credible source? Oh yes. Is it likely that the letter was a naked example of envy, paranoia, nuttiness? Very, very unlikely. Does an administrator routinely get letters warning that a faculty member is a fraud? No. Does that mean you dismiss it as just a weird thing and throw it away? No.

Maybe you worry that anything you do could trigger litigation from Carrillo if he gets wind of it and so you toss it.

Okay, but let’s say you should do something. Fraud being as popular as it is, you should indeed do something. What do you do?

UD suggests that you pass it along to the dept chair/head of creative writing basically without comment. Maybe you scrawl a couple of question marks atop the letter by way of saying huh I dunno you deal with it. Hell, maybe that’s what was done, and the person we need to talk to about doing nothing is/was inside the English department.

But anyway we fired the dude, and he died a few years ago, so none of it amounts to much beyond another lesson universities should learn (most won’t) about the not inconsiderable number of people out there laying siege to their schools through fraud. Schools spend a lot of time worrying about larcenists and sexual predators, as well they should; but frauds do really really serious harm, and the fact that GW had two in succession – and tenured one! – is an institutional embarrassment.

Margaret Soltan, March 13, 2023 12:48PM
Posted in: hoax

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10 Responses to ““The G.W.U faculty ought to have had an inkling of Carrillo’s trickery. Ten or so years ago, David Munar sent a letter to administrators there saying that Carrillo was a fraud, but he received no answer.””

  1. Rita Says:

    If they found a way to catch all the frauds, or better, pre-empt them, wouldn’t you be kind of sorry? I would. These people are such fun.

    I wrote an essay years ago, now moldering in some overpriced, out of print volume, about how this kind of fraud (variations on false identity) is really part and parcel of American openness. This seems to be part of Melville’s point as well, though he views it as a more nefarious symptom. A society with high levels of mobility, both geographic and socioeconomic, will inevitably have to pay this price for that kind of freedom, and it’s probably worth it on the whole.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Yes, there’s a reason Gatsby is the echt-American novel. The Germans have Felix Krull, etc etc, but with, as you say, our openness, we’re particularly vulnerable to frauds.

    And yes, many fakers are both fun and fascinating, with their hilarious, over the top, carnivalesque efforts to make sure they’re really looking REALLY native American, black, Cuban — whatever minority horse they’ve mounted. No one tops GW’s celebrated Jessica K. for laughs.

    Much less fun is finding out the person to whom you’ve entrusted your family’s physical/mental health actually bought her degree and is pretending to be a doctor and doesn’t in fact know anything. I’ve covered several cases in which one or another parent in a divorce was forbidden access to a child on the basis of a report written by a fake social worker.

  3. Rita Says:

    But I think that’s also comparably harder to do. Well, faking a medical license at least, I don’t know about social work. Real social workers don’t seem to have any clear-cut skill or qualification besides a 2yr degree, and where the barriers to professional entry are porous like that, fakery is easier.

    Isn’t the ambiguity of qualifications also what makes college teaching so hospitable to it? Super Arroz Con Pollo Guy didn’t even claim to have a PhD; he didn’t need one to teach writing. But of course, even if the job does require one, it’s not hard to write gobs of incoherent bullshit and pass it off as humanities “scholarship,” if you don’t opt for the even easier route of plagiarizing someone else’s efforts. You know all the great stories – Paul de Man, etc. But what would it take to prevent such things from happening? Extreme regimentation and surveillance of all academic life? Centralized exams for every subject? All of that would kill the entire profession for the benefit of sussing out a few frauds.

    Lots of layers of centralized exams and licensing for doctors though. We do not value creativity and individualism so much there, the trade-off is easier to make. But questionable quasi-doctors of all kinds – chiropractors, acupuncturists, holistic whatevers – flourish at the margins of medicine with our complete assent.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I think at least in the academic setting, one primary takeaway from Krug/Carrillo is that low or ambiguous standards for scholarship plus uncritical excitement about the minority aura of certain candidates equals a special degree of vulnerability to frauds.

    You’re right that regimentation/surveillance is no answer; I’m afraid the only real answer is old-fashioned due diligence: look for warning signs of identity fraud (in some cases, an aggressively minoritized self-presentation, evasiveness on certain topics, a generalized discomfort you feel with the person…), take seriously explicit warnings (the letter about Carrillo GW seems to have ignored, internal teaching reviews plus Rate My Professors — people hate to read RMP, but in both the Krug and Carrillo cases valuable and unsettling information was sitting right there), and conduct casual conversations with students taking their courses. How’s the Krug seminar going? That sort of thing.

    If you’re going to discover a fraud before you tenure her and become a laughingstock, you need to be a bit of a detective. And people on your faculty who were always uncomfortable with frauds but were too cowed by stronger personalities in the dept need to man up and say something. Surely not everyone in GW’s history dept thought the belligerent, bizarre obscenity that was Jessica Krug represented a delightful breath of fresh air.

  5. Rita Says:

    I’d like to think I would sniff this stuff out immediately, having now acquired an extensive archive of past incidents in my head. And there have been a couple cases where I have noticed people egregiously exaggerating their bios and achievements (eg, this guy was my grad school classmate and I know some of this background is invented, and was even more invented in past iterations of this page; he really exemplified the fake it ’til you make it type that Harvard likes). Academia is hyper-competitive, so you’d think there’d be a lot of incentives to rat out one’s rivals, right? But in the few instances I’ve seen of people who’ve discovered another scholar simply plagiarizing, not even inventing a new identity, the process of bringing it to light and punishing the plagiarist has been long and full of professional recrimination. A recent, very public example of this was Kevin Kruse at Princeton. But you’ve chronicled successful high-profile plagiarists at Harvard and elsewhere too.

    In some ways, transracialists like Krug and Carillo are easier to bring down b/c, for the same reasons that faking your race is so desirable, it’s also so much more transgressive. Successfully doing this can bring your career to life, but being caught will immediately kill it. There is no professor, not even a bigshot at Harvard, I think, who could survive a legitimate transracialist charge. (Unless they’re Pretendians; somehow the one racial feint for which one can be forgiven. I suppose you can be a fake Jew too, but who wants to do that?) Plagiarism, by contrast, seems to be a kind of fakery that even when it’s pretty obvious, is somehow ethically ambiguous – bad, but how bad? Depends on how famous and important the plagiarist is.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    …fake Jew too, but who wants to do that? LOL

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    On your last point: Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jane Goodall are demonstrated plagiarists who survived this revelation perfectly intact.

  8. Rita Says:

    Right, Larry Tribe too. Don’t you think though if any of these people had pretended to be black, they’d be destroyed? These crimes seem unevenly punishable.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Well, much as I find plagiarism – especially by people who should know better – repellent, assuming a minority identity for self-advancement is far more repellent.

  10. Rita Says:

    Maybe. Both are fakery for self-advancement. When I plagiarize, I assume the identity of a smarter, more insightful and competent scholar than I actually am. When I pretend to be black, I assume the identity of a more favored group than I’m actually part of. In this respect, plagiarism actually threatens the mission of the university more viscerally than race fakery, doesn’t it? The university doesn’t exist to advance real black people rather than fake ones. This is just a weird sideshow of our times. But it does exist to advance real knowledge.

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