Copycat Professors

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Once upon a time, the problem of plagiarism in college was one in which students were, more often than not, the perpetrators, not their professors, but now, a growing body of evidence shows, the pedagogues themselves are increasingly suspect.

“An editor at History News Network receives so many tips about purported plagiarism that he now only investigates those involving well-known scholars,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported late last year.

Of course, since then, we have learned of the alleged plagiarism of Ward Churchill, who teaches ethnic studies, as of this writing, at the University of Colorado. He joins an array of academic superstars caught publishing less-than-original material which includes Harvard’s Lawrence Tribe, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose.

“In one of the rare surveys conducted about plagiarism, two University of Alabama economists this year asked 1,200 of their colleagues if they believed their work had ever been stolen,” The Chronicle reported last December. “A startling 40 percent answered yes.”

Last year, Richard L. Judd, the then-president of Central Connecticut State University, wrote an article for The Hartford Courant. Unfortunately, the column resembled an editorial which had already appeared in The New York Times.


  • “A Boston College professor who wrote a 2003 book on psychoanalysis and ethics plagiarized passages from a book on the same subject, according to the Boston Psychoanalytic Society, which conducted a year long investigation into the matter,” according to an article in the Chronicle in January 2005. “The group found that The Ethical Dimensions of Psychoanalysis: A Dialogue (State University of New York Press), by the Rev. William W. Meissner, a professor of theology, ‘contained some passages that excessively paraphrased or borrowed ideas’ from Psychoanalysis and Ethics (Yale University Press, 1991), by Ernest Wallwork, a professor of ethics at Syracuse University.”
  • In 2002, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, then an assistant professor of history at Ohio State University, was surprised to find that another author had written about the subject of her dissertation—Margaret Chung, the first American-born female Chinese doctor. “I thought, How does this person’s take compare to mine?,” Miss Wu remembers. “This person—Benson Tong, then an assistant professor of history at Wichita State University—had a very similar take,” Thomas Bartlett and Scott Smallwood reported in The Chronicle last December. “Very similar.”
  • George O. Carney, while an associate professor at Oklahoma State University, wrote a paper entitled “T for Texas, T for Tennessee: The Origins of American Country Music Notables” that was, according to the Chronicle, “strikingly similar to ‘The Fertile Crescent of Country Music,’ by Richard A. Peterson and a co-author, published several years earlier in The Journal of Country Music.”

Ann H. Franke, vice president for education and risk management at United Educators Insurance, offered the Chronicle’s David Glenn an interesting solution to the problem.
“A lot of schools don’t use a written employment application for faculty hiring,” Franke said. “But that can be another way for the hiring institution to ask some of these hard questions:

  • “Have you ever been accused of plagiarism?
  • “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.


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