Plagiarism on high – plagiarism among professors at excellent universities (Charles Ogletree), plagiarism among the celebrated and venerated (Jane Goodall) – is always a little smudgy. Miscreants suffer little or no penalty, and language (mistakes were made, inadvertent, over-reliance on research assistants…) is brought forward to… smudge matters…

And so it was at Brown University, until a group of English professors decided to break through the smudge and complain about one of their soon-to-be-erstwhile colleagues.

As is almost always the case in high-plagiarism incidents, what seems to have been massive and obvious plagiarism (around 35 instances of virtually verbatim lifting were reportedly found in this professor’s book) took place, after which a series of smudging, tamping down, looking the other way, events took place. The press very quietly pulped the book. And, while the professor was taken off the tenure track, she was also – bizarrely – given a deanship.

It’s a temporary deanship, to be sure, but it involves working with graduate students on their teaching, which will, in turn, no doubt involve her writing letters of recommendation for some of them, etc.

Her once-colleagues are unhappy about a number of things here. They’re unhappy that a gross instance of plagiarism is being called not plagiarism by Brown but a mistake. (Thirty-five mistakes.) And therefore identified as not really research misconduct. (Smudge smudge smudge.)

“Everyone I talked to in the English department understood [the Brown University document reviewing this professor’s book to] be saying that research misconduct included plagiarism, that plagiarism is a form of research misconduct,” [an English professor] said. “Therefore any judgment that a faculty member’s work contained errors that were plagiarism but not research misconduct was a kind of category mistake. It was contrary to the logic of the University rules.”

They are also unhappy that her punishment is to be promoted to a deanship.

[M]any department members are displeased that [the] new position entails working with graduate students…

[One faculty member] cited the possibility of graduate students asking [her] for letters of recommendation or indicating on their resumes that they took part in a teaching program under her auspices without knowing that outside scholars might be aware of her errors.


UD takes a deep wizened breath here. Twas ever thus. UD is impressed with the professors who complained. But twas ever thus.


Another recent example of high-plagiarism smudgery.

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2 Responses to “Plagiarism Brownout”

  1. Van L. Hayhow Says:

    Wow, get caught plagiarizing and get made a dean. That’s the kind of place I would like to work.

  2. Mr Punch Says:

    I’m not sure that being named associate dean of the graduate school should be considered a promotion from a tenure-track faculty position.

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