We’ve recently seen two math professors at Central Michigan University (whoever they are; the school won’t say) plagiarize both their NSF grant application and research conducted in their project itself. CMU must now repay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the NSF.

Now there’s the Auckland University English professor who cut and pasted his way through his latest novel (and probably did something similar in earlier novels, though no one, far as UD knows, has checked):

Plagiarism was revealed in Witi Ihimaera’s newest novel when a book reviewer googled phrases from The Trowenna Sea.

… In her blog, Jolisa Gracewood said that while reading the novel, she had a feeling something was not right with parts of the text.

“Google was my first port of call – it turns out that Google Books is bad news for authors, in at least one more way than previously suspected …”

However, there was “no joy” in stumbling across 16 examples … [The author’s university department forgave him immediately, calling sixteen examples of plagiarism from a variety of sources ‘an oversight.’]

Gracewood said that as a writing teacher, “I’d occasionally come across a phrase or a paragraph that was somehow out of kilter with the surrounding text. It’s a curiously physical phenomenon: the hairs on the back of your neck go up, and your heart sinks.

“Sometimes it’s a false alarm,” she said. “But I never expected to encounter that feeling as a book reviewer, let alone with a new work by a respected writer.”

Ihimaera, a professor at Auckland University, declined to be interviewed, but he apologised for “inadvertently” using other authors’ work [in sixteen inadvertent instances].

… Listener examples of Trowenna passages put to Ihimaera include paragraphs from author and journalist Peter Godwin, American academic Karen Sinclair and works edited by Charles Dickens.

“The tragedy is that this is a very, very fine piece of New Zealand fiction,” he said. [Tragedy. Sniff.]

“It deserves to be read and it’s a terrible shame that this has happened.” [Not that he did this. That this happened.]

It wasn’t really, as Gracewood graciously claims, Google Books that outed this man. It was Gracewood’s impressive sense of prose — the way style always displays the mark, subtle or not, of one person only; the way language flows or doesn’t flow — that revealed this imposter of a book.


Update: Commentary in the New Zealand Herald:

… What is curious is the attitude of the university. The Dean of Arts, Jan Crosthwaite, says the university has investigated “and is satisfied there was no deliberate wrong doing”.

Excuse me? How do you plagiarise in a way that is not deliberate? How do you plagiarise by accident? If you have plagiarised, presumably you had the other author’s work next to you as you typed, knowing you were using another person’s sentences. How do you do that unconsciously?…

Pretending it didn’t happen is the sort of thing a very provincial university will do.

Someone should check through this professor’s other books. UD is pretty confident, having followed tons of plagiarism cases on this blog, that he’s done it before.

If so, it will be amusing to watch his university immediately dismiss, say, five books worth of plagiarism as inadvertent.

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7 Responses to “Professors Behaving Badly”

  1. University Diaries » Three Interviews in a Week. Says:

    […] The Listener wanted me to talk about professors who plagiarize. […]

  2. Geoff Lealand Says:

    In the interest of cross-cultural communication (or, in this case, cross-blogging communication–or ‘clogging?), I do recommend one of the current threads on the New Zealand blog . There is thoughtful consideration of the Witi Ihimaera plaigarism case, and reference to the on-going story in the weekly magazine New Zealand Listener (with opinions and photo from UD).

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Many thanks for that, Geoff. I’ll go over and take a look.

  4. Geoff Lealand Says:

    Oops–something went astray with my earlier message. The blog I refer to is http://www.publicaddress.net (probably the best blog in New Zealand–and quite possibly the world!) If you have trouble accessing the Listener article, I would be happy to airmail you a copy.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks! I’ll see if the people at The Listener are able to send me a copy, and if not, I’ll take you up on that.

  6. Auckland Uni Employee Says:

    You are quite right on at least two counts.

    First, this does indeed seem to be a case of repeat offending: a former colleague, Keith Sorrenson, claims that Witi Ihimaera "borrowed" some of his work for an earlier novel, The Matriarch.

    Second, the University’s response to date has been both highly provincial and hypocritical.

    No University of Auckland disciplinary board would accept a student’s argument that "sampling" so many sources and not attributing them was "inadvertent". At the very least, a student in a similar position would have his or her name placed on the University misconduct register and any further step out of line would result in immediate expulsion. Yet there is no suggestion that the University has even given Ihimaera a formal warning.

    Instead, we have all received the following pusillanimous justification from the Vice-Chancellor: http://www.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/home/about/messagefromthevicechancellor

    What this incident illustrates is that Auckland University is fundamentally a parochial, middling, incestuous little community. If you are part of the inner Auckland University clique (as Ihimaera is), you can get away with murder. I predict that he will keep his job and emerge from this incident relatively unscathed.

    Auckland University is not a meritocracy, and its administration and processes are neither consistent nor transparent. It specialises in "jobs and favours for the boys (and the occasional girl)". As with so many other institutions of its ilk, it’s not what you know, or what you do – it’s who you know (or who you do…).

  7. Geoff Lealand Says:

    Surely the shortcomings you describe are present in all university communities (and other similar communities). I am also certain that such ‘borrowings’ have been going on for a long, long time. It is just easier to track them down these days.

    Another factor which exacerbates this problem is the canon which universities impose on publication outcomes. The single-authored book remains at the top of the pile, even though it is increasingly a clumsy, cumbersome, slow and resource greedy route to getting published. My university hasn’t quite got its head around online publishing, for example.

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