University Diaries
A professor of English describes American university life.
Aim: To change things.
Contact UD at: margaret-dot-soltan-at-gmail-dot-com

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Ms. V. Pt. II:
Nothing to See Here

Damage control has set in. Turns out she did it in her sleep, so it wasn't really plagiarism: The copying, she says in an email, was "unconscious."

Plus she apologized to the original author; the publisher will put "an acknowledgment" in subsequent printings (acknowledging what? that she plagiarized while unconscious?), and that should do the trick, right? So shut up.

And anyway, "the central stories of my book and hers are completely different," says Ms. V. Here's the New York Times's take on that:

But Ms. McCafferty's books, published by Crown, a division of Random House, are, like Ms. Viswanathan's, about a young woman from New Jersey trying to get into an Ivy League college, in her case, Columbia. (Ms. Viswanathan's character has her sights set on Harvard.) Like the heroine of "Opal," Ms. McCafferty's character visits the campus, strives to earn good grades to get in and makes a triumphant high school graduation speech proclaiming her true values.

And the borrowings may be more extensive than have previously been reported. The Crimson cited 13 instances in which Ms. Viswanathan's book closely paralleled Ms. McCafferty's work. But there are at least 29 passages that are strikingly similar.

Other difficulties remain for Ms. V. "Megan [the plagiarized writer] alerted us. We've alerted the Little, Brown legal department. We are waiting to hear from them," says Megan's publisher. So that's one problem.

Then there's Harvard:

It was unclear whether Harvard would take any action against Ms. Viswanathan. "Our policies apply to work submitted to courses," said Robert Mitchell, the director of communications for Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Nevertheless, we expect Harvard students to conduct themselves with integrity and honesty at all times."

And finally, perhaps most painful of all, there's this:

Ms. Walsh, [her] agent, said that "obviously, I was shocked," to learn of the copying. "But knowing what a fine person Kaavya is, I believe any similarities were unintentional," she added. "Teenagers tend to adapt each others' language."

Teenagers tend? The whole point was that Ms. V. is no typical teenager but rather a prodigy, mature beyond her years.

I mean here we'd just revved ourselves up to believe in her staggering exceptionality, and now we've got to downshift like a son of a bitch...