Ann Lane's DissertationHistorians/History
After the Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose
stories broke earlier this year, HNN received an email from a reader
about a historian who had allegedly plagiarized parts of her
dissertation at Columbia University some thirty years ago. The
historian was Ann Lane, who currently is the director of the Studies
in Women and Gender program at the University of Virginia. We
investigated and discovered that questions had indeed been raised
about Lane's dissertation a short time after she had received her
degree, though no official body had ever concluded that she was
guilty of plagiarism. The historian herself admitted inadvertently
copying passages from others, but insisted it wasn't plagiarism.
Because our goal was not to embarrass Lane we decided to keep her identity secret. But shortly after we reached this conclusion, we learned that she had alluded to her own story at a panel discussion during the April 2002 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. She herself linked her case explicitly to that of Doris Kearns Goodwin. Upon learning this, we decided to name her. It seemed absurd at that point not to name her since she had named herself at a forum in a public setting.
According to the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University:"In a 1999 survey of 2,100 students on 21 campuses across the country, about one-third of the participating students admitted to serious test cheating and half admitted to one or more instances of serious cheating on written assignments."(1) While some readers may find this statistic shocking, to teachers it is depressingly familiar. Yet, according to the center,"In a 1999 survey of over 1,000 faculty on 21 campuses, one-third of those who were aware of student cheating in their course in the last two years, did nothing to address it."(2) A pressing question raised by these figures is that if professors are reluctant to report students for unethical academic activity, how likely are they to report plagiarism within their own ranks?
While academics have rushed to ostracize Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, pop historians are much easier targets than"peers." The extent of plagiaristic activity by academics may be impossible to ascertain in an environment as self-protective as the academy, but HNN has found a fascinating example of alleged text borrowing by a serious historian at a major university. Whether a barometer of a significant trend or merely an isolated incident, the story of this historian shows that regardless of how widespread it may be, copying in the academy produces far from uniform responses.
In 1971, Seth Scheiner, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, was reviewing the galley proofs of a manuscript by an assistant professor named Ann J. Lane. Lane, who taught at Douglass College, the women's school at Rutgers, was regarded as a promising candidate for tenure. A recent Ph.D. graduate of Columbia University, she was well-connected, having studied under John Hope Franklin, David Donald and Richard Hofstadter; though now divorced, she had been married to Eugene Genovese, who previously had held a faculty position at Rutgers. Recently, she had received a contract to turn her dissertation, which was about the Brownsville affair of 1906, into the book Scheiner was now reading in manuscript form.
Under the process then in effect, a candidate for tenure at Douglass
had to be approved by the Rutgers coordinating history department,
informally called the"New Brunswick" department, which oversaw the
history departments of the individual colleges. In the course of
Scheiner's perusal he noticed distressing similarities between Lane's
words and his own from an article he had written a decade earlier:"A
clause caught my eye," he told HNN in an interview conducted recently."This led me to check an article I had published in the July 1962 issue of
the Journal of Negro History. I was struck by how closely her
wording matched or compared with mine."(3) That evening Scheiner
called the historian who had given him the proofs, Gerald Grob. Grob, then
at Douglass, had made a mental note of"violent changes in style,"(4) but passed the
manuscript on to Scheiner without comment to Lane or the department. After
consulting Grob, Scheiner decided to inform Peter Stearns, the chair of
the"New Brunswick" Department, of his findings.
At this point, the various accounts begin to differ slightly. Grob remembers that a New Brunswick committee was appointed to examine Lane's manuscript, and that Lane appeared before it and blamed the copying on muddled notes. Scheiner recalls that a department meeting was held and at this meeting"Ms. Lane spoke of personal problems as well as carelessness in note taking."(5) Stearns, the chair, remembers that after personally examining the findings,"We had a number of anguished discussions and at least one faculty meeting on the subject. Professor Lane was invited to comment [and] she explained how in the press of her research, amid some personal problems, she did not recall her exact methods of transcription."(6)
Lane herself attests that Scheiner,"having discovered [the copying], told his department chair, who told my department chair, Maurice Lee, who called me in and told me to disappear for the rest of the year."(7) She also recalls that she herself called for an open meeting of the three college history departments to discuss the accusations and at that meeting"began that presentation to the Rutgers history folks with a statement from my lawyer-brother, then a very famous activist lawyer [her brother is Mark Lane], by saying that plagiarism is defined as malicious intent, and if anyone ever used the word again to apply to her, that person would be sued." Lane told HNN that she never actually intended to sue.
Following her threat the department dropped any effort to brand her as
a plagiarist, but her case for tenure was derailed. Stearns states that he
and the department felt that"Lane should be asked to withdraw her case
and in consequence terminate her association with Rutgers University at
the end of that academic year," though he felt it was inappropriate to
notify Columbia.(8) Before the end of the academic year, Lane was hired by
John Jay, which was in the process of becoming a full-fledged university
and had just formed a history department. Soon after, Kenikat Press
published her book, The Brownsville Affair: National Crisis and Black
Reaction, with the copied passages removed or correctly
The book found little success. Its reviewer in the the Journal of American History was Emma Lou Thornbrough, who found distressing similarities with her own prior work, specifically an article from 1957 in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Thornbrough mentioned the discovery to friends and colleagues, but made no public accusation in her scathing review, though she left a subtle hint:
The book by Ann J. Lane, which is a revision of her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University, goes over much the same ground as the two articles [mentioned previously, one by Thornbrough herself] and adds little to them.... She uses some of the same quotations as those in the Thornbrough article [and] her interpretation and conclusions are essentially the same...The book is marred with careless errors.(9)
In 1968, Ann Lane had been attending graduate school off and on for well over a decade, receiving her B.A. at Brooklyn College in 1952 and her M.A. from NYU in 1958. She was advised by David Donald and later, after Donald departed for Princeton, by Richard Hofstadter. At Columbia she finally completed and submitted her doctoral dissertation on the Brownsville incident. The borrowed passages missed by Hofstadter and whoever else was charged with reading the dissertation are apparent when the Scheiner and Thornbrough texts are examined side-by-side with Lane's.
A comparison of a passage from Scheiner's article and one from Lane's dissertation is included below (copied passages in bold):
Scheiner (pp. 179-180)(10)
Lane (pp. 296-8) (11)
|What emerges is that the President was under the influence of Clarkson and Payne from late 1901 until mid-1903; these two men believed that Roosevelt should appeal to the Negroes of the North. An anti-"lily white" policy they believed would win the support of both Negro and pro-Negro southern delegations. Work against the"lily white" state organizations and replace them with pro-Negro groups, concluded Clarkson. Roosevelt followed this advice in his Alabama appointments and in his early opposition to Pritchard in North Carolina; however, he came to the conclusion that he was injuring himself politically with these actions. For example, the"lily whites" in North Carolina were angered; they threatened to desert T.R.'s camp. Roosevelt, it appears, reassessed his position and discarded Clarkson and Payne's policy.||Roosevelt had been under the influence of Clarkson and Payne from late 1901 until mid-1903. These two men believed that Roosevelt should appeal to the Negroes of the North. An anti-lily-white policy they believed would win the support of both Negroes and pro-Negro southern delegates. Roosevelt followed this advice for a while, as for example in the Alabama appointments and in his early opposition to Pritchard in North Carolina. He apparently concluded that he was injuring himself politically by these actions. When the lily-whites in North Carolina were angered and threatened to desert him, Roosevelt probably reassessed his position and discarded Clarkson and Payne's policy.|
|By mid-1903, Roosevelt had abandoned
his"fight" against the"lily whites." The retreat had begun in
December, 1902 and was complete by March, 1903. At no time after the
latter date did Clarkson and Payne exercise any influence on the
President pertaining to the Negro question. Roosevelt's concession
to the"lily whites" and his final abandonment of the Clarkson-Payne
position, can be seen in a letter to Booker T. Washington in
The safety of the colored man in Louisiana is to have a white man's party which shall be responsible and honest…in which he shall not be the dominant force.
By mid-1903, Roosevelt had abandoned his struggle against the lily-whites. The retreat, begun in December 1902, was completed by March 1903. Roosevelt's concession to the lily-whites, and his final abandonment of the Clarkson-Payne position, can be seen in a letter to Booker T. Washington in 1904:
The safety of the colored man in Louisiana is to have a white man's party which shall be responsible and honest…in which he shall not be the dominant force.
A comparison of passages from Emma Lou Thornbrough's article of 1957 and Lane's dissertation is included below:
Thornbrough (pp. 479)(12)
Lane (pp. 209-210)(13)
|Tyler was a part-time
journalist and secretary to Robert Wolfe, owner of the Columbus
Ohio State Journal and the Columbus Dispatch, both of
which were opposed to Foraker. Neither Foraker nor his colleague,
Charles W. F. Dick, had been consulted; but, as one newspaper
explained, it was a foregone conclusion that they would vote to
confirm the appointment"without visible wincing" because there were
about 50,000 colored voters in Ohio.[Paragraph break
Later it was reported that Roosevelt had changed his mind and would not press the appointment because the proposal gave pain to so many white Republicans in Cincinnati. It was said that his son-in-law, Nicholas Longworth, had protested that the naming of a Negro to such a post in his district would mean his political ruin. The intended appointee himself thought that the President's change of heart was due to the fear that the appointment would hurt Taft's candidacy. He had been informed by his employer, he reported, that Roosevelt did not want to antagonize the two senators and thus make it more difficult for Taft to secure the Ohio delegation in 1908. Tyler did not get the surveyorship, but he was appointed an auditor in the Navy Department in Washington, D.C., where his presence would not offend white voters and where, it was hoped, he would be useful in keeping Negroes faithful to the Republican party.
|Tyler was a part-time journalist
and secretary to Robert Wolfe, owner of the Columbus Ohio State
Journal and the Columbus Dispatch, both of which were
opposed to Foraker. Neither Foraker nor his colleague, Charles W. F.
Dick, had been consulted; but, as one newspaper explained, it was a
foregone conclusion that they would vote to confirm the appointment"without visible wincing" because there were about 50,000 colored
voters in Ohio. |
Later it was reported that Roosevelt had changed his mind and would not push the appointment because the proposal was opposed by many white Republicans in Cincinnati. It was said that his son-in-law, Nicholas Longworth, had protested that the naming of a Negro to such a post in his district would mean his political ruin. Tyler thought that the President's change of heart was due to the fear that the appointment would hurt Taft's candidacy. He had been informed by his employer, he reported, that Roosevelt did not want to antagonize the two senators and thus make it more difficult for Taft to secure the Ohio delegation in 1908. Tyler did not get the surveyorship, but he was appointed an auditor in the Navy Department in Washington, D.C., where his presence would not offend white voters and where, it was hoped, he would be useful in keeping Negroes faithful to the Republican party.
In the latter passage Lane neglected even to provide a footnote to Thornbrough and only infrequently did so for the other, longer borrowed passages (at one point using the citation,"For more information, see .…"). Lane frequently took quotes from Scheiner's and Thornbrough's articles and cited them as if she had done the archival research herself.
Lane freely admits to the copying, but maintains--just as she did when confronted at Rutgers--that the errors occurred when a hired assistant took bad notes and made transcription errors:"I had hired a typist to type up the sections of stuff I would need. By the time I got to writing the dissertation I no longer remembered that the quotations marks should have been there."(14) Lane downplays the significance of her borrowing. She noted in her interview with HNN that she had lifted only narrative accounts of the Brownsville incident itself, narratives such as could be found in any newspaper at the time.(15) Yet HNN found that her copying frequently extended to analysis as well, for example:
Scheiner:"Roosevelt, it appears-reassessed his position and discarded Clarkson and Payne's policy."
Lane:"Roosevelt probably reassessed his position and discarded Clarkson and Payne's policy." (No citation.)
The passages are rarely copied exactly, undermining Lane's assertion that they are merely improperly cited quotations from the articles. Rather, as can be seen above, there are frequent changes of a word or two such as the frequent substitution of"Negro" for" colored," reflecting the different times in which Thornbrough and Lane were writing. Lane lifted passages from nearly every page of Scheiner's article and at least a quarter of Thornbrough's, though it is worth noting that the actual number of borrowed words (about a thousand from Scheiner and more than 2,000 from Thornbrough) was minor compared with the tens of thousands of words that are included in her 400-plus page dissertation. Nevertheless, the"violent changes in style" that Grob observed are plainly visible throughout most of the dissertation.
Gerald Grob remembers Ann Lane as a"delightful colleague."(16) Lane looks back on Grob as"the nastiest guy of them all."(17) Seth Scheiner has not read any of Lane's subsequent writings, saying he"avoids eating a second meal at a bad restaurant."(18) After being accused by Scheiner, Lane called him, directly asking"What kind of person are you?" He promptly hung up.(19) Lane thanked both Grob and Stearns in the forward to her book for their attention to accuracy. Peter Stearns, now at George Mason University, fondly recalls Lane's"obvious talent, teaching success, and intellectual vitality."(20) In a recent interview Lane was unable to remember his name.
Lane told HNN that the ordeal was especially difficult:"I was devastated, terrified, confused, embarrassed….Getting a position at Rutgers was enormously lucky, and I blew it." But was she treated fairly?
Sandi Cooper, who taught at Douglass from 1961 to 1967 and maintained personal relationships with members of the Rutgers faculty and Lane throughout the period of accusation, speculates that Lane was driven out of Rutgers because of her gender. She attests that female faculty members were often treated differently:"The men's College faculty at Rutgers regularly amused themselves by joking about the Douglass faculty as a batch of tea serving ladies in white gloves. There was considerable arrogance, disdain and snobbishness in their attitude towards us."(21) She says that she and other women on the faculty were"treated in a patronizing way by older male colleagues, a few of whom assumed that my bottom was free pinching territory."(22) According to Cooper, the overall attitude toward women could be summarized as"generic contempt." Until the Lane incident, she felt such attitudes were primarily those of the older set. Having known Scheiner, she was"amazed at Seth and very disappointed."(23)
Lane, however, says that her gender was irrelevant:"Perhaps my gender made it easier to do, but I don't think that was a major issue, if it was one at all,"(24) though she is quick to point out that her lone defender at the time was a non-tenured female historian, Mary Hartman."Maybe," Lane says,"there is something in the water in the department bathrooms-boys bathrooms, that is."(25)
If her gender was not a factor in the outcome at Rutgers, what was? While Lane readily admits that she herself was at fault, she insists that both personal and political circumstances shaped Rutgers' response."I think my greatest crime was that I had been married to Gene Genovese, though long divorced, and Warren Susman, was a dear friend. Although Warren was not a communist as Gene was, he was a lefty of sorts."(26) Genovese was gone by the time Lane arrived at Rutgers, but remained a powerful symbol of the left and the anti-war movement. In 1965 Richard Nixon called for Genovese's dismissal after the historian stated,"I do not fear or regret the impending Vietcong victory…. I welcome it."(27) Genovese was not fired, but soon resigned after becoming, in his words,"a second class citizen in terms of salary" at Rutgers.
Lane feels that her most ardent critic, Gerald Grob, was motivated by pure politics; she recalls that at one point he screamed at her on the phone,"I am going to drive you out of the profession."(28) Grob insists that he was"never aware" of Lane's politics (though ostensibly he was aware of her marriage to Genovese) and never spoke to Lane personally, on the phone or otherwise, during this period. He observes that"80-90%" of the Rutgers faculty was on the left anyway.(29) Still, after the Lane incident, he became a leader in subsequent plagiarism cases at the university. He felt that"academic freedom confers an obligation to police yourself," and that if you plagiarize you"do not deserve to be in the field."(30)
Confounding expectations, Lane was not driven from the field. Her friends took care of her, leading to the suggestion that she had been protected by friends with similar political sentiments. Sandi Cooper's current husband, John M. Cammett, was Dean of Faculty, and later Provost, at John Jay and readily admits, as does Lane, that the two were friends. According to Lane, Cammett was extremely close to Genovese when both were at Rutgers and she herself remained close to Cammett after her divorce. Cooper claims that Cammett was severely mistreated at Rutgers because of his left-wing politics. Since John Jay was in the process of forming departments, Cammett says that he had"more authority than usual because we weren't yet on the procedural role," though it was"not an exclusive authority." Cammett knew of the accusations and read enough of the texts to convince himself that"it was an egregious error and wrong." Still, he felt he should hire based on capability:"The reason I didn't let that judgment prejudice me was that I knew she was a good scholar and that it was an unmediated error."(31)
The University of Virginia, which currently employs Lane, has one of the most stringent honor codes in the nation. The only penalty for lying or cheating in any form is permanent dismissal. In the 2001-2002 school year, 18 students were found guilty at honor trials, with nearly twice that number leaving school admitting guilt. As at most universities, plagiarism is defined as the act of copying regardless of the motive:"Copying a passage straight from a book into a paper without quoting or explicitly citing the source is blatant plagiarism."(32) Though the honor trials are juried by students, Lane does not support such a harsh policy, calling it"pretty stupid."(33)
Lane says that when the plagiarism allegations against Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin surfaced this past year she informed one of her classes of her own history of copying. At a panel of the Organization of American History this past spring she rallied to the defense of Goodwin, insisting that Goodwin's offenses did not merit public banishment.(34) Yet she attests,"My little situation of a couple of pages in a book that did not make me famous is quite different from the multitudes of publications by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Ambrose and the others."(35)
Lane's explanation, at least her version of it, is well-known among a small group of friends and apparently some of her students. In the larger academic community there have long been rumors that something had happened to her at Rutgers, though few were sure exactly what, as Lane discovered when she interviewed for a position at Colgate in 1983. By the time she applied for her job at Virginia, however, Lane admits she was never asked about the controversy and as a result never told anyone in the administration about it.
Is it better for everyone that the story stay buried? Lane admits she would have preferred that HNN not run this piece. But she said she's old now, in her seventies, and what's past is past. She at least is at peace with what she did even if others are not.
3 Email: Seth Scheiner to Rick Shenkman, May 8, 2002.
4 Interview with Gerald Grob, June 27. 2002.
5 Email: Seth Scheiner to Rick Shenkman, May 8, 2002.
6 Email Peter Stearns to NW, July 15, 2002.
7 Email Ann J. Lane to NW, August 4, 2002.
8 Peter Stearns to NW., July 15, 2002.
9 Emma Lou Thornbrough, Review of"The Brownsville Affair: National Crisis and Black Reaction," Journal of American History (June, 1972).
10 Scheiner, Seth M."President Roosevelt and the Negro, 1901-1908." Journal of Negro History (July, 1962).
11 Ann J. Lane,"The Brownsville Affair" Columbia University dissertation (1968).
12 Emma Lou Thornbrough,"The Brownsville Episode and the Negro Vote," Mississippi Valley Historical Review (December, 1957).
13 Ann J. Lane,"The Brownsville Affair" Columbia University dissertation (1968).
14 Email: Ann Lane to NW, August 4, 2002.
15 Interview with Ann Lane, May 21, 2002.
16 Interview with Gerald Grob, June 27, 2002.
17 Email: Ann Lane to Rick Shenkman, June 19, 2002.
18 Email: Seth Scheiner to Rick Shenkman, May 8, 2002..
19 Interview with Ann Lane, May 21, 2002..
20 Email: Peter Stearns to NW, July 15, 2002.
21 Email: Sandi Cooper to NW, July 2, 2002.
24 Email: Ann Lane to NW, August 4, 2002.
27 Jonathan Wiener,"Radical Historians and the Crisis in American History, 1959-1980," Journal of American History, Vol. 26. No. 2. (Sept. 1989), p. 416.
29 Interview with Gerald Grob, June 27, 2002.
31 Interview with John Cammett, July 11, 2002.
32 University of Virginia Honor Committee website: http://www.student.virginia.edu/~honor/proc/fraud.html
33 Interview with Ann Lane, May 21, 2002.
35 Email: Ann Lane to NW, August 4, 2002.