Doris Kearns Goodwin Should Resign as a Harvard Overseer


It seems that well-known historian and Harvard University Overseer Doris Kearns Goodwin consulted many sources while writing her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, but regrettably, one resource she did not consult was the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Handbook for Students. If she had, she would have been reminded that, “Students should always take great care to distinguish their own ideas and knowledge from information derived from sources…Whenever ideas or facts are derived from a student’s reading and research or from a student’s own writings, the sources must be indicated…Students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action, and ordinarily required to withdraw from the College.”

Goodwin’s plagiarism of sentences, nearly verbatim, from source materials is inexcusable. As an Overseer, Goodwin is a leader of an academic community, the foundation of which is integrity in independent scholarship. As a leader, she should recognize that her action is unbecoming an Overseer and resign her post immediately, sending the clear message to the campus that she understands the gravity of the offense she has committed.

If this were one accidental case of incorrect citation, the situation may warrant a different response. But as Goodwin herself has recognized, the unattributed use of sources goes far beyond borrowing isolated phrases from Lynne McTaggart’s Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times, as Goodwin originally claimed, but rather involved many more uncited works.

Even though the plagiarism was apparently unintentional, Goodwin’s gross negligence—losing primary works, not checking citations before publication—constitutes the lack of respect and appreciation of others’ work that cannot be condoned by anyone who purports to be a model for the Harvard community.

For students who have committed plagiarism, as Associate Director of Expository Writing Gordon C. Harvey points out in Writing With Sources, “any letter of recommendation written for you on behalf of Harvard College—including letters to graduate schools, law schools, and medical schools—will report that you were required to withdraw for academic dishonesty.” With this policy, it is clear that the College does not think that students who have committed plagiarism should be able to proceed, unaffected, with their career goals. Why then, should an adult who is more experienced, much less a professional historian, continue in her position in the University without consequence?

Goodwin has a long road ahead of her before she restores her credibility as an historian or journalist—the NewsHour, where she was a contributor, has already announced that she will be taking a leave from the show without promise of return. The first step should be resigning from the University’s oldest governing board, thereby respecting the reputation that it and each of its 29 other members have worked hard to establish.

© Copyright Harvard Crimson. This editorial is reprinted with permission.

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Thomas C Quinn - 2/6/2007

In discussing Ms. Goodwin, the Crimson alludes to Harvard's policy regarding plagiarism which is described as academic dishonesty. Clearly negligence, even gross negligence,-assuming Ms. Goodwin's conduct rose to that extreme level-does not constitute dishonesty which implicates intentional fraudulent conduct.

Andrew Ward - 3/13/2002

As a writer of popular or at least non-academic historical works (the unpopular OUR BONES ARE SCATTERED and the somehwat more popular DARK MIDNIGHT WHEN I RISE: THE STORY OF THE FISK JUBILEE SINGERS) the examples of Ambrose and Goodwin give me the willies. My modus operandi during the research phase is to transcribe on my computer vast amounts of primary material which I then organize by subject and chronology. Along the way I am often inspired to tag a sentence or two of my own to the end of a note. I take great pains to identify such addenda with my intitials, and to make sure that I always use quotes around direct quotations from other peoples' work. But I have this recurring nightmare that I may slip up somewhere and later -- sometimes years later -- when I'm actually writing my book, I'll mistake someone else's language for my own. Quotes, paraphrases and segues are the beads with which historians string together their stories. So it seems to me inevitable that historians who work too fast, or delegate too much to their researchers, or spread themselves too thin with what should be secondary roles as pundits and spokespersons, will make these kinds of errors. Writing history is a fulltime job.