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May 30, 2004 4:10 am

Here's a Gem ...

Michael Gunn, a twenty-one year old student at the University of Kent at Canterbury, is suing his institution for catching his internet plagiarism after three years of it, then expelling him, and leaving him deeply in debt. Gunn doesn't deny the plagiarism. He says:
I can see there is evidence that I broke the rules. But they've taken all my money for three years and pulled me up the day before I finished. If they had pulled me up with my first essay at the beginning and warned me of the problems and consequences, it would be fair enough. But all my essays were handed back with good marks
Says Gunn's father:
The university emailed him the day before he took his final exam, telling him he wasn't going to get a degree.
They advised him not to take his final exam because there was no point. But he did anyway. He was so distraught we were worried that he was going to kill himself.
Of course he knew what he was doing. One of his tutors told him everybody did it and that he was just the tip of the iceberg.
They must have known what was going on but they were happy to take his fees all that time. Now he has been put in an impossible position. Ask yourself who is going to employ him now that this has come out.
Read the whole story from the Evening Standard's website for more details, but having directed and done some of the research on Martin Luther King's dissertation and over three dozen of his academic papers, I'd have to say that Gunn and his father have a point. Ultimately, the responsibility is the student's, but it doesn't reflect well on his teachers if at the end of a long period of study the student doesn't understand that quite thoroughly. And how well does it reflect on an institution if it happily receives a student's money and only enforces its rules at the very last minute?

And just so you know that I've dotted my own eyes and crossed my own tees or crossed my own eyes and dotted my own tees, a tip of the hat to Do Thy Research, who got the story from the Cranky Professor, who says he got it from I can't find it there, but you'll find the story at the Evening Standard's website.

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Ralph E. Luker - 11/2/2008

The problem, of course, is that the plagiarizing student had been allowed to remain enrolled up to the point of graduation, without any warning notice that he was in violation of protocols against plagiarism. For years, the school had taken his money and didn't enforce its code until he was about to graduate.

Sterling Fluharty - 11/1/2008

Was the prohibition of plagiarism printed in the student code at the University of Kent? If so, this sounds like an open and shut case.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/4/2004

Yes, I'd concede it. I'd also concede that the Jefferson-hemings story is ten times more historically significant. I do not know how else to convey it -- MLK's indiscretions have nothing to do with the reasons for his fame -- he did not go on to becopme a renowned academic, but rather a civil rights leader. Jefferson, however, is accused of a far greater transgression (possibly even rape) with far greater implications for his life as a family man, and so forth. I think Jefferson's failures But I think that story was less a news story than a historical question that became newsworthy. And in any case, you raise the Jefferson question as if there is some sort of parallel here, and I am not certain what that parallel is, except the equivalent of when a child says "but she did it too." I think it's safe to say that an argument a parent would not accept from a child does not hold a whole hell of a lot of water under circumstances that should be slightly more, how shall we say, rigorous.
Lexis-Nexis does not have news broadcasts, though it has about everything else, and in any case, as I've said, with a half hour a night (22 minutes after commercials) I am not certain the King story should have been on the broadcasts -- but it was on the cable news shows.
Also, I'd be curious when you think this story broke -- it seems to reappear every few years or so, and for some inexplicable reason, every time it does, people are shocked as if this is the first time this has happened. It happened in 89-91, in the mid-90s, and around 2000. I am waiting for the same breathless outrage in 2005.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/4/2004


Will you accept that the Jefferson/Hemings story makes roughly ten times the number of appearances in major broadcast news as the MLK story -- and thats just counting the J/H stories from 1998 on? And do you accept that the evidence for Jefferson's paternity is much more equivocal than that for MLK's plagiarism? And given your reference to 50 years past in the MLK "follies", doesn't the passage of nearly 200 years make the Jefferson/Hemings story even less relevant?

In discussing ideology, I think you're right to bring up statistics and generalizations rather than categoricals (as the Globe is a counterexample). After all, I grant that Fox has a conservative bias, yet they broke the Bush DUI story as far as major news broadcasts go. So I'm left to ask: what are the ratio of Jefferson/Hemings stories on Lexis-Nexis to those of MLK's imaginative use of sources? Just wondering. I have a friend with Lexis-Nexis, but it might take a day or two to get the figures from him. I'm still lookng for any evidence that a major news broadcast or even major news source sat on the Jefferson/Hemings story, even given the equivocal nature of the evidence. Maybe you can help me out there.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/4/2004

I don't have Lexis-Nexis. And I accept your point on the Boston Globe. Will you accept my point that the Times, Wapo, and the New Republic had the story and did not run it until (apparently) the Globe and the WSJ ran it? BTW, my ignorance of Lexis/Nexis is so profound that I must ask, do they catalog major news broadcasts, or just the written word? I suspect the first part of that disjunction.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/4/2004

Richard --
I suppose it won't muddle your clear world of ideology to note that the Boston Globe broke the King story before the Wall Street Journal did. So much for any implications of ideological slant on coverage. Also, you might want to do a Lexis-Nexis search on the King plagiarism story, because the numbers I am coming up with and the variety of papers indicates to me that your claims of the WSJ, your claims of copycatting, and your claims of how widespread this was (or as you imply, was not) is simply nonsense.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/4/2004

In an obvious case of a single typo chanfing entirely my meaning, I meant "may not actually have been newsworthy" not "May now . . .".

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/4/2004

Ralph, I think you misunderstand me. I never said that newspapers didn't run the story. I said that the Times, WaPo, and the New Republic spiked the story until the WSJ ran it, at which point they ran it (and prominently, too, I'm assured by you and Derek).

I searched the Vanderbilt News Archive and found only one major news broadcast of the MLK story. The archive seems to catalog only major broadcast news, not cable operations, and not "news programs" like 20/20 (with the exception of Nightline).

Then I searched for Jefferson and Hemings (separately) and I came up with about a dozen stories since 1998 on the supposed Jefferson/Hemings affair (one without mentioning her by name). Taking Derek's criteria and applying them, and given the fact that the evidence is a lot more iffy than MLK's, that just shouldn't be, should it? Where the major media were reluctant to report the MLK story, they fairly lept on the Jefferson/Hemings story, despite the paucity of evidence.

I haven't argued for more play of the MLK story any more than I argued that Alterman be held to a higher standard than Miller. I just note the reluctance to apply a common standard. How should one go about explaining that reluctance? You tell me.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/4/2004

Richard, You're just beatin' your ideology to death here. A) You're wrong about the networks. I was interviewed by all three of them and by the newspapers you claim didn't cover the story. They ran the story; they just didn't break the story. B) What do you want? A major "P" stamped on his forehead on all MLK pictures? You're beating a dead horse here.
You and the Bush administration need a major Sarin gas find in Iraq. You haven't found it yet.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/4/2004

That's possible. But that doesn't explain the large play the Jefferson story got, then does it? Also, the fact that it had been spiked by the NY Times, the WaPo, and the New Republic, and then ran frontpage in the Times and the WaPo once the WSJ ran it, suggests that something other than a crowded news broadcast might have been at work. Let's do a little tiptoe through the archives and see what beat out the MLK story.

On CBS it was beaten out by a story from Oshkosh (Bygosh!!) of a guilty verdict in a rape trial where the accused had claimed multiple personality disorder. There's a real significant piece of national news.

On NBC, it was beaten out by a commentary from noted social philosopher Tom Brokaw, to the effect that America was becoming too fragmented by selfish pursuits to effectively address the common welfare. Diamond-hard news there.

I think we're still getting the news, massaged into an inch of its life, that the elite media culture thinks is good for us -- I call it "vegetable news". I note that when Iraqis exploded a sarin shell on the roadside near Baghdad, Dan Rather helpfully explained that we don't know whether the shell came from Iraq or not. Of course, that's the same Dan Rather that said that most journalists don't even know what party they belong too.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/4/2004

Richard, You or your source of information have confused Crozer with Boston University in the account above. MLK didn't take a "course in plagriarism" -- he took a pre-dissertation course which covered groundrules. If you think that one student's paper or, even, dissertation will necessarily stay in your mind three years later, you haven't read many student papers or dissertations. Most are, for the sake of mental health, quite forgettable.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/4/2004

I'd also posit that maybe an event that had happened more than 50 years earlier and had no actual effect on why MLK was a great figure may well now actually have been news worthy of the half hour that the major networks allot themselves.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/2/2004

Touche, on the major news story. I wasn't taking the NY Times or the WaPo at the time, so I'm not up on that. As for TV, only ABC covered it. Not CNN. Not NBC. Not CBS. I checked the Vanderbilt Television News Archive.

As the record makes clear, and as Ralph as much as admits, other major media had the story and sat on it until the Wall Street Journal broke the self-imposed major media gag. The NY Times, the WaPo, and the New Republic had buried it deeper than a week-old tick.

Give MLK credit where due. He got the major ethical challenges right. That counts for more than others who led otherwise scrupulously upstanding lives, but failed the biggest test of the era.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/2/2004

I find it most interesting that Cathal Copeland does not address what seems to me the most damning of Ralph's points -- that the articles to which Copeland refers relies on work thet Raph and the folks at the MLK papers project did, that they have taken a tiny bit of that work and then Copeland pretends to be able to appropriate an expertise based on a bastardized reading of that work. very bizarre misuse of evidence inbdeed -- and here, folks, is irony. Not bad irony, or misunderstood irony, or misinterpreted irony -- and if Raph and David Salmonson did not get Copeland's "towelhead" attempt, I'll suffice it to say that it was poorly conceived -- but actual irony inasmuch as Copeland is misusing evidence to damn King for misusing evidence.
And yet in the end, another salient point might just be that King is a great (but flawed, people, we know this!) figure because of work he did aside from his scholarship. His work as a civil rights leader ended up having very little to do with the sort of thing that those of us who end up with careers that take us to archives regularly. In the end, what precisely is the point -- that King is not perfect? This is old news. Civil rights historians have known this for decades -- his failings were old news to ing observers and scholars by the time of Abernathy's book in the early 90s, never mind now, a decade-plus later. So for those citing undergraduate papers as a source of enlightenment about King (and if you are claiming it was not in the major news sources you simply were not paying attention) what, precisely is the point? Is the Montgomery Bus Boycott somehow reduced? Is anything else he did from 1955 to 1968 somehow invalidated? Or is this poorly managed character assassination by people who think they are introducing something new, an ignorance that makes all of this even more laughable? At least when old wine comes in new skins, you get a new skin. This is old wine in an old skin, and as such, not worth a whole lot.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/1/2004

Do you find these kinds of conversations helpful in overcoming your condition?

Cathal Copeland - 6/1/2004

Look, you misspell Bertrand Russell and your 'fellow historian' David Salmanson misspells 'Sikhs' twice as 'Sihks'. Hope he's not writing THEIR history.

No wonder that when it comes to irony you're totally out your depth.

Next time I use the word 'towelhead' I'll put [sarcasm on' before it and [sarcasm off] after it.

By the way, you forgot to refer to the likes of CC 'and his ilk'.

Next time, please don't forget my ilk!

Oh what a mean bastard I am - already I feel burdened with guilt about a mean attack on a couple of typos...

Ralph E. Luker - 6/1/2004

Your effort at irony over at B & W certainly wasn't understood as that by my fellow historian, David Salmanson, so if that was your intention, you utterly failed with both of us. Your contextual defense of female circumcision doesn't persuade me that you've cleared your skirts of bigotry. And, no, there are many opinions I don't hold which aren't, by reason of that fact, "bigotry."

Cathal Copeland - 6/1/2004

You are a calumniator to boot: it is perfectly clear from the context that I was using the term 'towelheads' ironically, while defending certain ethnic groups against ill-considered accusations of savagery and barbarianism.

By 'bigotry', I presume you mean the beliefs or convictions of anybody who disagrees with you.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/1/2004

CC: I see you are talking about "towelheads" over on B & W this morning. Why not stay over there? Your contributions here have been "nada".

Cathal Copeland - 6/1/2004

Ralph Luker writes:

"The Ted Pappas book to which Copeland refers sits nearby on my bookshelf. It is the product of another rightwing venue, the Rockford Institute."

Where does he expect critical data on MLK to come from? The US Communist Party? The MLK Admiration Society? I took the data from where I found it.

Ralph Luker concludes that B&W should "dis-associate themselves post-haste from this half-baked, right-wing, second-hand smear by innuendo of scholarly reputation".

Whose scholarly reputation did I smear? I didn't smear Luker's, though I have doubts about his intellectually honesty. I didn't smear MLK's, since he has none anyhow. And there is absolutely know 'innuendo' or nudge-nudge in my posting. I said straight out what I think: that MLK is a fraud.

Or, in PowerPoint:

Slide 1:

Martin Luther King's Papers

- minus the stuff he plagiarised
- minus the ghostwritten stuff

- equals nada.

Slide 2:

Cry me a river.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/1/2004

Ralph, you're the expert, so I'll have to defer to you (mostly). Two points, though.

ABC News was the only network to carry the story. I can't find, via the internet, the pages of the NY Times and WaPo stories, but it was definitely buried in the paper I read. I doubt if MLK would have been convicted in the popular media of fathering an out-of-wedlock child with a white woman, based on the quality of evidence adduced against Jefferson. Only two lines of descent from Hemings survived, and the one with the strongest oral tradition turned out not to have the Jefferson family gene. All of Hemings' children were born between the death of Randolph's (TJ's younger brother) wife, and his second marriage, and he had a rep for enjoying the company of slaves. Yet Randolph was airbrushed from accounts by Gordon-Reed (he doesn't even appear in the family tree she provided) and Joseph Ellis. In fact Ellis went so far as to say, in Nature, the case is closed -- right before his co-researcher wrote Nature and repudiated the claim, and Nature retracted the letter by Ellis. Of course, Ellis has his own problems ... I don't even like Jefferson, nor admire him all that much, but fair is only fair -- until racial politics intrudes, apparently.

One of my fellow faculty members had a master's from Crozer, and said it was well-known as an easy touch. I take his judgment seriously enough because he's the only guy I met who, when I told him I had been baptized United Brethren, asked which one, the better known or the Moravian church. You are a very understanding guy, Ralph. I, on the other hand, can't understand how one could (given the level of plagiarism) not remember a dissertation FROM ONLY THREE YEARS PRIOR. In fact, one website (admittedly a conservative one) says that King had a course on plagiarism, etc., at Crozer, and that one professor even warned King that his dissertation was a case of plagiarism. Now if that is true, that certainly puts a different spin on things, as it suggests that at least one professor wasn't going to call him out, even though he had knowledge of it. That said, this is all of rather hair-splitting significance in the larger scheme of things.

I compare the Crozer approach with Rice. Rice has a program for admitting bright but underprepared minorities to their engineering program. Part of admission is a mandatory summer in attendance (pre-freshman) at Rice and completion of an intense course in enrichment. The result is that minorities in the engineering program outperform non-minorities. You can guess which approach I endorse.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/1/2004

I can tell you from experience that some major media were, indeed, afraid of the story because they didn't know how to process it. When the story broke, however, it was front page in most major papers that reported it. It was very hot news for a day or two and then some other story broke (I can't recall what it was) and King's plagiarism was suddenly old news. Still, the _Journal of American History_ devoted nearly half an issue to a symposium on the subject thereafter.
The story about BU is more complicated than you think. BU was admitting more graduate students in religion and theology than it ought to have been; its faculty in those fields had too many students to properly supervise; and it had a reputation for being more receptive to African American students, some of whom had inadequate preparation for graduate work, than some other places. I can well imagine, under those circumstances, a dissertation director not recognizing work with which one would think he would have been familiar. It was a huge embarrassment to him when we talked with him about it. It was a delicate business because we had no intention of embarrassing anyone. In fact, one of my own teachers had been one of King's teachers. For all of those who taught him, having been his teacher was one of their major, if not their single, claim(s) to fame. A bit of a downer all around. Saying that, however, in no way gives any reason whatsoever to credit CC's sophomoric innuendo.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/1/2004

Fair enough criticism, Derek. I was motivated more by the comment "a little ethics work". It's been my experience that almost without exception plagiarism is either knowingly done, or unknowingly done despite the warnings. In the latter category, I would put John Gardner. Poets and writers have great ears, and what goes in the ear, can eventually come out without bearing a tag of provenance.

Richard Henry Morgan - 6/1/2004

Well put, Ralph. It's more properly an embarassment for those who believe that only the spotless can accomplish great things -- or those who feel compelled to airbrush them in order to celebrate their accomplishments. All of us are fallen -- oops, a religious view creeping in. And I did not give enough credit (I apologize) for your reference to MLK's follies, if such is how one might characterize them.

That said, I would call it more of an embarrassment to ideologists in major media, who rather effectively buried the story somewhere around A23 below the fold (I'm speaking metaphorically here) precisely because they wished to give no ammunition to racists. I would simply add that it seems to me that BU actively participated in the "follies" as part of its drive for "social justice" -- how else does one explain the fact that the person in question cadged from a dissertation written under the very same dissertation director? I see how the status quo cuts breaks for the well-connected, whatever the color of skin. If I were to take a poll, which would you guess was better known: that Jefferson is accused of fathering children with Dusky Sally (as one pen put it), or that MLK plagiarized his way through college all the way up to and through his dissertation? You tell me who has the racial lens.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/1/2004

I'll take credit for all of the above, if you wish, Richard, though I'd hesitate about calling #3 a "side-step". If you believe that the fact that Benjamin Franklin was a farting womanizer, or the fact that George Washington was a slaveholder, or that Thomas Jefferson may have had an affair or, even, raped a slavewoman he owned, or that the fact that Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation emancipated no one -- if you believe that any or all of those facts tends to discredit or "incredibly embarrasses" the whole American experiment in democracy -- then, of course, you may be right. But otherwise I don't see how MLK's having been a plagiarist as a student is "an incredibly embarrassing episode in the history of Civil Rights." Does it only become that because you've read the evidence for plagiarism through a racial lense?

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/31/2004

Was that a comment on appropriating research done by the MLK papers project, a condemnation of the source, a neat sidestep of what must be an incredibly embarrassing episode in the history of Civil Rights, or a perfectly reasonable defense by Ralph against charges recklessly thrown at him? I mean "or" in the inclusive sense from mathematical logic.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/31/2004

A few acquaintances of mine, while at an Ivy League school, were caught on the wrong side of the line, and were made to sweat. Period. I'm not sure whether they learned a lesson or not -- or perhaps the wrong lesson. It would make for a facinating longitudinal study.

I also remember a classmate of mine who represented a guy before the Honor Council. The guy had used a constant expressed to greater precision than the take-home test supplied!! My buddy tracked down a text with the more precise constant, and got the guy off (my buddy admitted his client was guilty as sin). My friend certainly profited from the experience -- he's now a crackerjack lawyer with his own law firm.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/31/2004

First, welcome to Cliopatria to Cathal Copeland, who is a regular over at Butterflies and Wheels.
But I am surprised that CC is not more discriminating in the sources to which we are referred. is a paleo-conservative site, which publishes such neo-confederates as Paul Craig Roberts. A distinguished conservative like Eugene Volokh carries on the continuing exposure of Roberts as a racist. As for the article Copeland refers us to there, it is by a William & Mary undergraduate, whose breathless exposure of Dr. King's follies is hardly the last word in scholarship.
The Ted Pappas book to which Copeland refers sits nearby on my bookshelf. It is the product of another rightwing venue, the Rockford Institute. Odd somehow that such rightwing sources have such credibility with a regular over at B & W.
But what is Copeland's point? The Martin Luther King Papers Project did all of the research on the basis of which Pappas published his "expose". So Pappas should become an authoritative source for attacking those of us who did the work for him and for the world to know what was true?
I suspect that even the proprietors over at B & W would want to dis-associate themselves post-haste from this half-baked, right-wing, second-hand smear by innuendo of scholarly reputations.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2004

Ralph is entirely capable of defending himself (and King), but I'll just address the obvious imbalance in your argument: When Michael Gunn creates massive positive social change, he'll get a day (do the British do that honorary Day thing, anyway?), whether or not he got kicked out of Kent.

Cathal Copeland - 5/31/2004

What about a 'Michael Gunn Day' for the UK? After all, the 20th century's greatest American plagiarist got his 'Martin Luther King Day' in the United States. Clearly, in Ralph Luker's eyes, plagiarism is at worst a venial sin.

For more on the intellectually fraudulent MLK, see here:

and here:

Ralph E. Luker - 5/31/2004

I had a similar experience with a student on his senior project. Poor kid was a salt of the earth kinda guy, already admitted to law school. It was clearly a bad case of taking notes verbatim from a book, without quotation marks around them, and them simply copying them into his paper, again without quotation marks. He was given sweat time, required to rewrite, and graduated.

Derek Charles Catsam - 5/31/2004

I have to sa, while the implication of some of these comments seems to be that universities and colleges coddle and hand-hold cheaters, I've never been anywhere, as a student or teacher, where cheating was not a serious breach that resulted in stern consequences. I think this idea of the soft academy may well be a straw man in th culture wars. When Professors are given their own choice of consequences, they sometimes don't go for the jugular. i once had a student in a summer course, a senior set to graduate, blatanly plagiarize, I chose not to get him expelled or suspended. Instead, I made him sweat. seriously sweat. Then I made him rewrite his final paper in 24 hours. I had full support of my department chair to hammer this guy if I wanted, to get him thrown out of school. I was a PhD student, finishing the diss. in DC and back for a summer of teaching. I admit, the hassle of dealing with this came into my decision, but i bet the lesson this kid learned in that week was as valuable as what hed have learned if i had gotten him booted.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/30/2004

Expulsion is till the standard at the service academies, at UVa, Vanderbilt, Davidson, and Sewanee. There appear to be some schools, particularly in the South, where ethics violations don't call for therapy.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2004

is that a Brit beat us to it. On the other hand, they expel students, and I don't think most of us Yanks do that for mere academic malfeasance anymore. A suspension, sure, some probation, maybe a little ethics work and a nasty mark on the transcript if you're lucky. But expulsion?

As far as the timing question goes, I think the university has a credible case for techno-lag: in other words, it usually takes some time before the faculty catch on to the new forms of cheating. If they knew about it a year or two ago, and didn't do anything, he's got a case. If they discovered it and promptly expelled him, he's out his 11K. That's assuming a rational legal system with roughly evenly matched lawyers.

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