Vanderbilt student objections to honoring historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

Historians in the News

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard McCarty maintains his support for Vanderbilt's decision to honor historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in spite of criticism from students.

Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and well-known historian, is the recipient of the 2009 Nichols-Chancellor's Medal and will be the keynote speaker on Senior Class Day. Goodwin was also the center of a plagiarism scandal.

"I have looked into this very carefully and I've spoken to several colleagues about this on our faculty, and I will tell you that I am personally thrilled to have her here," McCarty said.

In 2002, Goodwin was accused of plagiarism in two news articles. Goodwin addressed the accusations in Time Magazine, asserting the errors were unintentional. Although Goodwin provided footnotes for her sources, she attributed her failure to "provide quotation marks for phrases I had taken verbatim" to mislabeling in her notes due to the large-scale nature of her research. She also confessed to having previously reached a "private settlement" with an author of one of her sources.

Senior Meghana Bhatta, an investigative member of the honor council, said Goodwin provided a "feeble excuse that would not even stand up in a high school classroom, much less in the world of academia."

"Vanderbilt is sending a flawed and hypocritical message to its students and to other institutions by hosting an admitted plagiarist," Bhatta said. "I hope that the administration realizes that we risk losing credibility in the eyes of the public by demonstrating support for a woman who does not stand for the ideals of our school."

The allegations resulted in her resignation from several positions, but she still retained the support of many scholars and readers.

"I think she has answered those accusations and she gave ample credit to a source that she used," McCarty said. "She worked out an arrangement with that author, but she in no way attempted to present that work as her own."
Read entire article at Inside Vandy

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vaughn davis bornet - 4/8/2009

In my book on the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson I had several objections to the Kearns use of informal interview material from the ex-president at the Ranch. It wasn't all that important, really. I read closely the charges against her work at the time they were current and saw little or nothing that was capable of smearing her reputation for hard work and creative scholarship.

Some undergraduates in my lifetime have postulated "perfection" as the proper state of one's scholarly endeavors.

That, I can tell you, is a hell of a goal for one's self, and a most unfair objective to inflict on others.

When YOU have put in three or maybe even seven full years on some heavy piece of scholarship, well, then is the time to say, "Is it perfect?"

Of COURSE Dr. Goodwin should be honored at Vanderbilt, and of course she shoould share what she has learned from a lifetime spent with the Great and in efforts to change historical perspectives. Calm down, young folks! Your time to achieve perfection will come all too soon....

Vaughn Davis Bornet, Emory '39,'40"G, U. Ga. 1940-41, Stanford Ph.D. 1951. From Ashland, Oregon