Academic Crises, The Breakdown of our Educational System

From: Ronny Koch ([email protected])

The Academic Creed
in Theory and Practice

Dr. Paul Trout, Professor Emeritus Department of English

Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

Ed. Note: The Foundation is very disturbed about why a man with
apparently very little integrity, is considered a national icon,
and has a holiday named for him. There are a large number of
black men who deserve greater recognition than this man.

The Plagiarism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One notorious plagiarism case--involving, sadly, Martin Luther
King, Jr.--illustrates that some professors not only ignore
plagiarism but excuse it.

In 1991 a panel of scholars at Boston University (BU) ruled that
Dr. King plagiarized parts of his 1952 doctoral dissertation at
BU by "appropriating material from sources not explicitly
credited in notes, or mistakenly credited, or credited generally
and at some distance in the text from a close paraphrase or
verbatim quotation." A careful analysis of King's dissertation
by Theodore Pappas revealed that over sixty percent was copied
from an earlier dissertation. Clayborne Carson, director of the
Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, and professor of history
at Stanford University, found additionally that King's student
essays and published and unpublished addresses and essays all
contain "numerous instances of plagiarism and, more generally,
textual appropriation."

When the charges became public, some professors--both black and
white--rushed to palliate or deny King's wrongdoing. The most
bald-faced effort came from the Acting President of Boston
University (October 1990): "Dr. King's dissertation has, in
fact, been scrupulously examined and reexamined by
scholars...Not a single instance of plagiarism of any sort has
been identified" (in Pappas Plagiarism 68). Taking a similar
tack, the committee of BU academics found "no blatancy" in the
plagiarism despite the fact that King appropriated page after
page from other works.

Others tried to palliate the offense by saying it was the result
of "carelessness" (despite the fact that King had taken a
graduate course in thesis writing). A few, like Keith D. Miller,
an English professor at Arizona State University, notoriously
argued that King merely had drawn on the oral traditions of the
black church in which "voice merging"--the blending of the words
and ideas of those who spoke before--is commonplace.

A somewhat conflicted Professor Carson went further, describing
King's "pattern of unacknowledged appropriation of words and
ideas," which he does label "plagiarism," as a "legitimate
utilization of political, philosophical, and literary texts"
that allowed King "to express his ideas effectively using the
words of others" via a "successful composition method." And
Professor George McLean praised King's plagiarized dissertation
as "a contribution in scholarship for which his doctorate was
richly deserved" (in Pappas "Life and Times" 43). As Theodore
Pappas points out, to say that [King's] doctorate was "richly
deserved" when 66 percent of his dissertation was plagiarized is
"absurd and dishonest" (Ibid.).

But "absurdity" and "dishonesty" now often trump adherence to
the academic creed. When confronted with irrefutable proof of
plagiarism, what did many notable scholars do? In the words of
Jacob Neusner, Distinguished Research Professor of Religious
Studies at the University of South Florida:

They lied, they told half-truths, they made up fables, they did
everything they could but address facts; three enlightened
individuals even threatened [Pappas's] life. In the face of
their own university's rules against plagiarism, Boston
University's academic authorities and professors somehow found
excuses for King's plagiarism.

They found extenuating circumstances, they reworded matters to
make them sound less dreadful, they compromised their own
university's integrity and the rules supposedly enforced to
defend and protect the process of learning and the consequent
degrees. They called into question the very standing of the
university as a place where cheating is penalized and
misrepresentation condemned (in Pappas, I 1).

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