ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Outing the Copycats

June 16, 2005 by ACTA

It's well known that college students cheat with disturbing regularity--at most schools, about 75% of students admit to it. What's less well known is how often their professors engage in the same behavior. The extent to which plagiarism has taken hold as a sort of unspoken, unspeakable practice among academics is only beginning to be uncovered. In December 2004, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a landmark report on academic plagiarism, exposing four cases of plagiarism that had not been previously discovered, and using those cases to ask pressing questions about what plagiarism actually is, how often it occurs, why and how it occurs, how it should be handled, and by whom.

The newest addition to the decidely shameful pantheon of academic plagiarists is Bryan Le Beau, history professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. In 2003, Le Beau delivered the university's commencement address--and in doing so he lifted a number of passages from a commencement speech delivered a decade ago by Princeton professor and well-known public intellectual, Cornel West. No one noticed the problem at the time, and Le Beau's speech was posted on the university's website, where it remained until the Chronicle of Higher Education linked to it earlier this week in its coverage of Le Beau's plagiarism (the link is now dead, and the page has been removed). Le Beau's plagiarism was only recently discovered when an adjunct law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill ran a Google search in an attempt to locate the origins of a certain passage from Hegel. Her search turned up the two speeches, each of which cite the passage in question, and each of which share a lot more than a single quotation (compare and contrast here). Le Beau has acknowledged his wrongdoing and has apologized, though he also says he's never seen West's speech.

Le Beau has withdrawn his candidacy for the position of executive vice president of academic affairs at De Paul University, where he was one of three people shortlisted for the job. Whether he will keep his deanship--and his professorship--at Missouri remains a question. The university's office of academic affairs is presently "reviewing the issue."

UPDATE 6/17: Turns out that Cornel West wasn't the only person Le Beau plagiarized. There's lots more on the case at Cliopatria. Bryan Le Beau responds to the allegations against him at History News Network.

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