More details on the Matthew Whitaker case from Brian Gratton and from Rick Shenkman. Shenkman even goes to the trouble of interviewing some of the people involved. It’s not pretty.
One of the people involved in this sad, sad story, is Michael Crow, formerly at Columbia and currently president of the
University of Arizona Arizona State University, about whom the university’s official website says, “He is guiding the transformation of ASU into one of the nation’s leading public metropolitan research universities, an institution that combines the highest levels of academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic, and maximum societal impact.”
I think it’s pretty clear that Matthew Whitaker does not represent the highest levels of academic excellence, so this case just represents Crow’s commitment to the values of inclusiveness to a broad demographic and maximum societal impact.
In some way I wouldn’t mind an open commitment to these values, but do they really have to knowingly tell untruths about Whitaker’s unsourced copying? That’s just so ugly. Why can’t they just give him some title such as “non-research communicator” and tell him to stop putting his name on things that other people wrote?
I dunno, I guess it would look bad, and they decided that deny deny deny would be the better way to go. Hey, it worked with Laurence Tribe, right? The difference is, I suppose, that Tribe also has done notable original work, so his copying-without-attribution can be viewed as a bit of sloppiness or laziness or even ethical lapse but not enough to cancel out all his positive contributions. In the case of Whitaker, the positive contributions don’t appear on the record of his published papers but perhaps exist in other forms such has his involvement with the community. I have no idea.
Speaking more broadly, the president of a university is some sort of politician and he has to wheel and deal. You can’t really expect him to evaluate each case on its merits, any more than you can thing that Bill Clinton really believed that fugitive financier Marc Rich deserved to be pardoned etc etc.
Regarding the copying-without-attribution itself, commenter Eliza puts it well:
In almost every instance, the discovery of plagiarism in current work leads to the discovery of plagiarism in earlier work. . . . Plagiarism is not a crime of passion; it’s a way of life. And a lucrative one.
And I agree with this too:
What’s surprising to me is not that he, like most people, got away with it for a while. What’s surprising is that when it was revealed beyond the shadow of a doubt, his university continued to put him in front of undergraduates and the community and — even more inexplicably — his press contracted a new book from him. No foresight was required of them to cut ties, just professional dignity.
At this point I guess we should no longer be surprised at such things. But I think it’s still ok to be disturbed.