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Jun 14, 2005 6:22 pm

Another Case of Plagiarism ...

The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber only) has reported a charge of plagiarism against Bryan Le Beau. Sally Greene, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina's law school, made the discovery via a simple Google search and comments on her finding. Her colleague at the law school, Eric Muller, reports and comments on it at Is That Legal? and Eugene Volokh reports it at The Volokh Conspiracy.

The accusation is that Le Beau's Commencement Address at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, in December 2003 substantially plagiarized from Cornel West's Commencement Address at Wesleyan University on 30 May 1993. Greene and the Chronicle of Higher Education identify parallel passages that leave little doubt but that substantial plagiarism did take place. There is tell-tale evidence, as well, in the misspelling of the name of Toni Morrison, the novelist, in both texts. In comparing the two texts, Greene argues that

To study the texts side by side is a fascinating exercise. What's remarkable is not just the sameness: there's a remarkable difference as well. West's speech comes from a position of authority as a black American intellectual. This is a position LeBeau, who is white, cannot claim, nor does he attempt to. Rather, he drains the color out of West's speech so that, in the end, it is not so much an appropriation--though it is that--as a misappropriation, a watering down and a flattening out of a message that had its own particular power and edge.
Le Beau acknowledges the similarities between the two texts, but denies ever having seen a copy of West's speech. He rightly claims that the standards for public speech are not the same as in scholarly research. On the other hand, Peter Charles Hoffer argues that Le Beau did commit plagiarism in the net's text of his address and finds it inexcusable that his published address did not indent or include West's texts within quotation marks

I report a story like this with considerable sadness. I don't know Le Beau well, but he is a historian of considerable accomplishment. He is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a member of its History Department. He is the author of a dozen books about the American religious experience, most recently The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair. We both serve on the Steering Committee of History News Service. He is perhaps best known among historians as the host of Talking History, a weekly radio production, which is jointly sponsored by the Organization of American Historians and the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History.
Update: Margaret Soltan at University Diaries does love a case of plagiarism. This time, she's got one by a Republican congressman and another by a Florida high school principal, who plagiarized her commencement remarks two years in a row and got caught at it both times.
Further Update: History News Network asked Bryan Le Beau for a response to the allegations of plagiarism in his Commencement Address. You can read his response here.

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