Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Actually, he's out

As of December 2, the faculty page of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas offers this dignified notice: "Dr. Mustapha Marrouchi is no longer a member of the faculty at UNLV’s Department of English."  Plagiarizing from over 160 sources, in works ranging from his dissertation to recent articles, is, it seems, a bit too much. Was it the 134th theft that was the tipping point?  By that 150th stolen paragraph, the university decided that enough was enough? (Although 1 person voted not to fire him, fearing, apparently, a rush to judgment.)  But the Cabinet should not snark. Slow as it was, UNLV, unlike ASU, did in the end act.  This long saga was primarily a failure of a scholarly community, not of a bureaucracy.  Or is there not a difference?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Yes, it is still possible to be shocked

Matthew C. Whitaker's plagiarism-riddled Peace Be Still has long since been discredited.  The book's publisher, the University of Nebraska Press, announced this:

"The University of Nebraska Press is in the process of incorporating revisions to Peace Be Still proposed by its author, Matthew Whitaker.  These changes will address the issues of paraphrasing and attribution that have come to light since the book's publication.  Nebraska currently has no inventory for this title, and future printings will reflect the author's revisions."

As a result, the paperback edition on Amazon shows this: Temporarily out of stock. 
Order now and we'll deliver when available.

Yet Professor Whitaker believes there is still money to be made from the repudiated edition, either to enrich himself, or to add to the corporate money flowing through his Center.  He just has to avoid the usual publishing and academic channels.  So this morning, he is selling the theoretically unavailable paperback of his book At a church. At a higher price than Amazon was.  Here is the astonishing announcement, which was removed from his ASU Center's Facebook immediately after the event took place:

Edit:  Wow, cool!  The image -- Professor Whitaker, his book, praise for self, date and time of sale -- was visible on the Cabinet's page for some time, despite having been wiped from Professor Whitaker and his Center's Facebook and twitter feeds.  But, now it's gone.  Trust us: it was spectacular.
Anyhow, the book, it appears, is good enough to be sold to members of the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, but not to anyone else. Perhaps that's unfair.  Professor Whitaker is teaching in spring.  Who doesn't think he will order his students to purchase Peace Be Still  from his well-stocked larder?

University of Nebraska Press has enabled this situation by declaring the book flawed and out of stock, but declining to recall it. ASU has enabled this situation by continuing to credential the professor.  Will they as well as Professor Whitaker share in the spoils of today's sale?  Will they benefit when Professor Whitaker assigns the book in his spring class, as he surely will?  Or is there somewhere a limit?  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Godot Walks Into a Bar.....

It's been a startling week in the land of stolen words.  An interloper has burst snarling into the peaceful grounds, a rough beast named "Consequences."  Talk about an unexpected guest.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Whistle-Blowing for Godot

The Cabinet now lends two shelves to a traveling exhibitor.  Having been about to take down our sign and turn out the lights, we answered his knock reluctantly.    "Matthew C. Whitaker....plagiarism...." he said, pulling at his boot.  Enough, we thought: "Nothing to be done."  "I'm beginning to  come round to that opinion," the traveler said.  "All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying....be reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything.  And I resumed the struggle.  So there you are again."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Three Strikes, and You're Just Getting Started

Can't anybody here play this game?  This week comes word that yet another humanities professor, in this instance Mustapha Marrouchi of UNLV, has pieced together his writings from the patches of other scholars.  The Chronicle of Higher Education tells the tale, its side-by-side reprintings of original and stolen passages the now familiar tombstones of our scholarly hopes and dreams.  Like Matthew Whitaker at Arizona State University, Mustapha Marrouchi is the well-paid possessor of a named professorship.   Like Matthew Whitaker, he seems to have spent a career writing with others' books and articles open on his desk, their research and analysis to be appropriated as needed. It's all quite deplorable.   But what about the rest of us?  The Cabinet is struck by an unwelcome thought:  do these professors get away with not actually writing, because the rest of us are not actually reading? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Casino Mens Rea

Does plagiarism require intent?  When we start with the text, the answer is no.  A plagiarized text does not require intent any more than a rose must wish to be red. Yet when plagiarism is alleged, we inevitably move quickly from text to scholar. Just as inevitably, the question of intent arises, and an imagined continuum begins to haunt the conversation.  On the one side stands a stone cold scholaro-path, ruthlessly stealing others' work, reaping the rewards for it, and using the time saved on original writing to pillage the environment or erode faculty governance.  We are happy to cry vengeance at such a villain. But rarely does one emerge. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continuum stands someone who in a lifetime of true scholarship, inadvertently left a single sentence uncited because he took sloppy notes.  That sentence lurks like a timebomb in the scholar's work, waiting to be set off by a vengeful colleague or political opponent.  None of us wishes this second scholar to be destroyed and most of us, in our 3 a.m. wakings, can imagine this second scholar to be us. And so, through kindness and self-doubt, we let the discussion of intent dominate our discussions of plagiarism.  But is it really the case that focusing on intent protects scholars, let alone scholarship?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sourcing in America

In today's installment of plagiarism follies, Craig Shirley, author of Reagan's Revolution (2005) accuses Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge (2014), of taking unattributed passages, facts, and ideas from his work. Because these are books people might actually read, there is more involved than simply scholarly high dudgeon: Shirley's lawyers demanded Simon & Schuster withdraw The Invisible Bridge from publication and pay $25 million in damages.  Simon & Schuster has responded that there is no viable copyright claim against them, and many of those who admire Perlstein's work have heatedly defended the book, suggesting that the claims are motivated by personal jealousy and resentment of Perlstein's progressive politics. The Cabinet, having arisen from its swoon at the thought of any book being worth $25 million, and having shaken off the malaise caused by realizing almost all of the discussions of the allegations fall along partisan lines, finds interesting issues in the discussions of sourcing and paraphrasing. Strangely, none of them can be resolved by knowing how either author votes. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Soldiers

Is it the summer of plagiarism?  Slavoj Žižek, Senator John Walsh, Matthew C. Whitaker -- all have made news for their failure to make new.  Yet if it's the summer of plagiarism, it is also the summer of "plagiarism doesn't matter." Professors Žižek and Whitaker continue with their university positions; Senator Walsh, the Cabinet is told, will go on to lose an election he would have lost anyway. The Cabinet's blog software reveals the search terms people use to arrive at its doors. A few days ago, some poor soul searched this phrase:  "Cabinet consequences of plagiarism."  We saw it, and wept our wooden tears.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Questions from our Readers

Surprisingly, we have them.  Readers, we mean.  In its heart, the Cabinet suspects some of their questions are rhetorical, such as the ones that begin with the phrase, "What the...."  But we are going to take a moment to answer some of them to the best of our ability, anyway.  Judging from the startling number of visitors to the Cabinet, there is a fascination to the spectacle of a professor, a university press, and a university turning lead into gold -- or at least turning a grotesquely derivative text into a work of true scholarship -- through the sheer power of insistence.  Sure, they are invoking personal authority over empirical evidence, and sure they are chipping away at the fragile edifice of humanities scholarship every day they persist.  But they are saving themselves from having to admit error, and isn't that what academic scholarship is all about?
But enough of the Cabinet's questions. On to the readers'!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Occam's Razor

The Cabinet continues to receive the occasional donation for its shelves relating to Professor Matthew Whitaker.  These are flung over our transom by people who seem to feel themselves in great jeopardy should their contributions become known.  The academic cloak and dagger initially seemed slightly overwrought.  The Cabinet, although understanding the need for anonymity, was built in a style of wry detachment and cannot easily change its grain.  But it must be admitted that these documents  suggest that the consequences of objecting to misconduct are greater than the consequences of misconduct.  All of the documents are technically public, although one is public not in the conventional sense of, "This Document Is Readily Accessible," but more in the sense of, "This Document Must Be Officially Public, So the University Cannot Actually Burn It and Make an Intern Eat the Ashes, which Frankly Is What the University Would Like to Do.  So it Will Instead Tuck it Away and Make Its Best Threatening Noises at Anyone Who Requests It." That kind of public.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Many cabinets, like many scholarly books, are compendia of wonderful things.  The Cabinet of Plagiarism is quite the opposite.  It is a collection of scholarly books that make us ask, "Has Our Profession At Long Last No Shame?"  Do you have a book that has shocked you with its brazen lifting of the work of others? Contact this blog and if it is truly (un)worthy, we will find a place for it on our shelves. Our first display, with four shelves devoted to it, is Matthew C. Whitaker's Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama (Nebraska, 2014). He is a Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University and the Director of ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD).  His book, never reviewed and just published in January, won the  "Bayard Rustin Book Award," an honor created this very year by the CSRD's sister institution, the Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.  And now, you are ready to enter the Cabinet.
Plagiarism Cartoon by Kate Sheridan (1)
Kate Sheridan, 2012

Exhibit A -- Old School Theft

Nothing fancy here.  Here's one case in which Foundation Professor of History Matthew C. Whitaker's scholarly account of battles over affirmative action, is drawn virtually word for word from an online encyclopedia, and another in which his description of the actor Will Smith is lifted from an online entertainment site. (Peace Be Still  is priced at $70 hardcover, $35 paper.  The websites are free.)

Exhibit B -- The Classic Model

Here is a scholarly book about "modern Black America" whose section on Malcolm X is drawn, with a few word changes and an inadequate citation or two, from the online encyclopedia blackpast.org.  Jonathan Bailey, writing in PlagiarismToday.com, perfectly captures this kind of plagiarism.  Alas, his assumption is that people committing it are students, rather than Foundation Professors.  Here is Bailey's description of this kind of plagiarism -- which is both a crime and a blunder -- followed by some examples from Peace Be Still:
"Where some try to game the technology and tools that detect plagiarism, others try to game the very notion of plagiarism itself. The idea is very simple, many plagiarists feel that they can get away with plagiarism by not plagiarizing. However, rather than citing sources and using quotes correctly, it often means trying to find ways of providing grossly inadequate citation, such as ignoring quote marks and citing incorrect sources.Much of this stems from confusion about exactly what is and is not plagiarism. Many students, in particular, fall into this trap of doing something that they think is adequate to avoid a plagiarism allegation but, in reality, is an unethical shortcut. Often times though, it stems form a desire to gain all of the benefits of committing a plagiarism without risking the repercussions." 
Whitaker examples of this sort, selected from scores of candidates:

Exhibit C -- Repackaging of a Famous Textbook

Peace Be Still: A History of Modern Black America (Nebraska, 2014) is in significant ways simply a subset of the many editions of Hine, Hine, and Harrold's African American Odyssey  (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 5 editions).  Textbooks tend to be for the most part uncited, of course, and to describe similar events. But Peace Be Still in fact does cite  (Professor Whitaker assiduously cites to his own previous publications, for example), just not in a way that even hints at the extent of the book's dependence on African American Odyssey. And its overlap with African American Odyssey goes well beyond a shared need to discuss major events and people.  Professor Whitaker draws, sometimes for pages at a time, his analysis, statistics, primary source quotations, and organization from the earlier work, usually without any attribution at all.  He does not include in his bibliography the most recent editions that he stripmines. And even as Professor Whitaker declares his intention to focus innovatively on culture and the post-2000 era, he is  dependent  for those very subjects on Hine, Hine, and Harrold.  Dr. Darlene Clark Hine is included  in the acknowledgments as one person in long lists of scholars, and the other two authors of African American Odyssey, not at all.    On the shelves of the Cabinet, we can give you only the barest idea of the gloomy thrill reading these two books side by side provides.   Here are three examples with images provided strictly for educational purposes.  The rest, the old-fashioned way. 

Exhibit D -- Standards

The standards for originality and citation are quite clear.  Authors often suggest they should not apply.  Some insist their plagiarism was unintentional, although the American Historical Association clearly states that intention is not a requirement.  Sometimes authors imply they have received permission from other authors to violate plagiarism standards. But personal relationships don't change standards; that's what makes them "standards."   Other authors suggest  that pieces  published entirely under their names were in fact written by graduate students or paid workers. Although they were prepared to benefit from them, they should not be expected to take responsibility for them.   The moral and professional weakness of such a stance is we hope obvious.