Did Doris Kearns Goodwin commit plagiarism? “Absolutely not,”she tells Boston Globe reporter Thomas C. Palmer Jr. “There were extensive footnotes.” Chatterbox has had it with brand-name historians who pretend that the rules allow you to steal someone else’s sentences (for examples of Goodwin’s theft, click here) provided that you supply a footnote. This is not a gray area. Here is how Harvard University, where Goodwin received her Ph.D. and was previously a professor of government, addresses the matter in a handbook for a freshman composition course that all undergraduates are required to take:
Most often, however, the plagiarist has started out with good intentions but hasn’t left enough time to do the reading and thinking that the assignment requires, has become desperate, and just wants the whole thing done with. At this point, in one common scenario, the student gets careless while taking notes on a source or incorporating notes into a draft, so the source’s words and ideas blur into those of the student, who has neither the time nor the inclination to resist the blurring. … If, in your essay on plagiarism, after reading the [previous sentence] you observe that “at a certain point in the writing process the student has neither the time nor the inclination to resist the blurring of his source’s words into his own” but don’t use quotation marks at least for the words in the middle of the sentence, you are plagiarizing even if you do cite [this] booklet. [Italics Chatterbox’s.]
Please note that in this example the plagiarism doesn’t even consist of an entire sentence. Here’s what happens if a Harvard undergraduate gets caught committing plagiarism, according to the booklet:
Harvard policy requires instructors to report all suspected cases to the Dean of the College, and most such cases are ultimately adjudicated by the Administrative Board. If the majority of Board members believe, after considering the evidence and your own account of the events, that you misused sources, they will likely vote that you be required to withdraw from the College for at least two semesters. Since a vote of requirement to withdraw is effective immediately, you lose all coursework you have done that semester (unless it’s virtually over), along with the money you have paid for it. You must leave Cambridge; any return to campus will violate the terms of your withdrawal. You must find a full-time job, stay in it for at least six months, and have your supervisor send a satisfactory report of your performance in order to be readmitted. … Finally, any letter of recommendation written for you on behalf of Harvard College—including letters to graduate schools, law schools, and medical schools—will report that you were required to withdraw for academic dishonesty.[Italics in the original.] If you are required to withdraw for a second time, you will not, ordinarily, be readmitted.
Goodwin no longer teaches at Harvard, but last year the Ann Radcliffe Trust gave her a Women’s Professional Achievement Award, which is granted to someone who shows “exceptional leadership in his or her professional field, and has used this leadership position to have a meaningful impact on women and to benefit his or her community.” In 1996 Goodwin was awarded the Radcliffe Medal, which honors individuals “whose lives and work have had a significant impact on society.” Now that Goodwin has not only committed plagiarism, but lied about whether it was plagiarism (and, incidentally, paid hush money to one of the people she plagiarized), Harvard’s Board of Overseers (i.e., its board of directors) might ordinarily be expected to revoke these awards. Except—whoops!—Goodwin is also a Harvard Overseer!
Please don’t tell the freshmen.
[Update, Jan. 25: The author Goodwin paid off, Lynne McTaggart, now tells the Weekly Standard’s Bo Crader (who broke this story) that the plagiarism was more extensive than has been reported. She also says that she received “a substantial monetary settlement” from Goodwin, not “a token sum.”]