SINCE 1759

Free alert to Candide's Notebooks
Your email:


For a Dean at Boston U., a Question of Plagiarism

At his commencement speech in May, the dean of Boston University's College of Communication delivered a sharply worded attack on the decline of morality in American culture to an audience of more than 1,000 fledgling journalists and their families. But in his speech the dean repeated, virtually word for word, portions of an article by a PBS film critic.

A videotape of the speech, on sale by Boston University, shows that the dean, J. Joachim Maitre, copied the underlying theme and about 15 paragraphs from an article by Michael Medved, of the Public Broadcasting System's program "Sneak Previews." The article was first published in the February issue of Imprimis, a scholarly journal put out by Hillsdale College in Michigan. The college has since reprinted half a million copies, and parts have been excerpted in The Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest.

At no point on the tape does Mr. Maitre mention Mr. Medved or indicate that the ideas were not Mr. Maitre's. The Center of Controversy

Mr. Maitre, a 57-year-old former East German fighter pilot who is an outspoken conservative, was said by his administrative assistant to be in Malaysia and unavailable for comment. He has been at the center of several disputes at Boston University since joining the faculty in 1984, and has been accused by other faculty members of abandoning journalistic objectivity for political involvement.

John R. Silber, the university's president, who appointed Mr. Maitre as dean in 1987, said today that he would make no judgment on the "charges of plagiarism" against Mr. Maitre until he returned from abroad and was given "a full, fair and dispassionate opportunity to defend himself."

In a brief written statement Dr. Silber did not contradict the charges, first made today in an article in The Boston Globe. Last year, when Dr. Silber ran unsuccessfully for governor of Massachusetts as the Democratic nominee, he often accused the press of misinterpreting his comments. Serious Offense in Academia

In academia, the use of another person's words or ideas without attribution is one of the most serious offenses. At Boston University, all students in the College of Communication receive written guidelines outlining what constitutes plagiarism and the penalties against it.

Several professors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said any student who plagiarized as extensively as Mr. Maitre appeared to have done would be expelled.

In Mr. Medved's article, "Popular Culture and the War Against Standards," the author says there is a "war on standards" in film and television in which ugliness and violence are glorified, and religion and traditional family values are shunned.

Mr. Medved starts with an examination of the film, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover." He recounts several violent and sexually explicit scenes and denounces the film for its "unrelieved ugliness, horror and depravity at every turn."

Mr. Medved then says it is no longer fashionable to talk about the content of art. "The politically correct, properly liberal notion is that we should never dig deeper," he says.

In his commencement address Mr. Maitre said he recently saw the same film and described the same scenes. Using almost exactly the same words, he criticized the film for its "unrelieved ugliness, horror and depravity at every turn."

"I call it a war against standards," Mr. Maitre added. "The politically correct, properly liberal notion is -- liberal in the sense of having no standards -- is that we should never dig deeper to consider whether a given work is true."

Mr. Medved said in a telephone interview that he had never heard of Mr. Maitre and was "stunned" that someone would copy an article that had been so widely printed.

"It's the kind of thing that people in conservative circles would expect from a Joe Biden instead of one of their own," he said in a telephone interview. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a liberal Democratic Senator from Deleware, acknowledged in his campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1988 that he had borrowed passages in his standard stump talk from a speech by a British politician. The incident led to Mr. Biden's withdrawal from the campaign. 'Public Apology' Required

But Mr. Medved said he felt "great compassion" for Mr. Maitre, and hoped that "this won't turn into anything career-threatening." All he asks, Mr. Medved said, is that the dean make "some kind of public apology."

Faculty members at the College of Communication were cautious today in speaking out publicly. But one professor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "This is going to injure the reputation of the school."

Mr. Maitre was criticized earlier in his career at Boston University for helping make a video of the contras fighting Nicaragua's Marxist government; the film was later used to lobby Congress on behalf of the Nicaraguan rebels.


Correction: July 5, 1991, FridayJuly 11, 1991, Thursday

Because of an editing error, an article on Wednesday about allegations that a dean at Boston University plagiarised a magazine article rendered the dean's name incorrectly in some copies. A subheading in the same copies misidentified the source of the material. The dean is H. Joachim Maitre. The material first appeared in a scholarly journal, Imprimis.

An article on July 3 described a controversy involving allegations of plagiarism at Boston University's College of Communication. In a commencement address in May, the dean of the college, H. Joachim Maitre, repeated virtually word for word passages from an article by a PBS film critic. In the speech, Mr. Maitre did not acknowledge or credit the article.

Besides the quotations from Mr. Maitre's speech, the Times article included a passage of five paragraphs that closely resembled five paragraphs in the Globe article. The passage involved comparisons of the same sets of quotations from the disputed texts. Although the Times article also reflected independent investigation of the controversy and interviews by the Times reporter, it was in this instance improperly dependent on the Globe account.

Bookmark and Share

Read Pierre’s Latest

The Latest Comments

Add to Google Reader or Homepage Subscribe in NewsGator Online Subscribe in Rojo   Add to My AOL Subscribe in FeedLounge Add to netvibes Subscribe in Bloglines Add to The Free Dictionary