Glenn Poshard, president of Southern Illinois University, is under intense scrutiny for a plagiarized dissertation. In the past he has ignored or worse offered excuses for other senior level members of the S.I.U. system that were guilty of plagiarism. Walter Wendler, chancellor of S.I.U. Carbondale, was exposed for plagiarizing a speech and has left the university. Vaughn Vandegrift, chancellor at S.I.U. Edwardsville, also delivered an address in which he failed to acknowledge some of its content was borrowed verbatim. In public speaking, if one is borrowing text from another and presenting it as one’s own, this constitutes plagiarism. Chris Dussold, a professor of finance, had been fired for lifting another professor’s two-page teaching philosophy statement and claiming authorship in a tenure-application dossier. He and other family members have been “outing,” with dedication and professionalism, similar or worse transgressions among senior S.I.U. administrators.
At the time of the Vandergrift transgression, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr Poshard focused merely on the motivation of the investigatory group, Alumni and Faculty Against Corruption at S.I.U., and stated that the Edwardsville and Carbondale chancellors were subjected to “vindictive” attacks; Mr Poshard urged a cessation of “the practice of personal destruction.” President Poshard stated that the chancellors did not benefit from their plagiarism but that Professor Dussold sought to do so in his tenure bid.
Mr. Poshard argued that plagiarized speeches are different from Mr. Dussold’s plagiarized dossier: “I utterly fail to see any equivalency.” He argued that the chancellors did not personally benefit from using plagiarized material. I would argue that if one is engaged in public speaking and presents someone else’s research or rhetoric as their own, there is a benefit. The appearance of originality and taking credit for ideas and concepts that were stolen from another source do benefit the speaker. I would love to give a speech using Lincoln’s eloquent rhetoric as my own.
Now Mr Poshard is under siege due to a doctoral dissertation that was submitted under his name despite its containing dozens of stolen passages and pages of uncited or unquoted material. The president, who must resign his position in order to preserve the integrity of the S.I.U. system, is requesting that the chair of the Carbondale campus’ Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education review his dissertation. I find it highly irregular that a president would place this burden on a single faculty member regardless of his or her rank or tenure status. The dissertation was written in 1984 when he received his Ph.D. from that department. I would urge the university to empanel outside experts in the field who have no allegiance to the president and are not under his supervision. A university president has no business requesting that subordinates examine his work. Of course Mr Poshard won’t resign and walk away from a $300,000 annual income but he should and must to preserve even a shred of honour.
How can a professor at S.I.U. insist upon academic honesty and communicate effectively to students that plagiarism is unacceptable when the president of the institution is guilty of falsifying and submitting a dissertation that was blatantly plagiarized? How does a plagiarist as president impact upon the quality of research at a university where academic standards are allegedly valued? Very poorly I would imagine. Glenn Poshard should resign and frankly reimburse the state of Illinois for receiving income for a position that he assumed through fraudulent and inappropriately attained credentials. I am certain if Mr Poshard were made aware of a faculty member who had committed such egregious plagiarism, he or she would be fired.
A final note to university governing boards. Quit hiring lobbyists and “trophy presidents” from business, politics or government and insist on appointing true academicians who understand and respect academic freedom and are aware of the ethical norms that sustains the educational enterprise in the United States.