The Ridiculous, Sad, But Somehow Not Very Surprising Tale Of The Plagiarizing College Vice-President In Charge Of Plagiarism

WheelockThis may be why cheating among  high school and college students is out of control.

Shirley Malone-Fenner, Wheelock College’s vice-president in charge of academic affairs for the Boston based college, resigned today.  The reason: though her responsibilities included oversight of the investigation and discipline of students accused of  academic plagiarism, Malone-Fenner’s welcome-back letter to the faculty last month…was plagiarized.

The inspiring four-page letter from Malone-Fenner contained at least six passages from the letter Harvard’s president Drew Faust wrote to her returning faculty in 2007. Experienced plagiarists, however—and who has more experience with plagiarism than a college’s academic affairs authority?— knows that it is better to mix sources, so the  letter also contained verbatim and barely altered phrases, sentences, and passages from  a 2004 welcome letter from the president of Rutgers University, as well as sections of  a 2010 letter from the president of the University of the Pacific in California.

A suspicious Wheelock professor ran Malone-Fenner’s letter through software the school uses to detect student plagiarism, discovering the damning parallels. The faculty subsequently called for her metaphorical head.

That head didn’t help matters by dreaming up pathetic explanations like this one, which she gave to the Boston Globe:

“In preparing my message, I reviewed many letters from other institutions and used words from others’ welcoming messages without attribution. What I intended to share is quite simple — I am excited about working with each member of the faculty to make this a most successful year.”

Translation: “Crap, you got me.”

What does what she was “trying to do” and how “excited” she was about it have to do with the fact that she obviously and unethically tried to pass off the words of others as her own? I bet many of the students she has nailed for plagiarism have come up with better excuses than that.

This rot may start even higher, however. Alarmingly, Wheelock’s president, Jackie Jenkins Scott, tried to minimize the incident. Writing to the college’s board, Scott stated that Malone-Fenner  was “a highly respected academic and a wonderful leader”  who “acknowledges that she used a few words from others’ welcoming messages without attribution.”

That’s outrageous spin. “A few words” is a dishonest description of what would have been ruled a slam-dunk example of punishable plagiarism if it had been submitted by a student. Student plagiarism, which can lead to suspension or expulsion, is defined by Wheelock’s  academic handbook  as “copying text verbatim from another source without using proper citation,” and “paraphrasing from another source without acknowledgment.” Administrator plagiarism, however, is defined as “using someone else’s words in a situation where you think nobody will notice, because you’re feeling lazy and despite all your degrees you can’t write a compelling sentence, and you’re confident that your boss will shrug it off because rules and ethics don’t apply to those with power.”

Well, not in print of course. It’s really one of those unwritten rules.

Malone-Fenner tried an apology, saying in an e-mail, “This is an action for which I am regretful. I apologize for my behavior, which was not reflective of what we expect from members of our academic community. I am also sorry for the negative attention this mistake has had for Wheelock.” The apology also made it cear why she had to lift passages to create a professional letter. The woman can’t write, though she has “Dr.” in front of her name.

She had to resign anyway. After that ridiculous statement of support, Scott should resign too.



Facts: Boston Globe (I learned about the resignation today from local TV)

15 thoughts on “The Ridiculous, Sad, But Somehow Not Very Surprising Tale Of The Plagiarizing College Vice-President In Charge Of Plagiarism

  1. “This may be why cheating among high school and college students is out of control.”
    Where’s your evidence, Jack, or is this based on anecdotes?

    • Both. You can find the cites if you look for them. Are you saying cheating is declining? Or quibbling about out of control? The internet has made stealing content so easy that it’s ubiquitous. Here. Here.

      I regard this kind of challenge trolling, Al. If I say the sky is blue, don’t ask me for proof and imply I’m making it up. If you don’t know a well known fact, find your own data. The cheating epidemic is a matter of no dispute.

  2. I checked out Jackie Jenkins Scott’s salary which is over $500,000 according to the Boston Globe. I suppose she’s not eager to leave although the school has some major accreditation issues.

  3. Unfortunately, all I can say is at least this administrator person resigned fairly promptly, or was forced to. The institution at least has that going for it. The faculty appear to have at least some say in matters. This is unlike the slow motion train wreck at Hamilton College a few years ago where the then president plagiarized and then hung around for a year or so and then received a golden parachute as he finally departed the campus. Embarrassing.

  4. Could it be that T.B. Veblen’s “The Higher Learning in America” is still relevant? Someone that I think should know told me, I spent as systemester surveying economic thought with him, that Veblen’s working title was “The Higher Learning in America; a study in total depravity.”

  5. Gail, I support you 100% in your case against Wheelock College. I attended from 1992-1997 for undergraduate and graduate school. I was not allowed to take part in AHANA meetings, specifically because I was Caucasian. Do to this and speaking out, I was stalked, harassed, and threatened by students of African-American descent. The College did not protect me from this and Teresa Perry, interim professor advise me to leave AHANA be and start a group for Caucasian students. Wheelock has always had an issue with multiculturalism, everything was black against white. I had white classmates with 3.9 gpas who could get no financial assistance and African-American classmates with 1.7 gpas with full financial assistance. I know what you are stating is true, I lived it first hand. Keep on fighting for your rights, I know you are right and am thankful that you are taking a stand against Wheelock in engaging in such inappropriate ways. Black, white, yellow we all bleed red. Shame on you Wheelock College and to think that your perverse thinking on multi-culturalism will impact and skew the way our educators promote the education of our children. I knew something was askew when I was there and I am so happy that individuals like Gail Dines are taking a stand against Wheelock’s unethical ways.

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