An article published in the Yale Israel Journal by Charles Hill, a lecturer and diplomat-in-residence at the University, has become the center of a debate over alleged plagiarism in a lecture delivered by former Secretary of State and current Stanford University history professor George Shultz at the Library of Congress.
The controversy arose when a group of Stanford students revealed last week that they had come across 22 sentences in Shultz’s 2004 Kissinger Lecture that had previously appeared in Hill’s article, published the prior year. Hill said he takes responsibility for the mix-up, and that he does not consider the overlap to be plagiarism, but rather an oversight that occurred during one of the pair’s many collaborations.
“It was my doing, and he is being blamed for it,” said Hill, who served as Shultz’s executive assistant in the late 1980s. “He is blameless.”
Each summer, Hill and Shultz meet to discuss and debate current world issues, usually while taking notes and writing throughout, Hill said. He said he believes that after one such trip a few years ago, when Shultz was preparing for a lecture, they both took notes on their discussions, then each returned home and wrote something up. Although Hill did not intend to publish his paper, he submitted it to the Yale Israel Journal when he was approached for an article on a short deadline.
While he and Shultz later corresponded about the latter’s upcoming Library of Congress Lecture, Hill said, he found a copy of the paper he had written and recommended that Schultz take a look at it, forgetting that the paper had been published.
“[Shultz] got blindsided and it was my fault because I just didn’t recall any of this,” Hill said. “I guess it’s plagiarism in reverse. I guess I plagiarized something in reverse by using my own thing and gave him something he had contributed to without knowing it, so the whole thing is kind of upside down.”
But Hill said that while the overlap was an oversight he should not have made, he was simply fulfilling the role of speechwriter, in a public lecture, which he said does not follow the same strict rules as an academic article.
The 2006-’07 Yale Undergraduate Regulations define plagiarism as “the use of someone else’s work, words, or ideas as if they were your own.” But plagiarism, though strictly penalized at most universities, can be difficult to define, said Matthew Smith, a professor of philosophy who teaches courses on ethics.
“Our thoughts, our beliefs, and most notably our expression of these things are a combination of what we’ve heard, what we’ve read and what we’ve come up with on our own,” Smith said. “To say that, especially when we are making speeches, we should footnote everything would mean we would have to footnote everything.”
Some Yale students said the incident might still be regarded as plagiarism since Hill was an uncredited, even if willing, source.
Yayone Rivaud ’09 said she does not feel that such leniency is granted to students.
“Just because you help me with my homework doesn’t mean that I can take something from your paper and put it in mine,” she said. “He should set a good example.”
Other students said the situation was just too hard to judge at this point.
“I think the situation requires analysis of the facts, and if he did indeed plagiarize, he should be punished,” Dorota Poplawska ’09 said.
Kelsey Clark ’09 said she thinks that speeches and public lectures should be treated differently than academic papers. But she said she felt the situation is odd.
“I just think it’s way too shady,” Clark said.
Shultz was not available for comment.