After two accusations of plagiarism attracted national attention over the past two weeks, the Harvard Crimson retracted its decision to fire the staffers involved in the incidents on Thursday.
The Crimson announced in an editor’s note that it will not stand by its initial decision to suspend the columnist and cartoonist permanently. Instead, the student newspaper will withdraw both staff members’ regular spots in the paper but will allow them to reapply for their positions in the spring semester.
Crimson President William Marra, a senior at Harvard, said while the newspaper is “disappointed” by these two cases of plagiarism on the editorial page, the board wants both staff members as well as the rest of the student body to learn from the incidents.
“We have allowed them to reapply because we determined that much if not all of the copying that occurred was unintentional,” he said in an e-mail. “Though we want to send a message that this type of copying is unacceptable, we also want to give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and move on.”
Harvard sophomore Kathleen Breeden’s weekly cartoon was discontinued on Oct. 30 after an investigation by the Crimson revealed that four of her cartoons bore resemblance to several previously-published cartoons. But the Crimson reported Thursday that while two of Breeden’s cartoons “drew inappropriately” from other published cartoons, two represented her original ideas. After the Crimson retracted its initial ruling, Breeden will still be allowed to contribute illustrations to the newspaper this semester.
The previous week, Harvard senior Victoria Ilyinsky was accused of improperly citating quotations she pulled from a Slate.com article in her Oct. 16 column “This Word is Killing Me, Literally.” Her biweekly column was terminated Oct. 26 after the Crimson uncovered the transgression.
In addition to increased enforcement of source citation requirements during editing, the Crimson will now also mandate that all contributing cartoonists and columnists attend sessions on proper sourcing methods, according to the editor’s note.
“We are working hard to strengthen our existing policies and create new ones to ensure the integrity of the content that appears in the newspaper in the future,” Marra said.
Court TV and American Lawyer magazine founder Steven Brill, who has taught a journalism class at Yale for the past five years, said there are “certain bedrock standards” that all journalists — including college journalists — must understand. He said trust and honesty are essential in journalism because it is impossible for editors to check everything the reporters write.
“The first rule of journalism is that you should be honest with your readers,” he said. “You don’t have a reader think some words on a page are yours when they’re not yours.”
Political science lecturer Stanley Flink, who currently teaches the seminar “Ethics and the Media,” said he thinks plagiarism is the “cardinal sin” in terms of journalistic ethics. He said since most college newspapers think of themselves as legitimate, they have to abide by the same standards as professional papers.
“There can’t be two different kinds of plagiarism — one for undergraduates and the other for an actual commercial newspaper,” he said. “The same rules apply.”
Flink said although matters of plagiarism are often complicated, he does not understand why the Crimson is keeping Breeden and Ilyinsky on its staff at all.
“By the time you are publishing something in a newspaper that has been a campus institution for many, many years, you should understand the importance of plagiarism,” he said.
Yale’s first-ever Academic Integrity Awareness Week, which included workshops and speeches, ended Tuesday.