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Trustee Steps Down Over Plagiarism Episode
Fareed Zakaria ’86 resigns to “focus on the core of my work.”

At Yale, if a sophomore pastes an uncredited paragraph from a website into a writing assignment—an act that meets the university’s definition of plagiarism—a reprimand may be punishment enough. But what if a member of Yale’s board of trustees does the same thing?

In August, when journalist Fareed Zakaria ’86 was discovered to have lifted another writer’s paragraph nearly verbatim without citing her, there were calls for him to resign his place on the Yale Corporation. After President Richard Levin ’74PhD said the Corporation would review the matter, “which we take very seriously,” Zakaria did resign.

“I am reexamining my professional life and I have recognized that, in order to focus on the core of my work, I will have to shed some of my other responsibilities,” he wrote to Levin. “My service at Yale is the single largest commitment of time, energy, and attention outside of my writing and television work.”

In a statement, Levin expressed gratitude for Zakaria’s six years on the board: “His keen intelligence and broad knowledge of world affairs have enlightened our discussions, and his appearances on campus have benefited our students and faculty.”

In September, the Corporation announced that Margaret Marshall ’76JD will take Zakaria’s place. Marshall, a former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, served as an alumni-elected trustee from 2004 to 2010. In 2011, after a group of students and alumni filed a federal complaint charging that sexual harassment and misconduct was making Yale a “hostile environment” for women, she chaired a commission that studied conditions on campus and recommended improvments.

The controversy arose over a column Zakaria had written for Time magazine. He devoted a paragraph to a book about the history of US gun control, summarizing its evidence that firearms have been regulated since the nation’s earliest days. Zakaria credited the book’s author—but not the New Yorker, where, earlier in the year, Jill Lepore ’95PhD had published a nearly identical paragraph about the same book.

After the website Newsbusters exposed the duplication, Zakaria swiftly apologized for his “terrible mistake.” Two of his regular outlets, Time and CNN, briefly suspended him. He declined to comment for this article but pointed to a New York Times interview in which he said he had confused his notes from Lepore’s article with his notes from the book.

Plagiarism has seemed widespread recently, at Yale as in the world of journalism. In the 2010–11 academic year, the college’s Executive Committee ruled on 27 charges of undergraduate plagiarism and handed out penalties ranging from reprimands to a two-year suspension.

Yale College defines plagiarism as “the use of someone else’s work, words, or ideas as if they were one’s own.” The Executive Committee’s report says uncredited cutting and pasting accounts for many of the violations. “We require students to acknowledge any and all sources that are not their own,” says Pamela Y. George, the committee’s secretary and an assistant dean of Yale College, in an e-mail. “These errors and lapses in judgment,” she adds, “are often attributed to inattentiveness and procrastination.”  the end


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