Friday, March 24, 2006

Not a martyr

I don't ordinarily extend any sincere credit whatsoever in my brother's direction -- if you met him, perhaps, you'd understand why -- but when Box Turtle Ben Domenech choked out his resignation manifesto this afternoon, I felt proud to be related to one of the intrepid bloggers who (in the words of one of his commenters) handed Ben an anvil on his quick descent into the sea.

My brother and I are both academics, and we believe that plagiarism is serious shit. Whether it happens in a college classroom or a college newspaper, we presume that our students are adults and that (as principled conservatives once liked to remind us) their ideas and actions have consequences they should be prepared to accept. Over the past decade of teaching university courses, I've discovered more than a dozen instances of plagiarism, all of which have been addressed swiftly and with an almost inhuman lack of sympathy. And this has been in spite of the fact that I've taught at schools with quite generous academic misconduct policies (unlike William and Mary, where lying to a resident adviser can serve as grounds for academic suspension or probation). Sometimes the students confess; sometimes they make a bad situation worse.

Whatever else we might think of him -- his ahistorical and loathesome derision of Coretta Scott King, his theologically-inspired ravings about Antonin Scalia, his spectacularly undeserved appearance in the Post's blogroll -- the simple truth is than Ben Domenech does not take critical thought seriously. He not only committed a series of loathsome ethical violations in college and beyond, but today, confronted with massive evidence of his own pilferage, he could not even bring himself to utter the words "I fucked up. I stole someone else's ideas without attribution for my own personal aggrandizement. And I did so as a student who was privileged enough to attend a 300-year old university where intellectual virtue was a cardinal priority."

He comes closest to an admission of guilt when he writes that "While I am not a journalist, I have, myself, written more than one thing that has been plagiarized in the past" -- a grammatically-ambiguous, passive-voice sentence that only underscores Ben's venality and immaturity. Instead, he offers a stream of implausible, defensive accusations, blaming everyone but the garden gnomes in his parents' front yard for sabotaging his published record:
Virtually every other alleged instance of plagiarism that I’ve seen comes from a single semester’s worth of pieces that were printed under my name at my college paper, The Flat Hat, when I was 17.

In one instance, I have been accused me of passing off P.J. O'Rourke's writing as my own in a column for the paper. But the truth is that I had met P.J. at a Republican event and asked his permission to do a college-specific version of his classic piece on partying. He granted permission, the piece was cleared with my editors at the paper, and it ran as inspired by O’Rourke’s original.

My critics have also accused me of plagiarism in multiple movie reviews for the college paper. I once caught an editor at the paper inserting a line from The New Yorker (which I read) into my copy and protested. When that editor was promoted, I resigned. Before that, insertions had been routinely made in my copy, which I did not question. I did not even at that time read the publications from which I am now alleged to have lifted material. When these insertions were made, I assumed, like most disgruntled writers would, that they were unnecessary but legitimate editorial additions.

I suppose if Ben ever gets stopped at the border with five condoms of heroin packed into his ass, we can look forward to a similar line of defense. Meantime, he will assuredly find the company and comfort he deserves in the arms of his fellow Red Staters.