Comment on this article
Trustee Steps Down Over Plagiarism Episode
Fareed Zakaria ’86 resigns to “focus on the core of
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