At NCA meetings and especially in the Basic Course meetings, the topic of plagiarism comes up frequently and is viewed as one of the great problems in education generally and in public speaking in particular. And then I see David Greenberg’s article, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Speech,” (NYTimes, 2/24/08, The Nation, 3), reminding me that Joe Biden—six-term Democratic Senator from Delaware and 2008 presidential candidate—“appropriated the content of a speech from the British politician Neil Kinnock—including biographical details, like being the first in his family to attend college, that didn’t apply to Mr. Biden. More uncredited borrowings surfaced, including phrases from Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Soon, the news that Mr. Biden had committed plagiarism in law school led him to end his campaign [in 1986].” And then I read about Columbia University’s Teacher’s College determining that Professor Madonna Constantine had committed “academic plagiarism” but was not prepared to take any disciplinary action—at least as of the last I read. Exactly what are the electorate and Columbia University telling us? They seem to be telling me that plagiarism is serious business but we needn’t do anything about it.

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