Columbia Official Is Accused of Plagiarizing Dissertation From Wikipedia

Columbia Official Is Accused of Plagiarizing Dissertation From Wikipedia

An official in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center was accused this week of plagiarizing large sections of his doctoral dissertation, according to an anonymous complaint filed with the university.

The 55-page complaint accused the official, Alade McKen, of copying material in his 2021 dissertation at Iowa State University from more than two dozen other scholars and from Wikipedia, which is written and edited by volunteers from the general public.

The complaint was published online Thursday by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website that led a campaign last year against the former president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay. She resigned in January following accusations of plagiarism and after her response to antisemitism on campus was criticized.

Plagiarism allegations have rocked the world of elite academia in recent months. They have often had explicitly political overtones, with conservative critics leveling accusations against left-leaning administrators and at least one high-profile accusation that has been portrayed as an act of liberal revenge.

The complaint published online on Thursday accused Mr. McKen of copying passages of his dissertation from the Wikipedia entry for “Afrocentric education” and from the published scholarship or the doctoral dissertations of at least 28 people.

“Is Alade McKen a plagiarist?” the anonymous author of the complaint wrote at the top of page 1. “A small selection of examples from his dissertation are included below to guide your investigation.”

Mr. McKen did not respond to messages seeking comment on Thursday. Angie Hunt, a spokeswoman for Iowa State University, said the school had “received and is in the process of reviewing the complaint.”

“The university is committed to the highest ethical standards to ensure the integrity and public trust in research conducted at Iowa State,” Ms. Hunt said in a statement.

Columbia declined to comment on the case, saying in a statement that it does not comment on “the details of individual personnel matters.”

“Columbia University has clear standards and policies regarding academic ethics and integrity for all members of our community, including faculty, and we take allegations about misconduct seriously,” the school said.

The passages in Mr. McKen’s dissertation that are in question were largely copied verbatim from other scholars or from Wikipedia with only small changes to grammar or verb tenses, according to the complaint. The New York Times reviewed portions of the dissertation and the Wikipedia page and found parts that appeared to be nearly the same.

“Woodson critiqued African Americans’ education as ‘miseducation’ because he held that it denigrated the black while glorifying the whites,” Mr. McKen wrote on page 53 of his dissertation, referring to the influential Black scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. “For many early Afrocentrists, the goal was to break what they saw as a vicious cycle of the reproduction of black self-abnegation.”

Nearly the same phrase appears in the Wikipedia article for “Afrocentric education.” Mr. McKen appeared to have changed the order of a few words and removed one hyphen.

“Woodson critiqued education of African Americans as ‘mis-education’ because he held that it denigrated the black while glorifying the white,” the Wikipedia article states. “For these early Afrocentrists, the goal was to break what they saw as a vicious cycle of the reproduction of black self-abnegation.” The Times reviewed versions of the page dating back to 2013 in an online archive, and found identical language.

Mr. McKen is the third diversity administrator from an Ivy League university to be accused of plagiarism in the span of one month, following Sherri Ann Charleston and Shirley R. Greene, both at Harvard.

At Harvard, Dr. Gay resigned in January after more than 40 instances of plagiarism were uncovered in her academic work by an anonymous tipster. Those allegations began shortly after Dr. Gay survived an earlier campaign to oust her over what critics called her insufficient response to antisemitism after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

She had served as Harvard’s president — the first Black woman in the role — for roughly six months.

Days later, an investigation by the news website Business Insider accused Neri Oxman, the wife of one of Dr. Gay’s chief critics, the hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, of plagiarizing portions of her doctoral dissertation from other scholars as well as from Wikipedia.

Ms. Oxman later apologized for what she called “errors” in a post on Twitter. Mr. Ackman said he believed the allegations against his wife were retribution for his advocacy for Dr. Gay’s ouster, which he described as “my actions to address problems in higher education.”

Mr. McKen began his job at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, which includes the university’s medical school, in September 2023. Before that, he was the assistant dean of recruitment, diversity, and inclusion at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, according to a university profile.

In addition to his doctoral degree in education, social and cultural studies from Iowa State, Mr. McKen received a master’s degree in higher education administration from Baruch College and a diversity and inclusion certificate from Cornell University, the profile said.

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