University News

After plagiarism allegations, prof. was named dean

Some tenured faculty members in English dept. remain troubled by U.’s handling of the matter

University News Editor
Thursday, April 24, 2014

The University named Assistant Professor of English Vanessa Ryan an associate dean of the Graduate School in January despite evidence of alleged plagiarism in her published work, according to multiple sources and documents reviewed by The Herald.

A University inquiry committee tasked with looking into the matter determined that “Ryan had indeed plagiarized” but cleared Ryan of misconduct on the basis that the mistakes were unintentional, according to the committee’s November confidential final report, a copy of which The Herald has obtained.

Thirteen tenured members of the Department of English signed and sent a letter to President Christina Paxson, Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12 and Vice President for Research David Savitz detailing their dissatisfaction with how the University handled the plagiarism allegations and Ryan’s appointment as associate dean, said Professor of English William Keach, who was one of the thirteen.

The alleged plagiarism in Ryan’s first and only book, “Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2012, came to light in August during the initial phases of her tenure review, according to the inquiry committee’s report.

“Without doubt, this represents a serious breach of academic integrity and academic honesty, values which lie at the heart of the academic enterprise at Brown University and any institution of higher learning,” the committee wrote in its findings.

Ryan declined multiple requests for an interview but sent The Herald a written statement.

“In August 2013, I learned that my book contains inadvertent errors of attribution, which resulted from mistakes I made in documenting my research as I worked on the project over many years,” Ryan wrote. “I take full responsibility for these mistakes. I notified my publisher immediately, spoke with my chair of department and have been taking steps since then to rectify the situation. Among other things, I have reached out to the scholars whose words lack attribution to speak to them directly and apologize.”

Matthew McAdam, acquisitions editor for the JHU Press for classics, humanities and literary studies, confirmed in an email to The Herald that the book is now “out of print and unavailable for purchase” from the press. McAdam did not respond to subsequent emails seeking an explanation of that decision.

An external reviewer for Ryan’s tenure case received from an anonymous source a list of passages from her book with language nearly identical to that in other published works and relayed it to the University in August, Keach said.

That list, which came from someone who is “anonymous and apparently not a member of the Brown community,” included about 35 such instances, according to the report. The committee identified 27 instances.

Last week, The Herald obtained a list containing passages in Ryan’s book that used verbatim language at length without quotation marks or appropriate citations next to matching passages from the original sources. The Herald has independently verified 33 of these instances of alleged plagiarism in “Thinking without Thinking.”

Upon being notified of the allegations against her in August, Ryan searched through her past work and found additional unattributed material in her dissertation, according to the inquiry committee’s report. Ryan talked to Yale faculty members with whom she worked on her dissertation shortly after discovering those errors, Keach said.

Ryan has continued to oversee undergraduate research projects this academic year. She also remains an adviser on one senior honors thesis and a second reader for another.

Ryan voluntarily stepped away from the graduate dissertation committees on which she had been serving, though the University did not compel her to do so, said a tenured faculty member in the English department who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being fired or sued. Ryan declined to comment when asked to confirm this.

In her new role as associate dean, Ryan works on improving graduate student teaching, The Herald reported in January.

Schlissel, McLaughlin and Savitz declined multiple requests for comment and interviews for this story. Paxson and Philip Gould, professor of English and chair of the department, did not respond to such requests. Instead, Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, sent The Herald a written statement on behalf of the administration.

“Ensuring academic integrity is central to fulfilling Brown’s mission of teaching, research and service at the highest levels,” Quinn wrote. “Expectations of students, faculty and staff are emphasized in the Academic and Student Conduct Codes and in the Faculty Rules. The University takes seriously any allegation of research misconduct and has established confidential processes for assessing allegations of academic and research misconduct.”

The process of assessing the allegations of plagiarism played out over the course of several months.

In accordance with the faculty rules regarding allegations of misconduct, a three-person inquiry committee was assembled to examine the charges leveled against Ryan. The committee comprised Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Sheila Blumstein, Professor of History Harold Cook and Professor of Religious Studies Susan Harvey. Cook and Harvey declined to comment, and Blumstein could not be reached for comment by press time.

The committee’s final report, delivered to and approved by Savitz in November, stated that though Ryan’s book contains plagiarized material from other sources, the plagiarism in question “does not rise to the level of misconduct.”

“While, as a result of these mistakes, my book uses words from other scholars’ writings without attribution, the substance of the ideas in the book is my own,” Ryan wrote to The Herald.

Ryan also disputed whether her errors, which did not relate to the core of her thesis, constituted plagiarism. “To the extent that plagiarism involves an intentional passing off of someone else’s work or ideas as your own, that is not what happened here,” she wrote in a follow-up email.

The Modern Language Association, of which Ryan is a member, defines plagiarism in its style manual as “using another person’s ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source.”

The University’s Policy for Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct defines misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or other practices that significantly deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the research community for proposing, conducting or reviewing research or in reporting research results.”

“It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgment of data,” the rules continue.

The committee determined that Ryan’s “plagiarism arose from sloppy research methods” and considered it “unintentional, ‘honest error,’” according to the report.

The major flaw in Ryan’s research practices was not keeping track of citations diligently enough, specifically while working with scientific material “well outside (her) own purview of expertise as a scholar of literature,” the report found. Unattributed passages mostly describe background information and are not a part of “her own original thesis.”

“Professor Ryan is a rising star in the field, is highly regarded and is respected as a serious scholar, teacher and colleague,” the report also states. “She has been an outstanding citizen not only within her department but more broadly in the Brown community.”

In the letter the 13 tenured English department faculty members sent to top administrators disapproving of their handling of the case, they criticized the inquiry committee’s interpretation of misconduct, Ryan’s involvement with graduate students as associate dean, and the University’s decision not to disclose the matter to other scholars, including those who reviewed Ryan’s published work, Keach said.

Keach declined to comment directly on anything contained in the inquiry committee’s report.

“Everyone I talked to in the English department understood that document to be saying that research misconduct included plagiarism, that plagiarism is a form of research misconduct,” Keach said. “Therefore any judgment that a faculty member’s work contained errors that were plagiarism but not research misconduct was a kind of category mistake. It was contrary to the logic of the University rules.”

Following the inquiry committee’s conclusion, Ryan and top administrators, including Schlissel and McLaughlin, engaged in negotiations resulting in Ryan’s December withdrawal from the tenure track and January appointment as associate dean, Keach and the anonymous faculty member said.

Quinn confirmed that Ryan’s administrative post lasts 18 months. Ryan’s contract as an assistant professor of English — a title she currently retains — also expires next June.

Keach said most members of the English department he spoke with did not express opposition to Ryan’s receiving a temporary administrative assignment to give her a chance to find her footing. “It seemed like, under the circumstances, a generous but appropriately generous move for the University to make,” he said.

But many department members are displeased that Ryan’s new position entails working with graduate students, Keach and the anonymous faculty member said.

Keach cited the possibility of graduate students asking Ryan for letters of recommendation or indicating on their resumes that they took part in a teaching program under her auspices without knowing that outside scholars might be aware of her errors.

Faculty members also raised concerns about McLaughlin’s role in the process given his close ties to Ryan, Keach and the anonymous faculty member said.

McLaughlin chaired the search committee that hired Ryan and previously served as chair of the English department, placing him directly responsible for Ryan’s annual reviews and reappointment considerations, according to the report. McLaughlin is also a mentor to Ryan, having “known (her) since she was an undergraduate” at Harvard, where he was a lecturer, the report notes.

Though McLaughlin recused himself from the process of evaluating whether Ryan’s alleged plagiarism constituted misconduct, according to the report, he did participate in the subsequent negotiations with Ryan that culminated in her appointment as associate dean, Keach said. The anonymous tenured member of the English department confirmed McLaughlin’s involvement with the negotiations.

Faculty members were also upset that the administration did not make “an appropriate public statement” about the case, Keach said.

“The University has responsibilities to other people outside the University,” Keach said. “We particularly focused there on the importance we felt of informing the outside evaluators who evaluated Professor Ryan’s work for tenure.”

Elaine Freedgood, a professor of English at New York University who served as an external reviewer for Ryan’s tenure case, said she was eventually informed that Ryan withdrew from the tenure track but not that plagiarism was involved. “You just can’t keep this quiet,” she said.

The inquiry committee’s report states that Ryan “expects and hopes to participate in public conversations about what has happened, how it happened and how best to prevent such problems in the field,” but no such public conversations have taken place.


  1. Brown '17 parent says:

    This is absolutely shameful. A cut-and-dried case of clear serial plagiarism! She should be immediately fired, not promoted. There is no valid excuse for such an extensive set of “mistakes”. If she is capable of such “sloppiness” she is not qualified, or worse, she is an unethical, bad example for the students and legacy of Brown.

    • Brown '17 parent says:

      Does this university have no core values or standards for ethics and scholarship? Does its concept of rectictude just sway in the breeze? Maybe she is a “nice” person, or has some powerful friends at the top, but that does not make her deserving of her post, nor qualified for her position, nor immune to judgment and consequences for misdeeds. Disgusting!

      • Brown '15 student says:

        I have taken courses in over eight departments and have been taught by over twenty professors, and, while this makes me no expert on the quality of undergraduate faculty, Vanessa Ryan is by far the most engaging, effective, sincere, and caring professor I have come in contact with to date. I think it is wonderful that parents are involved in this conversation, but I think it is imperative to understand that parents are not students.

        • Brown '17 parent says:

          Fair enough. I’m not denying she could be a good teacher and a nice person. It’s a shame. But fraud has consequences. Just like we parents don’t want people convicted multiple times of drunk driving to be driving our kid’s school bus, especially if they hid it to get the job. They may be the kids’ favorite bus driver, but they kindof squandered the opportunity.

          • Sam Kortchmar says:

            I have taken a class with Vanessa Ryan that was 1.) The best class I have ever taken and 2.) Absolutely life changing. I am biased. However, as objectively as possible, your analogy is a huge exaggeration. While a bus driver’s entire job consists of driving, being a good professor has very little to do with correctly attributing sources. While I understand that the University and the academic community at large have standards that were broken here, Brown would be a much better place if all the professors had the same qualities and deficiencies that she does.

          • If you think that academic integrity & honesty have little to do with being a professor, then you are deeply confused about what a liberal education is. More importantly, you don’t seem to understand what faculty at Brown is expected to do outside the classroom.

          • Being a good professor necessitates academic integrity, and plagiarism is a flagrant violation of such integrity. End of discussion.

          • Unfortunately I disagree. A good professor’s job has everything to do with being an honest example to her students and NOT RIPPING OFF SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK.

        • I need to say the same. Her work with TEDx last year, and her engaging love of liberal education makes her arguably better positioned for deanship than professorship.

      • Vanessa Ryan is an amazing professor. Her class was one of the best English courses that I’ve taken so far and she is also the most caring and supportive professor that I have ever had.

        • a Brown professor says:

          This is a good case to illustrate the “University-College” nature of Brown: Prof. Ryan is clearly good enough to be a professor for a real college, such as Smith, where independent original scholarship is not a required qualification to be a professor. Brown is a real university where such qualification is essential. If someone had to resort to fraud to appear to be qualified for hire or tenure, this person has no place on the Brown faculty.

          • Brown professor 2 says:

            I cannot let go the extra-ordinary statement that a college, e.g. Smith, would not care about plagiarism in their faculty. No respectable college or university would allow a known plagiarist to remain on their faculty.
            As I understand this situation, Brown is contractually committed to Ryan until June, 1815. In the meantime her position in the dean’s office, can be seen as an attempt to make the best of a highly uncomfortable situation. The administration has moved her out of the English Department, which is clearly disgusted with her, and put her in a position that offers the possibility that others may learn something valuable from woman, who is by all student accounts a superb teacher. After that, I suspect, she is finished in the academic world; there is certainly no way that she would be hired by a reputable academic department in either a college or university.

          • June 1815? That’s when she meets her Waterloo, I guess. Maybe, more particularly, this being about Victorian novels and all, she’s like George Osborne who dies at Waterloo in Vanity Fair, “beloved and unforgiven,” in Thackeray’s sad phrase.

          • Non-academic staff says:

            Honest question: what are her employment options at this point? Where does one go with a PhD in English and a blemished record of employment?

          • Michigan. Provost Schlissel has a moral obligation to Prof. Ryan to hire her to UMich. Here is why: after her plagiarized work was exposed, she could have just apologized as she did and face an up and down vote in the English dept., if she is denied tenure here, she can still get a second chance at a lower ranked school. By participating in this elaborate scheme set up for her at Brown, she committed perjury twice. Effectively, Provost Schlissel destroyed her by “helping”. This is sad for Prof.Ryan.

          • Brown professor 2 says:

            One possible place is the deanery, which is full of people who did not receive tenure for one reason or another. This is fine, from my point of view;. it is clearly also fine from the point of view of the committee of very distinguished faculty who reviewed the case in fine detail and found it to be an error of sloppiness as opposed to willful deceit. She is a very intelligent, creative and energetic young woman, who is deeply committed to the value of a liberal Education and has a very strong teaching record. From that point of view, her current position is perfect for her and for Brown.

            This is, however, clearly not the point of view of the members of the English Department, who complained to the President about letting her work with graduate students. It is also clearly not the point of view of whoever it is who chose to leak all if this to the BDH. That person sees a value in publicly shaming Ryan, I assume with the hopes that she will never be able to work again. I am frankly appalled at the approach, and sincerely hope it does not work; that Ryan does find a way

          • I see Prof. Ryan as a victim of the Brown administration, not whoever provided the report to BDH. Prof. Keach and his colleagues did a great service to the University by speaking out. If Prof. Ryan truly believed her mistakes were unintentional, she should have just let the tenure review process run its course, let the outside reviewers give their oppionions and let her English colleagues vote. There is no shame at all if the vote is negative and she can hold her head high and get a job elsewhere. What is appalling to me is even distinguished colleagues like Profs. Blumstein, Cook, and Harvey are willing to point to an apple and say it is orange. If a student hands in an exam paper he copied from his classmate, can he use the Blumstein-Cook-Harvey criterion and say it is unintentional? Do I have to give him a pass too? Making us lose faith in people like Prof. Blumstein is probably the worst part. President Paxson will have a difficult task ahead of her at Brown in restoring that faith.

          • Anyone under the impression that “independent original scholarship is not a required qualification
            to be a professor” at a college like Smith has no idea about:

            1. Smith College
            2. the scholarly expectations for English faculty working today
            3. anything that has happened in American higher education since 1954.

            Once upon a time, Smith College might have required little (but certainly not no) scholarship from its faculty. During the same time period, universities like Brown often promoted faculty to *full* professor on the basis of a single book. The research standards are much higher now at Smith, at Brown, and everywhere else.

            Minimal attention to the actual world would make these facts plain.

  2. George Karlfeld says:

    Thin. Paxson and Schlissel are trying to cover their own butts about hiring and promotion. they cover their own butts about everything. That makes them piss poor as leaders.

  3. okay, it seems like everyone is slightly confused by what this article says. she was removed from tenure track–effectively fired–and she now has an administrative, advisory post for the next year or so since the University doesn’t want to leave her completely jobless before she can find another position

    have some mercy guys

    • Brown '17 parent says:

      Ok. The info that she was “effectively” fired and demoted and shown the door was kinda buried in there… sorry, this was the first I heard of the story, maybe I’m jumping in late. It still seems to me it’s not the obligation of the U to ease her transition when she brought this on herself, and in effect committed fraud and was hired with false pretenses. This is an especially big deal with an academic position which is entirely founded on authentic scholarship; maybe plagiarism wouldn’t be a big deal if she was applying for a job as a truckdriver or sous chef, because it’s not that relevant to their duties. But here, it’s a big deal.

  4. Wow- Ryan actually took from those un-cited sources word for word. I wonder how such a research mistake could have been made- even if you’re taking notes on a source, you always know that those notes are from a source and not your own ideas (they are ideas- they may not be central to Ryan’s thesis, but she is stealing someone else’s psychological ideas or interpretations of scientific data). I would love to know how such mistakes could have been made genuinely. I’m pursuing graduate research and would find it helpful to know how plagiarism this blatant can occur unbeknownst to the writer.

    Good for Prof. Keach for expressing his concerns and volunteering just the right amount of info on this. I took a class with him my sophomore year, and he was a wonderful professor- brilliant and a great person. I’ve taken a class with Ryan too. It is sad that she will no longer be teaching, as she is definitely a gifted communicator and very engaging in lecture. But this type of mistake is totally unacceptable, and it is strange that she would be allowed to supervise graduate work when she clearly was unable to catch serious mistakes in her own scholarship. If anything, I would wonder why the Uni. wouldn’t let her keep teaching undergrads for the next 18 months and NOT supervise any research or have anything to do with research.

    Excellent reporting on the Herald’s part- I liked how you guys checked out the plagiarism yourself, word by word.

    • I think OCR — the kind of thing Evernote offers — does this. I wouldn’t be surprised if she takes a picture or scan of the passage she wants to return to, puts it into evernote which transcribes it, and then later on she forgets which part she typed in and which was scanned. These things happen. You have to be careful not to fall into this trap if you use that kind of software. It’s not at all inconceivable that the plagiarism was accidental. I guess I think it would be inappropriate to keep her, but I also think that the punishment she’s undergone, losing her chances for tenure at any decent place and probably for a career, is ample, more than ample, so no need to pile on.

  5. Eric Muller says:

    This has all of the markings not of any sort of promotion, but of an effort to ease her out of the University. To my eye, the interesting question is not whether it’s appropriate for someone accused (and exonerated) of willful plagiarism to hold a temporary administrative position that includes advising graduate students. It’s whether other junior faculty members whose tenure cases are seen as problematic typically receive comparable accommodation from the university.

    • a Brown donor says:

      McLaughlin chaired the committee for hiring her. After her plagiarism is exposed, he arranged another job for her in the University Hall. What is going on? Do we have no shame?

  6. Concerned grad student says:

    It should be noted that Dean Ryan has moved into a newly created administrative position that is actually quite crucial to graduate student development, that is, the Associate Dean of Graduate Student Teaching and Pedagogy. She is basically in charge of making sure that graduate students learn how to effectively communicate their research. Seems a bit off given the plagiarism scandal.

    • catorenasci says:

      It seems to me that someone whose scholarship has been revealed to be unacceptable on the ground of plagiarism ought not be in any sort of position to be supervising anything academic, let alone “graduate student teaching and pedagogy”.

      In this age where no one has to face the consequences of his or her behavior (unless lumpenproletarian, working or lower middle class), it’s understandable that many students and faculty would like to spare the good Frau Doktor Professorin the consequence of immediate dismissal, the University has a greater responsibility to the students and faculty to keep her from doing any further harm. Pay her to go contemplate her sins for a year, if you must, but off campus and no longer affiliated with the University.

      • johnlonergan says:

        Is pedagogy held in such low esteem that it’s now a sinecure for corrupt teachers?

        • catorenasci says:

          That’s easy: yes.

          • johnlonergan says:

            I suppose, Catorenasci, that if Brown were still in the 19th Century and teaching were an opaque art, it wouldn’t matter. Teachers could cheat and diddle their students in an uninterrupted fashion.

            Today, however, good and bad teaching is out there for everyone to see and evaluate. Brown’s failure to adapt to new methods of teaching–flipped classrooms, learning from the top experts in the field–and retaining “gentlemanly, amateur” teaching methods is not only out-of-date, it’s criminally irresponsible.

            My comment on shuffling Ryan to ‘pedagogy’ is an indication of just how low Christina Paxson values teaching. And by ‘teaching,’ I don’t mean “teachers,” I mean efficacy.

          • catorenasci says:

            I cannot disagree with anything you’ve said – I was being a bit flip along the lines of the old saw “those who can, do; those who cannot, teach”, combined with a healthy Anglo-Saxon suspicion of those who ‘smell of the lamp’….

  7. Perhaps they should reissue her book and call it, “Copying Without Thinking”

  8. This is preposterous. In the age of our Turnitin obsession to vet all undergraduate work, the excuse of ‘not relevant to my original work’ or ‘inadvertent research blunder’ just don’t hold water. Good luck escaping a first sanction or Dean’s meeting with lines like those as a lowly undergrad.

    At the University of Toronto a quasi-legal tribunal is held to evaluate all second offenses of plagiarism and all first cases deemed to be serious enough to harm the academic integrity of the University. These tribunals hear academic dishonesty charges against current students and graduates who are under suspicion of academic dishonesty – intentional or inadvertent.

    Based on the circumstances of each case, undergraduates can expect to receive a zero for the course involved, perhaps a suspension or expulsion from the University. Graduates who have been awarded degrees can expect to be stripped of their degree.

    What is Yale doing about the dissertation and doctorate degree in this case? What precedent was used by Brown to determine the reparation/penalty in this case? It seems we made it up as we went along.

    Nice person, I’m sure. Nonetheless a plagiarist. In the academy plagiarism is the highest sin. Far more of a sin than sleeping with all of one’s colleagues’ wives.

  9. where did my comment go? I posted a critical (on McLaughlin and Schlissel) comment here and it disappeared.

  10. What is “unintentional plagiarism”? She thought that these 33 long passages in dissertation and book were her own words? How would the investigating committee decide it was unintentional? Because she told them so?

  11. I will re-post a cleaner version of my previous post that was censored.

    I want to thank Prof. Keach and his colleagues for speaking out. I spoke out against the administration in mishandling two cases involving PhD students, one was wrongfully expelled from Brown without due process. Instead of accepting the fact they made a mistake, Dean McLaughlin and Provost Schlissel chose to retaliate against me. I applaud Prof. Keach and his colleagues for bringing this fraud forward. The real fraud here is not Prof. Ryan’s plagiarism, which she certainly regrets, it is Brown’s attempt to hide it. This is actually true in many cases of scientific misconduct. Making mistakes is not the worst sin, it is the subsequent attempts to hide it, and in this case to give Prof. Ryan a fake promotion and then get her out of the door, at the expense of Brown’s reputation.

    • Thank you for sharing, Professor. What valuable insight for me to know, as a Brown student myself.
      The more I hear about these deans, the happier I am that I haven’t needed to deal with any of them during my time here! If I had a problem, I would be downright hesitant to approach anyone at Brown about.

      • Miss Gee, I am not suggesting our deans, including Dean McLaughlin, are not to be trusted. Let me be clear, I put most of the blame on the Provost. His decisions in the Ryan case and in the cases of two Phd students in physics are the ones I disagree with. By arbitrarily calling Ryan’s plagiarism not misconduct, but innocent data analysis errors of the students are, I don’t care how many committees he puts up to back him up, his judgment is questionable. I agree with Prof Keach totally. I’m also disappointed by Prof Sheila Blumstein. How can she let her good name be used in such a scam is beyond my comprehension. I hope the next Provost is following this issue. S/he needs to fix Provost Schlissel’s mistakes for us soon. Prof. Sean Ling

  12. In a similar case, Upenn’s English department has been protecting Jean-Michel Rabate, a senior faculty member guilty of plagiarism. In Rabate’s case, he actually plagiarized one of his own graduate students!! in a published article but the University decided to only prevent him from working with grads for a couple of years, and they’ve been keeping this VERY quiet.

  13. Popularity, intelligence and a good personality have long helped plagiarists. Look at Doris Kearns Goodwin.

  14. johnlonergan says:

    Really? Brown kept her on the payroll? I don’t care if she is pushed to a window watcher position–she should be gone, yesterday.

    Christina Paxson, where’s your leadership? What are you telling others at Brown by allowing a proven prevaricator to stay?

    • Mr. Lonergan: Don’t be so quick to condemn President Paxson. The decision was made by the Provost, the chief academic officer of the University. Clearly the Ryan case was mishandled. After Blumstein-Cook-Harvey committee’s self-conflicting report of not guilty on misconduct, but guilty of plagiarism, the proper action should have been to let the regular tenure review process to work its way out. That would be to Brown’s as well as to Prof. Ryan’s best interests, regardless of the outcome. Instead, she was talked into withdrawing from the regular process and given a fake promotion with a hard ending date of next June which she was entitled even if she was denied tenure in the regular process. I’m sure she was given assurance of confidentiality of the arrangement. This is clearly an unwise arrangement for both the University and Prof. Ryan since no university can keep secret! (In fact what the University spokesperson Marissa Quinn told BDH that Ryan’s contract ends next June is itself a personnel secret the University should never disclose. This disclosure may in fact be cause for a lawsuit by Prof. Ryan!) Now that the entire scheme is out in the open, Brown may face a lawsuit from Prof. Ryan, and Prof. Ryan’s future career option is limited. I agree that President Paxson bears the ultimate responsibility, but in practice she is way too busy to think this through. This task is the job of the Provost! (To the next Provost: you should not be thinking about the next job when you are at Brown!) But in this case the Provost was already thinking about the frigid weather of Lake Michigan, he probably did not give 5 minutes of his time, now we have to deal with this fiasco collectively! Please continue your donation to Brown though, Brown will still be here in the next 250 years! We need your support! (Disclaimer: This post does not represent the official views of Brown University, although it should be.)

      • johnlonergan says:

        Hello Sean,
        Thanks for your thorough explanation of the consequences for Prof. Ryan and what is really happening.

        I bear no special ill-will against Christina Paxson, but in the corporate world, when an employee is caught doing something egregious–abuse of power, bribery, inappropriate conduct with an employee–I look to the CEO to make things right.

        All readers understand that the Ryan case doesn’t only pertain to a cheater and a plagiarist. The type of response says something deeper about the culture which would keep on such a person, and attempt to excuse her behavior, rather than set a clear example to the rest of the Brown community.

        If a CEO had discovered that a division employee had was guilty of gross misconduct, he/she would use the instance to send a message to the entire organization that “this is wrong, will not be tolerated, and will be dealt with swiftly.”

        Christina Paxson is not that type of leader. She has chosen to silently endorse the Provost’s and English Department’s attempts to sweep this under the rug. In doing so, she has sent a message to the rest of the University that “it’s OK to cheat, as long as you’re politically well-connected.”

        Is that the message we want to be sending to the Brown community?

        As regards “continuing to donate to Brown,” I bristle at being regarded as simply an ATM machine for Brown’s misadministration. In fact, I and many of my co-alumni have a lot more to contribute than money. At present, I feel that Brown is so off-track that it deserves no money from us at all. Rather, Brown needs root-and-branch reform before it is worthy of any donations.

        This sorry example of lack of leadership and acceptance of cheating is a poor commentary on the state of management at Brown.

        • Hi John,
          I have to disagree with your statements on “Christina Paxson is not that type of leader…Brown is so off-track… lack of leadership and acceptance of cheating…”. The very fact that we are talking about this issue was because Prof. Keach and his 13 colleagues took the courageous stand against plagiarism. This is leadership at Brown. The University is on track. This is what faculty governance is all about. The provosts and deans come and go, even presidents come and go (think Gordon Gee), the tenured faculty has the responsibility in governing and guiding the University. As to Prof. Ryan’s appointment to next June, it was written in the faculty rule, you cannot blame the president. In fact, I support Brown’s decision in respecting our written rules in honoring her contract.

  15. Sean Ling says:

    Below is Provost’s message to faculty, a separate public response from me will follow.

    To: Faculty

    From: Provost Mark Schlissel

    Re: Confidentiality

    I am writing in follow-up to the report in the BDH last week that included
    information about the results of an academic misconduct investigation carried
    out by the Vice President for Research’s Office. This investigation was
    relevant to an academic tenure case under active consideration at the
    department level. The BDH states in its April 24, 2014 article that it obtained
    a copy of this confidential report.

    As I am sure you all know, strict confidentiality regarding academic personnel
    matters including tenure deliberations and misconduct investigations is an
    obligation of all faculty as spelled out in the Faculty Rules and Regulations.
    Beyond issues of fairness to the accused and to witnesses, the identities of
    those who serve on our misconduct committees must be protected to assure the
    willingness of faculty to serve on such committees in the future. In addition,
    if outside letter writers come to question our ability to hold evaluative
    information in confidence, then it will become increasingly difficult to get
    expert input into tenure and appointment cases. Nothing less than the
    institutional integrity of Brown University is at stake in such matters.

    I believe strongly that disagreeing with the conclusion of an investigation or
    the outcome of a tenure case does not provide justification for violating basic
    rules of confidentiality and faculty conduct. We often speak of “teachable
    moments” when it comes to our students. I consider recent events in this case
    such a moment for our faculty and its administrative leadership.

    I would be happy to meet with any faculty who would like to discuss this further.
    Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

    Mark S. Schlissel


    • Sean Ling says:

      I wrote a long draft to the Provost and asked DOF if I broke any rules, he did not reply, so I will not post it. He had threatened to fire me for my private protest of their handling of two Chinese students in physics. I will just respond to Provost’s confidentiality argument generally: you cannot form a committee and tell them what to say and use it as a cover to do wrong things and expect people to be quiet about it. I feel sorry for my English colleague for having to resort to the Snowden method. When a committee gave you a report and you say “I don’t like it” and form another and tell them “we can do whatever we want, NSF will not have the manpower to check”. Now it is very clear to me what has happened: our confidentiality rule was used as a cover so that we can cover up real misconduct (plagiarism), and pretend we care about academic dishonesty in research by overcharging defenseless students. So my first reaction was right: if the students were white male, their treatment would have been different. The fact the Dean and provost suspended my faculty privileges for private protest shows that they viewed me as an easy target too. Mark, I will boycott your farewell party tomorrow! Shame on you!

  16. John Doe says:

    Diversity is of the utmost importance.

  17. SheWrites says:

    While the defense mounted is “sloppy scholarship,” that sloppy scholarship is so sloppy that it’s no longer about a little untidiness but about a serious flawed method of research and writing. If one takes notes on a source and in the process of taking those notes also jots down one’s own thoughts or responses to the work, I understand that it can be difficult to discern one’s words from others. The trick, of course, is to mark in some way which words belong to the source and which constitute the note-taker’s own musings. (A bracket around one’s own words; formatting one’s responses in italics–whatever.) And if the difference isn’t immediately evident in the notes, then by golly, go back and check to make sure you upheld the boundary between what is yours and what is theirs. I get that running down a quotation can be maddening: I’ve had to go back to notes and make sure I’ve not mistaken quotations I’ve taken down from a source with my own words–but that’s the point–to make sure, to double-check, to reread the original, if necessary. If you make a mistake in your own note-taking and can no longer discern where your words start and end, then leave it out or write it as a paraphrase and document it anyway (even if it’s just a footnote directing the reader to “See Jane Doe for further discussion of issue x. [And add to that footnote a quotation that you know really is Doe’s as a contextualizing move.]). Better to err on the side of over-documentation than to have your sloppiness made visible. The incident suggests haste and a really messy system for notes, but that doesn’t completely excuse it because plagiarism is an ethical concern, which means what others think about the sloppiness is important, too. If sloppiness is read as willful, and if colleagues and the public have agreed over the years that is in fact plagiarism, then it’s still plagiarism, and it won’t be pardoned by a mea culpa for disorganized research methods. If your house is a mess, clean it up before people come over, or take responsibility for the fact that people who did see the messy house will (a) tell others and (b) not want to come over again.

  18. Glen Broemer says:

    If this seems like overposting, I generally publish when I’ve been assaulted, or when my privacy is ignored, or when my cats cry out in pain by some action of government. I’ve been assaulted thousands of times over the past decade now, I’m sure that estimate is accurate….the other day one of my cats was bleeding, hair missing from its back, and two of them actually have scabs on their back as a result of being shot with energy weaponry. According to one report this results from my publication of Ronald Reagan quotes and biographical facts, indisputable and in fact from wikipedia. The federal government of course has all the power in the world to stop it.

  19. Glen Broemer says:

    Typically operating through puppets–including puppets in the judiciary–the right wing has for decades been committing crimes and trying to classify them to cover them up, a move explicitly forbidden by the Code of Federal Regulations. The right has accomplished its political objectives by presenting a fraction of the evidence to judicial officials who, having seen the pattern dozens of times before, could not help but realize that they were being presented with incomplete and inaccurate information.

    With either the willfully blind approval or the willful ignorance of the judiciary the right has killed & stolen several of my pets and routinely shoots energy weaponry at me and my pets. Recent harm to animals include: two kittens from a pregnant stray i took in were killed a few months ago. The remaining two, just 3 months old, shake their head as government operatives shoot them with energy weaponry. They shot the eye out or removed the eye of a large really good natured stray at the port, hobbled another cat at the port, shooting it with energy weaponry, and for years routinely killed and left dead animals in my path. A few years ago one of them threatened ‘we’ll just kill a cat every so often’, in so many words. This has continued despite my calls to the police, the FBI, Congress, and my petitions in court. In the usual case, it appears that the right goes to a judicial crony for a ruling permitting them to harm animals to retaliate against me for my free speech. The federal government, the right wing in particular, interfered with my personal life and economic options for 3 decades, so their solution to my noting it is to kill animals. Makes perfect sense right? It does if you’re a sociopathic criminal, criminally stupid, and hawkish. Invariably their lies are exposed and the wrongfulness of the harm is clear to everyone, though not until the animals have been maimed or killed. There is really only one solution, and that’s to disempower them politically and to impeach them.

    If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth, right? the Democrats’ great accomplishment is producing the political equivalent of a Rodney King video, clearly demonstrating the lies of the right, the right Hilary Clinton correctly identified as a vast conspiracy. Confirm by examining Central District of California Cases, 01-4340, 03-9097, 08-5515, 10-5193, US Tax Court 12000-07L –though I think you want to view my US Tax Court Appeal to the 9th Circuit for a good account of their day to day assaults, a few month time slice indicative of a decade of assault, and more recently 9th Circuit case 11-56043.

  20. W Wembsley says:

    How shameful. The university is doing all it can to cover itself. This woman stole other writers’ ideas, actively plagiarized (it doesn’t matter that this is “unintentional”) and the University PROMOTES her to dean?
    Wow- Can you imagine Ryan overseeing graduate students on the matter of research ethics? Wouldn’t that be like asking the CEO of Sallie Mae to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve?
    This is pathetic all the way around: Brown is pathetic, and Ryan is pathetic. Her book should be retitled “Someone Else’s Thinking, by me, Unthinkingly”

  21. Concerned Non-Citizen says:

    Read the publisher’s blurb for The Vanishing Subject alongside the opening lines of Thinking without Thinking

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