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The N&O Picks Up the Willingham Plagiarism Story

This is Rameses incredulous look.
This is Rameses incredulous look.
Ronald Martinez


Okay maybe a little.

Dan Kane actually gives the plagiarism charges against "whistle-blower" Mary Willingham a fair treatment. According to Kane, the N&O ran the paper through a plagiarism checker and found suspect passages. Kane also got two experts on record to say that there is certainly enough going on in the thesis to call it plagiarism and maybe UNC Greensboro should take a second look. UNCG, in perhaps the ordeal's most ironic moment, says they can't comment on Willingham's thesis because doing so would...wait for it....wait for it...violate FERPA!

So the very law Willingham has no issue violating is protecting her now.

Of course none of that is more ludicrous than what Willingham had to say in response to the charges that she plagiarized her thesis.

Willingham in a phone interview said she worked hard on the paper, calling the experience "brutal." She said any instances in which information was not properly cited or quoted were inadvertent. The paper includes more than 60 citations, at least a dozen passages that are in quotes and a bibliography of more than 30 sources.

"Whatever I did, I did, and, you know, whatever," she said. "There’s nothing I can do about it."

I mean....really? This story initially broke on Friday night so Willingham had a good 48-72 hours plus to mull over what she might say in response to these charges and what we get is a the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug? If that's all it takes to walk away from academic malfeasance, UNC should have just issued this as a statement two years ago and been done with it.  At this point I think we have a real cage match between this line and Butch Davis' "Should I have known? I wish I had known" quip as the quote of the scandal.

It also should be noted there is a hint here that one reason the plagiarism happened was the process of writing a thesis is "brutal." Having never written one I cannot attest to that. However my understanding is this type of work can be arduous and demanding which is par for the course for a professional degree. There is an expectation that work be done at a certain level and universities can be particular on issues like plagiarism or following proper research protocol. In fact taking those two missteps by Willingham together we clearly see the picture of someone who was in over her head. She apparently didn't understand how to do the basest of tasks in a field from which CNN hailed her as an expert. This latest episode is just additional confirmation(if you needed it) of Willingham's status as an academic lightweight masquerading as something more.

Looking at the scandal as a whole it becomes increasingly clear that Willingham's foray into the spotlight did not change the facts on the ground in Chapel Hill regarding UNC's troubles, did very little to advance the cause she championed and served as nothing more than a massive PR distraction. There is and always has been plenty of wrong at UNC to examine without introducing bogus findings and sensationalist stories into the mix. Willingham's fifteen minutes has been at best carnival barking and at worst completely self-serving.

As it stands, UNC is still waiting for Kenneth Wainstein to finish his investigation which includes getting answers from the chief actors in the AFAM scandal Julius Nyang'oro and Deborah Crowder. The NCAA has reopened their case to take a look at the information those two bring forward. Hopefully with the less-than-credible Mary Willingham off the stage the adults in the room can sort through the facts, find the root cause of this unpleasantness and put the matter to rest once and for all.