Copycat? Another UVA prof endured scandal
Earlier this academic year, another UVA professor became ensnared in a plagiarism debate of her own. In November, The History News Network, a George Mason University-affiliated news site, ran a lengthy story about the case of UVA faculty member Ann J. Lane.
Lane, longtime history professor and director of Studies in Women and Gender, is today something of a Charlottesville icon. But back in 1971, as an assistant professor at Rutgers, she allegedly lifted large chunks from two published articles while converting her dissertation into a book.
The incident had never been publicly covered until the Network learned that Lane herself alluded to it at a conference.
Like some of the popular historians similarly accused, Lane took a defensive posture. She dismissed the story as "prejudicial," accused the author of "sloppy reporting" but did concede that she had made "careless mistakes" based on "sloppiness" by a hired typist.
Lane's rebuttal– published online by the Network at hnn.us– is longer than the original article and points out that many of the copied passages were footnoted.
"These were not obscure articles from obscure journals by unknown people published long before," Lane responds. "It is so appalling, so transparent, so clearly going to be discovered, that unless I was on a race to self-destruction, it was a whopper of a mistake."
"She may be right," says fellow UVA faculty member Steve Rhoads. "If you were going to [plagiarize], you wouldn't footnote it."
However, Lane's defenses didn't carry much weight at the Network. Copying is "hardly a small matter," said Network editor Rick Shenkman. "Students at the University of Virginia where she teaches have been thrown out for copying."
Indeed, UVA's Honor Code stipulates just one punishment for any form of cheating, including plagiarism: expulsion.
By last November, that system resulted in the dismissal or withdrawal of 48 students caught copying others' papers in Professor Louis Bloomfield's "How Things Work" class. Bloomfield, interviewed by scads of national media including 60 Minutes, declined to comment for this story.
"The Honor Code is outdated," says Lane in a telephone interview. "You don't get expelled from UVA for rape or murder, but you do get expelled for cheating. It's a slave-owner's Code."
Lane notes that she'd even like it if the system of awarding grades were abolished. As for Bloomfield's cheaters, while she acknowledges that their actions were "pretty dishonest," she envisions a system in which punishment involves explaining their actions– not leaving the university.
Lane also says that it is politics, rather than concerns about academic integrity, that keep raising this incident from her past. An early feminist, Lane is now nearing retirement, but she has long been identified with '60s leftist student movements. "It's Red-baiting again," says Lane, "except nobody cares any more."
Lane confirms that her initial response to the charge was feisty. Quoting her brother, activist/attorney Mark Lane, she defined plagiarism as a tort that implies intentional deception, and threatened legal action. "Use of the word 'plagiarism' in this context is actionable," she says she told a Rutgers panel.
The professor seems to have paid some price– at least in the short run. The incident ended her tenure-track position at Rutgers, but Lane later won positions at Colgate and UVA, where she currently earns a six-figure salary.
Lane says she was asked about the incident by the head of a search committee when she was being interviewed for the UVA position in 1990.
"Ann has been so open and honest about this," says UVA spokesperson Carol Wood. "It had been dealt with so long ago that it was not an issue."