07/28/2014 05:06 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

What Happens When High School Administrators Get Caught Plagiarizing


Although high school students are regularly warned to avoid plagiarism and are often punished when they slip, a steady stream of high school administrators have come under fire lately for engaging in that very practice.

In the same weeks that Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) received attention for plagiarizing his final paper to earn a Master’s degree from the United States Army War College, a number of high school superintendents and principals have received punishments for plagiarizing their commencement speeches.

Last week, Newton Public Schools superintendent David Fleishman in Massachusetts was fined one week’s salary by the Newton School Committee for giving a commencement speech eerily similar to one given by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), according to Boston’s CBS affiliate. According to the outlet, a student first noted the similarities between the two speeches in the Newton South High School Paper.

In another incident, a Massachusetts area superintendent recently lost her job over plagiarizing allegations. Mansfield Public Schools superintendent Brenda Hodges stepped down from her post this month after accusations that she plagiarized a commencement speech from Navy Admiral William McRaven, who spoke at the University of Texas at Austin in May. Instead, Hodges maintained that she lifted her speech from one she witnessed in Oklahoma, and that she received permission from that speech’s author to use its ideas.

In resigning, Hodges wrote a letter posted on the district’s website, writing that, “While the source of my speech has been clearly established, it does not excuse the fact that I did not credit him as a source. For that, I apologize.”

In June, a Colorado school principal also resigned after admitting that he lifted much of his speech from Cheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book, Lean In, according to HLNTv. Another principal in Pennsylvania was given a 10-day suspension after admitting that he lifted his commencement speech from one given by writer David Foster Wallace.

These examples of school administrators plagiarizing are just some of the few that have come out in recent months.

Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, told The Boston Globe that these incidents make it harder to teach students that plagiarism is wrong.

Modeling is one of the most significant ways in which values are conveyed,” he said. “What we see people do is more impactful than most other ways of trying to instill values.”



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