Professor Plagiarizes Wikipedia To Write Textbook

Blake Neff | Reporter

An Arizona black history professor has been caught repeatedly plagiarizing material for textbooks, including by copying paragraphs from sites like Wikipedia. Despite this, he has been punished with a relative slap on the wrist, keeping his job and losing only a small part of his generous salary.

Until the last few days, Matthew Whitaker was a full professor at Arizona State University and was the founding director of the school’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. But complaints from Whitaker’s fellow academics and an anonymous blog forced the school to investigate one of his textbooks, “Peace Be Still: Modern Black America From World War II to Barack Obama”. The investigation discovered “significant issues” with the book, such as major passages ripped from other books or even websites like Infoplease.

The website Inside Higher Ed compared passages in Whitaker’s book to uncited outside sources when the new accusations first surfaced is 2014. For example, this is a passage from the website Infoplease:

“Fueled by ‘angry white men,’ a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. ‘Preferential treatment’ and ‘quotas’ became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim.”

And here is a very similar passage from “Peace Be Still,” which gives no credit to Infoplease:

“Fueled by ‘angry white men’ as well as by white women, an all-out battle for the life of the policy emerged. For Conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to people of color while it shut the door on whites.  In a nation that has celebrated the values of independence and ‘pulling oneself up by one bootstraps,’ conservatives soon argued that ‘unqualified’ racial minorities were getting a ‘free ride’ in American schools and in the workplace as a result of affirmative action policies.  They referred to affirmative action incorrectly and contemptuously as a system of ‘preferential treatment’ and ‘quotas.’ Some even claimed that many people of color enjoyed playing the role of ‘professional victim’ to exploit the policy for their own benefit.”

Despite confirming major problems with Whitaker’s work, which would likely lead to the suspension or expulsion of a student, ASU has given Whitaker a lenient punishment. He’s been demoted from full professor to associate professor, which lowers his salary from a lush $163,500 to a mere $153,500. He’s also been forced to accept a co-director at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, cutting his pay in that role by $10,000, for a total salary cut of $20,000.

Whitaker’s finances will take a far bigger hit from the loss of a huge contract his consulting company had with the city of Phoenix. The contract was going to pay Whitaker $268,800 to provide “cultural consciousness training” to the city’s police officers. In the words of the city’s police department, that meant an ethically-challenged professor to be paid six figures to instruct police on how to improve “trust, accountability and mutual respect” while on the job. On Tuesday, after local politicians raised an outcry, Whitaker withdrew the contract.

This is actually the second major ethics snarl Whitaker has been involved in. When he was first promoted to full professor in 2011, many colleagues protested and accused him of major academic irregularities. They pointed out that he had, without attribution, taken entire paragraphs from Wikipedia to create entries in his book “African American Icons of Sport,” a sports encyclopedia aimed at children.

Whitaker blamed the excerpts on a freelance editor, and ASU cleared him at the time, though it was accused of doing little to investigate the matter. The school’s decision appalled one professor so much she resigned from her department’s tenure committee in protest.

Despite the substantial evidence against him, Whitaker has tried to blame attacks on petty racism within academia. In 2011, during the first investigation, he wrote a letter to ASU saying that “the question of the motive of my accusers cannot be ignored, including racial bias, resentment and harassment against a black professor promoted to full professor over their objections.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation email Whitaker for comment on his current situation and whether he still views himself as a victim of racially-motivated attacks. The email has not be replied to.

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