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Putting His Money Where His Mouth is: The Samir Patel Plagiarism Update
by Eric D. Snider

We have achieved some measure of closure on the Samir Patel/UMKC plagiarism scandal that we first told you about last month. Get ready for some updates!

But first, the story so far:

In Part 1, we told you about Samir Patel, a University of Missouri-Kansas City grad student who had been plagiarizing work from this site (as well as some others) in order to "write" movie reviews for UMKC's student paper, the University News.

His reviews tended to be cobbled together Frankenstein-style from three or four other reviews. So in the course of creating 34 of his, he stole from nearly 100 others -- a paragraph from Peter Sobczynski, a paragraph from Scott Weinberg, and so forth. In fact, of all the reviews published under his name in the past year, we could find only a few that were not wholly or partially stolen from other sources.

We sent a letter to the university informing them of our findings and making three demands:

1. A front-page apology, including a list of the stolen reviews and the names of the people they were stolen from.

2. The removal of all the offending reviews from the U-News Web site.

3. The sum of $25 for each HBS/EFC that Patel stole from -- 58 reviews, totaling $1,450.

We said if they didn't comply by April 30, we would take legal action. It was only April 7, so they had plenty of time.

In Part 2, a week later, we updated you on what had happened so far. No official response from the university at that point, but there had certainly been plenty of activity elsewhere. Our initial story had been linked or referred to all over the media. Web sites pertaining to movie reviews, journalism and college newspapers were interested, as were general-interest outlets like the Kansas City Star and USA Today.

Meanwhile, we'd been doing some more digging on our own. Seems Patel hadn't limited his plagiarism to movie reviews; some of his feature stories and columns had contained stolen material, too -- including one with big chunks swiped from the New York Times. (Whoops!)

We also mentioned that the University News had printed ... well, not an "apology," exactly, but an acknowledgment and a "we disavow all connection with Samir Patel" statement. Their major concern seemed to be maintaining credibility with their readers by making it clear they did not condone Patel's actions. But they didn't take any responsibility for them, either.

And that leads us to the present.

On Friday, April 28 -- the last business day before our April 30 deadline -- I got a voice mail message from Zauyah Waite, UMKC's director of Student Life. We connected on Monday, May 1, and had a cordial, pleasant conversation in which she conveyed the following information:

1. The university apologized for and was deeply embarrassed by the incident.

2. Patel remains as a student, but on probation.

3. Patel has been released from all university employment. (He'd been teaching a writing class in the English department, if you can believe that.)

4. They're going to have him write an official apology to the aggrieved writers.

5. She's going to try to have the University News run the front-page apology and proper credit list we asked for -- but it won't happen until fall, when the paper resumes publication. I pointed out that we'd given them three weeks to do it, and she observed that the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly. She also implied that the University News more or less has autonomy, and that the university may not be in a position to DEMAND that they run the apology. So we'll see.

6. They're going to pay the $1,450.

7. They're also going to make Patel reimburse them. She said they're setting up a payment plan with him.

We think No. 7 is particularly awesome, by the way. Organizations get sued for copyright infringement all the time, but we'd never heard of the actual plagiarist being held financially responsible, rather than just letting his bosses taking the hit. It's certainly fair, and kudos to UMKC for seeing to it.

The promised check arrived on May 12 and is being disbursed among the plagiarized writers.

Overall, we're pleased with UMKC's response. It could have been quicker -- but, as Mrs. Waite pointed out, universities move slowly. They could strong-arm the University News a little more -- but when I worked for the student paper at my alma mater, I know I was glad when the university stayed out of our affairs.

Perhaps the most controversial result is that Patel wasn't expelled. He's pursuing a master's degree and is apparently nearly finished. Mrs. Waite and I didn't discuss it at length, but I gathered they took some pity on him and opted to let him finish his education rather than throw the previous six or eight years away.

One last tidbit: On April 14, Samir Patel sent me an e-mail. I was the one who had written the letter to the university (on behalf of the other 14 HBS/EFC writers involved), and it was my contact info on the letterhead.

He asked that I keep the text of his e-mail private, so I'll just say that it was profusely apologetic. He seemed legitimately sorry -- sorry he'd plagiarized us or sorry he got caught, I couldn't say. But he was humble and contrite. You almost feel bad for the guy.

Of course, then you remember that this wasn't one stupid mistake he made in a burst of poor judgment. It was a pattern, systematically stealing from other writers week after week for more than a year. You feel sympathy for the guy who kills his wife's lover in a fit of passion. The guy who methodically plans crimes and perpetrates them over and over again, not so much.

We'll see if that front-page apology happens in the fall, or if we get that official apology letter from Patel. In the meantime, we're satisfied with UMKC's response. We hope this serves as a lesson to all the would-be plagiarists out there, and a reminder that the Internet may be big, but it's easily searchable, too. So you're gonna get caught.

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originally posted: 05/13/06 15:36:57
last updated: 06/03/06 08:47:47
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