Boston U. dean is accused of stealing speech

July 03, 1991|By New York Times News Service

BOSTON -- At his commencement speech in May, the dean of Boston University's School of Communication delivered a sharply worded attack on the decline of morality in American culture to an audience of more than 1,000 fledgling journalists and their families. But in his speech the dean repeated, virtually word for word, portions of an article by a PBS film critic.

A videotape of the speech, on sale by Boston University, shows that the dean, J. Joachim Maitre, copied the underlying theme and about 15 paragraphs from an article by Michael Medved, of the Public Broadcasting System's program "Sneak Previews."

The article was first published in the February issue of Imprimis, a scholarly journal put out by Hillsdale College in Michigan. The college has since reprinted half a million copies, and parts have been excerpted in the Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest.

At no point on the tape does Mr. Maitre mention Mr. Medved or indicate that the ideas were not originally his own.

Mr. Maitre, a 57-year-old former East German fighter pilot who is an outspoken conservative, was said by his administrative assistant to be in Malaysia and unreachable for comment. He has been at the center of several disputes at Boston University since joining the faculty in 1984 and has been accused by other faculty members of abandoning journalistic objectivity for political involvement.

John R. Silber, the university's president, who appointed Mr. Maitre as dean in 1987, said yesterday that he would make no judgment on the "charges of plagiarism" against Mr. Maitre until the dean returned from abroad and was given "a full, fair and dispassionate opportunity to defend himself."

In a brief written statement, Mr. Silber did not contradict the charges, first made yesterday in a news article in the Boston Globe.

In academia, the use of another person's words or ideas without attribution is one of the most serious offenses. At Boston University, all students in the School of Communication receive written guidelines outlining what constitutes plagiarism and the penalties for it.

Several professors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said any student who plagiarized as extensively as Mr. Maitre appeared to have done would be expelled.

In Mr. Medved's article, "Popular Culture and the War Against Standards," the author says there is a "war on standards" in film and television in which ugliness and violence are glorified, and religion and traditional family values are shunned.

Mr. Medved starts with an examination of the film, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover." He recounts several violent and sexually explicit scenes and denounces the film for its "unrelieved ugliness, horror and depravity at every turn."

Mr. Medved then says it is no longer fashionable to talk about the content of art. "The politically correct, properly liberal notion is that we should never dig deeper," he says.

In his commencement address, Mr. Maitre said he recently saw the same film and described the same scenes. Using almost exactly the same words, he criticized the film for its "unrelieved ugliness, horror and depravity at every turn."

"I call it a war against standards," Mr. Maitre added. "The politically correct, properly liberal notion is -- liberal in the sense of having no standards -- is that we should never dig deeper to consider whether a given work is true."

Mr. Medved said in a telephone interview that he had never heard of Mr. Maitre and was "stunned" that someone would copy an article that had been so widely printed.

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