Staff Editorial: Funding Zakaria would be hypocritical
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Student Union will vote on speaker appeals. The process for appeals has changed somewhat from last year, with Treasury voting on individual speakers rather than full line-ups, and taking more care to avoid speakers with a high probability of cancellation (see Al Gore, Sofia Vergara). Among the speakers on the docket for appeal is Fareed Zakaria, writer and editor for Newsweek, as well as host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” The Asian Multicultural Council planned to appeal for Zakaria last year, but the group ultimately decided not to pursue funding. Given the cloud of suspicion that appeared surrounding Zakaria’s work following his alleged plagiarism this summer, however, Student Union should deny Ashoka’s appeal and allocate speaker money elsewhere.
The charges of plagiarism arose from an Aug. 20 column Zakaria wrote for Time magazine, entire sections of which had been lifted from a piece in the New Yorker by art historian Jill Lapore. While both Time and Newsweek quickly absolved him for what was apparently an “isolated incident,” he was briefly suspended from work. In an interview with the New York Times, Zakaria characterized the instance as a “terrible mistake” arising from “confusion” about his handwritten notes.
Students accused of plagiarism face failing a class and, in some cases, expulsion; “confusion” over one’s notes, long-hand or not, would not be accepted as an explanation. Even self-plagiarism (i.e., handing in a paper written for a previous class or publication) can lead to drastic consequences. Particularly in the information age where published work is subject to increasing scrutiny, protestations of “confusion” seem especially flimsy. At a university which requires statements regarding academic integrity in nearly every syllabus we receive, funding a speaker with an unclear background regarding plagiarism would be hypocritical.
In some cases, the possible legal and moral transgressions of speakers do not preclude them from being valuable guests to campus. Two years ago, for example, the Congress of the South 40 hosted Frank Abagnale, best known for committing impressive acts of fraud—activities that inspired the film “Catch Me if You Can.” But in the case of Fareed Zakaria, a journalist whose fame and position in his field is predicated on his journalistic and intellectual excellence, allegations of plagiarism, “mistake” or not, diminish his credibility. Abagnale is a reformed criminal, collaborating with the FBI to detect fraud. Zakaria is a Harvard Ph.D. and by all accounts a towering intellect in the realm of foreign policy. While his speech would undoubtedly be informative and entertaining, inviting him to speak is a tacit approval of his actions. At the very least, Zakaria committed a serious professional lapse. At the worst, he knowingly plagiarized, an action that ought to permanently discredit him.
A number of interesting speakers are up for appeal on Tuesday night, including the Mythbusters, Ann-Marie Slaughter and Dan Savage. Given the diversity of speakers on the docket, SU should have no trouble bringing speakers who both inform and entertain while conforming to ethical standards.