Thursday, April 25

The head of Columbia DEI is accused of plagiarizing Wikipedia’s thesis

An official responsible for diversity, equity and inclusion at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center was accused this week of plagiarizing large sections of his doctoral thesis, according to an anonymous complaint filed with the university.

The 55-page complaint accused the official, Alade McKen, of copying material in her 2021 thesis at Iowa State University from more than two dozen other scholars and from Wikipedia, which is written and edited by volunteers from the general public.

The complaint was published online Thursday by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site that last year campaigned against former Harvard University president Claudine Gay. She resigned in January following accusations of plagiarism and after her response to anti-Semitism on campus was criticized.

Accusations of plagiarism have rocked the world of elite academia in recent months. They have often had explicitly political overtones, with conservative critics leveling accusations against left-wing administrators and at least one high-profile accusation being described as an act of liberal revenge.

The complaint published online Thursday accused Mr. McKen of copying passages of his thesis from the Wikipedia entry for “Afrocentric Education” and from the published scholarship or doctoral dissertations of at least 28 people.

“Is Alade McKen a plagiarist?” wrote the anonymous complainant at the top of page 1. “A small selection of examples from her thesis are included below to guide your investigation.”

Mr McKen did not respond to messages seeking comment on Thursday. Angie Hunt, a spokeswoman for Iowa State University, said the school has “received and is in the process of reviewing the complaint.”

“The university is committed to the highest ethical standards to ensure the integrity and public trust in research conducted at Iowa State,” Hunt said in a statement.

Columbia declined to comment on the case, saying in a statement that it does not comment on “the details of individual personnel matters.”

“Columbia University has clear standards and policies regarding academic ethics and integrity for all members of our community, including faculty, and we take allegations of misconduct seriously,” the school said.

The passages at issue in Mr. McKen’s thesis were largely copied word for word from other scholars or from Wikipedia with only minor changes to grammar or tenses, according to the complaint. The New York Times examined parts of the thesis and the Wikipedia page and found parts that looked almost the same.

“Woodson criticized the education of African Americans as ‘miseducation’ because he believed it denigrated blacks while glorifying whites,” McKen wrote on page 53 of his thesis, referring to the influential black scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. “For many early Afrocentrists, the goal was to break what they saw as a vicious cycle of reproducing black self-denial.”

Almost the same phrase appears in the Wikipedia article on “Afrocentric Education.” It appears that Mr. McKen changed the order of some words and removed a hyphen.

“Woodson criticized the education of African Americans as ‘miseducation’ because he believed it denigrated blacks while glorifying whites,” the Wikipedia article states. “For these early Afrocentrists, the goal was to break what they saw as a vicious cycle of reproducing black self-denial.” The Times examined versions of the page dating back to 2013 in an online archive and found identical language.

McKen is the third diversity administrator at an Ivy League university to be accused of plagiarism in the space of a month, following Sherri Ann Charleston and Shirley R. Greene, both of Harvard.

At Harvard, Dr. Gay resigned in January after more than 40 cases of plagiarism were discovered in her academic work by an anonymous whistleblower. Those accusations began shortly after Dr Gay survived an earlier campaign to oust her for what critics said was her insufficient response to anti-Semitism following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

She had been president of Harvard — the first black woman in the role — for about six months.

Days later, an investigation by the news site Business Insider accused Neri Oxman, the wife of one of Dr. Gay’s chief critics, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, of plagiarizing parts of her doctoral thesis from other scholars and from Wikipedia.

Ms Oxman later apologized for what she called “mistakes”. a post on Twitter. Mr. Ackman said he believed the charges against his wife were retribution for her support of Dr. Gay’s ouster, which he described as “my actions to address the problems of higher education.”

McKen began his work at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, which includes the university’s medical school, in September 2023. Before that, he was assistant dean for recruiting, diversity and inclusion at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Conservation, according to a university profile.

In addition to his doctorate in educational, social and cultural studies from Iowa State, Mr. McKen holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from Baruch College and a certificate in diversity and inclusion from Cornell University, the profile states.