Kansas City, Mo. — A University of Missouri-Kansas City dean whose December 2003 commencement speech included unattributed excerpts from a nationally renowned scholar on Tuesday called his apparent plagiarism "a stupid mistake."
And he's hoping it won't cost him his job.
Bryan LeBeau, dean of the university's College of Arts and Sciences, was accused in a story on The Chronicle of Higher Education's Web site Monday of plagiarizing part of a speech given in 1993 by Cornel West, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University.
A University of North Carolina adjunct professor discovered similarities between the speeches while she was doing an Internet search for the quote's source.
LeBeau on Tuesday acknowledged some of the material in his speech was taken from West's speech, and said he has e-mailed an apology to the Princeton professor.
"I erred in not attributing those couple of passages to Cornel," LeBeau said. "I had just started at UMKC and was told late in the game that it's tradition for the dean to give remarks at December commencement.
"I thought, OK, I could put something together and talk to them about civic responsibility. I had a bunch of quotes that could serve the purpose well."
Among them were quotes from West, some of which LeBeau figures he had clipped and saved to use in his classes. But the 25-year veteran of higher education said he failed to use the same principles of attribution in his speech that he does in his published materials.
"I think he understands it was a mistake," LeBeau said of West. "It was an honest mistake, but a stupid mistake. I'm a professional; I've done a lot of writing and know what the rules are. This is a fluke and a dumb move. If anything, I'm guilty of extreme stupidity."
In a statement provided to the media, interim chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle said the University of Missouri-Kansas City is evaluating the situation.
"Our academic affairs office is currently reviewing this issue and will determine next steps according to the University of Missouri's collected rules and regulations," he said.
Kate McPherson, vice president for academic affairs at Utah Valley State College, where plagiarism is among the issues discussed at the Center for the Study of Ethics, said LeBeau's mistake was not in quoting West, but in failing to give him credit for his thoughts.
"I think it's almost inevitable if you write, publish and speak a lot, even without meaning to, to use other people's words in an unattributed fashion," she said.
LeBeau, who also teaches classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said he knew he would have to work hard to regain his credibility. He said he never intended the text of his speech to make it onto the Internet, instead sending it out on an internal listserve after some faculty members asked to see it.
"I never had any idea the listserve was subject to the Web," he said. "But it is out there, and it is a mistake."
He also knows the plagiarism flap could cost him his job at the university.
"There's always that potential, but I'm hoping it won't come to that," he said. "I hope that in 25 years in higher education without a blemish, that will count for something. I'm not backing off on my responsibility here. I'm just hoping it wouldn't be sufficient to cancel out what I've done."