KU diversity leader admits plagiarizing his campuswide message regarding MLK Day, says he was in a hurry

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The University of Kansas campus, pictured in September 2021.

The leader of KU’s diversity efforts acknowledged Monday that his campuswide email on the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was largely plagiarized from an email he had received years ago.

D.A. Graham, the interim vice provost for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the University of Kansas, said he did not intentionally plagiarize the text that was sent to all faculty, staff and students of the university under the subject of “2022 MLK Jr. Day of Reflection.”

“It was an oversight on my part,” Graham said after the Journal-World asked him about the origin of the email. “I was trying to hurry up and get the message together.”

D.A. Graham

The Journal-World asked Graham about the email after a reader provided a copy of the email Graham sent to the university community and then compared it to an internet posting that was written by Curtis L. Coy, who was listed as a Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity with the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Graham told the Journal-World that he had received the email from a veterans official several years ago, perhaps back in 2008. Originally, he said he “borrowed from the text of that email” when crafting his campus email. The Journal-World told Graham that some in the university community had seen the two texts and had raised the concern that Graham had plagiarized from Coy’s letter.

Graham’s email included about a 550-word message that led into a list of MLK-related events happening in the university community. Of those 550-words, a vast majority of the sentences and phrases in Graham’s letter match those from Coy’s letter.

When asked whether he thought his use of the letter amounted to plagiarism, whether intentional or not, Graham said: “If you want to go technically, then yes.”

Graham said he was open to sending out another campuswide email acknowledging the error and giving Coy his appropriate credit. However, Graham said he would need to first talk to leaders at KU to determine how they want him to proceed.

“The thing you can do is give the original person their due and talk about my own sadness that I allowed that to happen,” he said. “It is a difficult space to be in. That was not my intention. My intent was to send an uplifting message to the community.”

Indeed, the message is an uplifting one about the importance of remembering the civil rights struggle and the role that King played in it. Other educational institutions have used Coy’s words as a message to their staff and students. The Journal-World reader spotted Coy’s message on the website of Van Education Center. But that school, which provides education in the industry of real estate, identified the text as being written by Coy and as one that it wanted to pass along to its students.

Graham said he agreed that his email to the KU community didn’t do anything to acknowledge or disclose that large portions of the email — which Graham signed — were written by someone else.

Graham said he is particularly remorseful that the email and its provenance may now detract from the important message that the community should be reflecting on regarding King, equality and civil rights. But he also said it was reasonable for him to face questions about the issue.

“It is unfortunate that it does,” Graham said of detracting from the importance of the holiday. “But I understand the arena that we operate in, and integrity is important and we need to be able to trust that all of our leaders are integrious.”

KU has multiple provisions in its codes related to academic misconduct identifying plagiarism as a serious offense for either students or faculty members.

Graham has been at KU for about five years and recently moved into his current role leading the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. That office has a mission of creating and maintaining a “more equitable and inclusive KU by facilitating the integration of greater representation, fairness, belonging and care into our protocols, practices and learning space,” according to KU’s website for the office.

Prior to his interim role as vice provost for the office, Graham served as the university’s ombuds, a position that, among other tasks, hears complaints and concerns about the university’s policies and practices.

The Journal-World reached out to a KU spokeswoman Monday afternoon for comment, but many campus offices were generally closed for the King holiday.


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