KU leader for diversity and equity resigns after plagiarism incident involving MLK Day email

D.A. Graham

Story updated at 5:26 p.m. Wednesday:

A University of Kansas leader who acknowledged sending out a campuswide Martin Luther King Jr. Day message that was largely plagiarized from another source has resigned from KU.

D.A. Graham, interim vice provost of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, offered his resignation to KU after the Journal-World reported Monday on the plagiarism incident.

On Wednesday, KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer announced she had accepted Graham’s resignation.

“I appreciate D.A.’s acceptance of responsibility for this act, as well as his recognition of the serious mistake he made,” Bichelmeyer said in a message to the KU community. “Plagiarism is never acceptable behavior – for students, faculty, staff, or administrators.”

Bichelmeyer said a search for the next vice provost of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging already was scheduled to begin at the start of this semester, and more details will be announced soon on the search process.

Bichelmeyer thanked Graham for his service at KU and expressed sadness over the incident.

“While this is a consequence that befits the action, it is a sad day for all who aspire to greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at KU,” Bichelmeyer said.

On Monday, Graham told the Journal-World 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 Monday after the Journal-World asked him about the origin of the email. “I was trying to hurry up and get the message together.”

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 undersecretary 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. Graham’s email included a roughly 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.

On Wednesday, Graham said he had no comment on his resignation.

In her message, Bichelmeyer said Graham’s resignation from KU was effective immediately. She said that KU’s work on improving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging continues to be “critical to our mission and for our future.” She said the plagiarism incident would not stop those issues from moving forward.

“This is a moment for us to recognize that each one of us is virtuous, flawed and complex as part of our shared human condition,” Bichelmeyer said.

Graham, who previously led KU’s ombuds office, was leading KU’s diversity and equity efforts on an interim basis. Bichelmeyer said she’s now searching for an acting director to lead the office while the university begins its search for the next provost of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

“Despite his mistake,” Bichelmeyer said in her message, “I appreciate all D.A. and our DEIB leadership team have accomplished to build diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at KU … What I most appreciate about D.A. is his willingness to step into a role that is difficult at a time that has been extremely challenging and fraught, and that he did his work with a disposition of compassion and grace. I wish to offer my compassion and grace to him at this difficult time, as well as my deep and sincere thanks for his initiative both as Ombuds and as Interim Vice Provost.”

The plagiarism incident comes during a time when KU is hosting several events aimed at promoting King’s message of equality and civil rights. In her message, Bichelmeyer urged members of the community to hear KU’s MLK Jr. Day keynote speaker Loretta Ross, professor of the study of women and gender at Smith College, deliver her address at 11 a.m. Thursday via Zoom. The event is open to the public and people can register to attend at diversity.ku.edu under the website’s MLK Day events section.


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