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Plagiarism allegation investigated

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Denise Brehm
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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

MIT is looking into an allegation that lecturer Chris Sawyer-Lauçanno plagiarized passages of his 2004 biography of e.e. cummings, "E.E. Cummings: A Biography" (Sourcebooks Inc., 2004). Sawyer-Lauçanno teaches in the Concourse program at MIT, a special interdisciplinary program for first-year students.

In the May issue of Harper's magazine, writer Wyatt Mason claims that Sawyer-Lauçanno "does not sufficiently acknowledge his indebtedness" to a previous biography of cummings by Richard S. Kennedy, "Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of e.e. cummings," published in 1980.

MIT reviews allegations of plagiarism under its policy for dealing with academic misconduct in research and scholarship. Under that policy, the vice president for research appoints a committee of impartial fact-finders to review the allegations. Only at the conclusion of the review are decisions made regarding appropriate actions to take, if any.

Alice Gast, associate provost and vice president for research, stressed the need for confidentiality and impartiality with regard to such reviews. "Maintaining confidentiality helps avoid interference with the review process and protects the reputations of those involved while the facts are being determined," said Gast. "Normally we neither confirm nor deny that a review is taking place. But in this case, where the accusation was made in a very public forum, we felt it was appropriate to explain how the Institute would deal with the allegation. In keeping with our general confidentiality policy, however, we will not be commenting further."

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