Thursday, August 24, 2006

Alleged Plagiarist Librarian in Cincinnati Fights for Job

Check out this article about a librarian at the University of Cincinatti accused of plagiarism. He wrote a book about the "German-American experience" and published it in 2000.

"The book was a "labor of love," he said, part of his lifelong effort to spread knowledge about German-American heritage and culture.
University of Cincinnati librarian and faculty member Don Heinrich Tolzmann wrote it on his own time and published it in 2000. It's made him less than $100 in royalties."

Okay. So he wrote it on his own time, and it never made much money. Now there's a surprise. It was published by someplace called Humanity Books, after all. But then it turns out he plagiarized several portions from two other books on the subject, and now the University Librarian wants to fire him for it.

"A few years after plagiarism allegations surfaced regarding Tolzmann's "The German-American Experience," a UC investigating committee has found validity in the accusations and has recommended removing Tolzmann from the faculty of the German studies department and stripping him of his title as director of the university's German-American studies program."

That was enough to recommend he be kicked out of the German department, but not the library, apparently.

"Dean and University Librarian Victoria Montavon went one step further, recommending earlier this month that UC begin the process of dismissing Tolzmann entirely."

That's pretty harsh treatment, considering he didn't use the book to get tenure or anything, at least according to his lawyer. His lawyer says that, ""This is not an instance where a faculty member goes out and steals somebody's work in order to get a grant or tenure."

No, but it does seem to be an instance where a "librarian and faculty member" publishes a scholarly book (probably listed on his vita), and the book turns out to have plagiarized other books. Perhaps no one ever told this "librarian and faculty member" that plagiarism is considered a no-no in academia.

And the plagiarism charges seem pretty serious. An inquiry "committee released an 18-page report in July noting several duplications between Tolzmann's book and Huebener's, including an 80-word passage in which the only difference between the two paragraphs is the insertion of the word "they" in Tolzmann's work."

But of course he acknowledged that influence! "In his preface, Tolzmann wrote that his motivation for "The German-American Experience" was "the need for an up-to-date history" of the subject. He said his work would add to earlier histories written by two authors, Albert Faust and Theodore Huebener. He considered that appropriate attribution."

There you go! Just mention in the preface of your book that you read a couple of other books, and that's appropriate attribution. The University Librarian thinks differently, though.

""As librarians, one of our fundamental jobs ... is to assist our users, particularly students, in how to use content appropriately ... It's just a fundamental thing that librarians do.""

Um, yep, she's right. And if the librarians don't know how to properly cite their material, they sure can't teach anyone else.

But the alleged plagiarist's lawyer doesn't think things like proper scholarly attribution are important. "This is really a technical dispute over what kind of footnotes and quotations (one is) supposed to use," he's quoted as saying. Apparently the lawyer believes, or at least is paid to believe, that lifting 80 words from another work without attribution is just a matter of footnotes and quotation marks. In a way, of course, it is. If you don't put the quotation marks and footnotes, it's called plagiarism. If this were a freshman comp essay, then it might not be as much of a problem. They're still learning. But a "librarian and faculty member" who's been at the library for 32 years should know better.

UPDATE: Wow! The article linked above now has a sidebar comparison between Tolzmann's "The German-American Experience" and Huebener's "The Germans in America." Check out the two passages. According to the sidebar: "Tolzmann said he thought his book made it clear he'd be borrowing heavily from other histories." I still think firing is a bit harsh, but I really don't see how anyone could have been a "librarian and faculty member" for 32 years and not realize that this is plagiarism pure and simple. I'd fail a freshman who tried this on me. I keep reading that college students are plagiarizing like never before, though, so maybe Tolzmann is just trying to stay relevant to the undergraduates.


Cincinnati NAMjA said...

I am going to forward this post onto my friend who has worked at UC's Langsam Library for close to a decade now. It will be interesting what he has to say about this.

Anonymous said...

I'm that friend of the author of the above comment and..well, this article tells me more than I've known about any of this. The entire affair has been hush hush. We only learn things as the Enquirer publishes them. Which is no surprise - it's a capital shame.

Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

Ahh, the forgetful footnoter...a la an erswhile harvard big wig named Doris Kearns Goodwin.

But doesn't this pale in comparison to Doris Kearns Goodwin who not only committed plagiarism, but lied about whether it was plagiarism (and, then paid hush money to one of the people she plagiarized). Did Harvard's Board of Overseers fire her...well Goodwin was also a Harvard Overseer, ummm, no.

One paragraph in a "hobby" book--in an era when reuters uses photoshopped images as "truth?" I'd give him a stern warning.

Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

erstwhile. I can spell. Can't type!

AL said...

I'm not surprised that it's being kept hushed up. I'm surprised so much made it into the newspaper. Personally, I think firing is rather harsh. If he's already been recommended for dismissal from the academic department, that seems like an adequate punishment to me. That already must be a big blow to him. What I fouind most offensive is the lawyer's defense that this kind of thing isn't important. I have a feeling that the alleged plagiarist thinks those kinds of things are important, even if the charges are true and he obviously made a mistake.

Anonymous said...

I have known Tolzmann since 1974 and I am not at all suprised by the charges the only thing that suprises me is that it too so long for him to be found out, This man is no scholar by any stretch of the imagination.

Daniel Sauerwein said...

I would like to let you know that I played a small role in this story. A couple of months before UC went after Tolzmann, I was an intern for the History News Network and was assigned writing an article about the allegations against him that surfaced in an H-Net review of the book. I contacted Tolzmann and got the run around and then contacted another person at UC (I think his dean) who could not comment because they were investigating it. The article I wrote has been linked by the Chronicle of Higher Education and other sources and may have played some role in the university's attempt to fire him. While I do feel that if he plagiarized he is getting what he deserves, it is unsettling to play a role in a man loosing his job.