• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

David Clarke’s Plagiarized Masters Thesis

david-clark-saluting-flair

David Clarke, the infamous former Milwaukee County sheriff who recently claimed to have been appointed as an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, plagiarized significant portions of his thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School.

First, as many on my Twitter feed noted when this broke last evening, this offense pales in comparison to the outrages he committed as sheriff.

Second, prior to this revelation, I had no idea he’d gotten a graduate degree, much less at NPS.

Third, no, NPS is not part of the professional military education system in which I’m employed. While most of their students are relatively junior officers in the U.S. military, completion of the program does not substitute for attendance at a staff or war college. [Addendum: There is, however, a joint program available with the Naval War College that allows some NPS students to get PME credit. Clarke was not enrolled in that program.]

Fourth, the fact that he cited all of the sources in question does not absolve him of plagiarism. No one who has completed so much as a high school education can claim they don’t know they’re supposed to mark text taken from others with quotation marks. I mean, “quotation” is right there in the name. Further, the NPS’s published Academic Integrity guidelines spell it out:

Whenever you make use of another person’s distinctive ideas, information, or words, you must give credit. If a passage is quoted verbatim, it must be set off with quotation marks (or, if it is a longer passage, presented as indented text), and followed by a properly formulated citation. The length of the phrase does not matter. If someone else’s words are sufficiently significant to be worth quoting, then accurate quotation followed by a correct citation is essential, even if only a few words are involved.

A citation is also required if you paraphrase or summarize someone else’s work. Note, however, that if you paraphrase or summarize a text you must convert its substance into your own words, not merely change a few words here and there while leaving the rest intact; and you must still cite the source you have used, even though you are not quoting the original language.

Fifth, the plagiarism in this particular case is quite egregious. Not only are there numerous instances but the modest attempts at inserting Clarke’s own words into the construction often changed the meaning of what was being said. In a couple of instances, the new construction is nonsensical. For example, the ACLU text

New institutions like fusion centers must be planned in a public, open manner, and their implications for privacy and other key values carefully thought out and debated.

Is transformed in Clarke’s formulation as

They contended that the creation of new institutions like state and local fusion centers must be planned in a public, open manner with carefully thought-out and debated implications for privacy and other key values important in a democracy.

What does that even mean?

Similarly, this from a CRS report

Some of the civil liberties questions raised in response to anti- terrorism efforts stem from the conflict between individual privacy interests and the intelligence needs of law enforcement and national security.

Becomes this in Clarke’s paper

Another report for Congress raises questions in responding to anti-terror efforts, stemming from the conflict between individual privacy interests and the intelligence needs of law enforcement and national security.

That’s gibberish.

Sixth and relatedly, this poor work should have been flagged by his thesis advisors. At my institution, we use a plagiarism detection software package to help identify problematic usage. But, even if NPS doesn’t, the confusing passages above should have raised a red flag. Clarke’s thesis advisor was Robert Simeral, a retired Navy captain who is a senior lecturer at the school’s Department of Information Sciences who has been “leading the [Fusion Center Leaders Program] since its inception in 2008.”  My first instinct, then, was that the paper was supervised by a practitioner without a traditional academic background. (One presumes Simeral was an intelligence officer with a war college master’s degree; if he had a PhD, the site would certainly list it.) But the second reader was Christopher Bellavita, who isn’t listed on the faculty page but a 2008 publication bio lists him as the “director of academic programs for the Center for Homeland Defense and Security” at NPS and a Berkely PhD. Bellavita, then, is certainly well acquainted with academic protocols.

While not quite as embarrassing as Monica Crowley’s hackishly plagiarized PhD dissertation at Columbia, this is nonetheless a black eye for the institution. Such an egregious case of plagiarism should never make it through the review process.

Correction: the initial opener to the post had Clarke appointed to a DHS post. While widely reported last week, he seems to be the sole source on this and no official announcement has been made.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Hal_10000 says:

    First, as many on my Twitter feed noted when this broke last evening, this offense pales in comparison to the outrages he committed as sheriff.

    I think this the key point. The awesome Radley Balko compiles everything about Clarke here. Plagiarism would probably be the least objectionable thing he’s ever done. And there’s been a LOT of Twitter discussion about all those medals he wears and how BS they are. This man is a clown, a dangerous deranged clown who gets people killed. So of course Trump loves him.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 1

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    “the plagiarism in this case is quite egregious. Not only are there numerous instances but the modest attempts at inserting Clarke’s own words into the construction often changed the meaning of what was being said.”

    Only college liberals are gonna object to this, and what do they know amirite?? 😉

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  3. @Hal_10000:

    Yea, while there are many conservatives who hold him up as some kind of hero, many people on the right I know who have LEO and/or military backgrounds have pointed out how many of the “medals’ he wears on his uniform are utterly phony. It’s not even that he’s wearing award ribbons he didn’t earn, though, it’s that a large number of them are just meaningless flag pins and other stuff given out by non-official groups. Others are just crap you can buy at the local Army/Navy Surplus Store (do those still exist?). The guy is like a strutting Drum Major or something. Complete phony.

    As for his policies as Sheriff, he’s basically nothing better than a younger version of Joe Arpaio.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yes, but let’s not discount race here. There have been a long string of fairly mediocre black Republicans (Clarke is ostensibly a Democrat but he’s a Trump enthusiast) who have been given outsized national prominence to show that the GOP is inclusive and can’t be racist since, hey, we have us some blacks.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  5. Yes, but let’s not discount race here. There have been a long string of fairly mediocre black Republicans (Clarke is ostensibly a Democrat but he’s a Trump enthusiast) who have been given outsized national prominence to show that the GOP is inclusive and can’t be racist since, hey, we some us some blacks.

    This is true. Alan Keyes and Allen West come to mind. Herman Cain and Ben Carson too, but at least those two men managed to have fairly impressive resumes in their respective fields, they were just wholly unqualified for political office,especially President of the United States.

    There are exceptions, of course. Michael Steele and Tim Scott in South Carolina come to mind. But, yes, conservatives do have a tendency toward this sort of thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. Davebo says:

    Unless I’ve missed it Clark hasn’t been appointed to any federal government position James.

    Let’s not jump the gun based solely on his word which, as you and others has shown is suspect at best.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. @Davebo:

    This is a fair point.

    So far, the only person to say that David Clake has been offered a position at the Department of Homeland Security is David Clake. There’s been no official announcement from the DHS, or indeed any comment at all on such an appointment so far as I am aware. There also hasn’t been any comment from the White House. It may be that some informal offer was made, but there doesn’t appear to be anything official, and one assumes that these plagiarism revelations may have an impact on any future job offer.

    For those who may be wondering, the position that Clarke claims he was offered is not one requiring Senate confirmation. It’s also fairly low down on the totem pole at DHS itself as I understand it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Fourth, the fact that he cited all of the sources in question does not absolve him of plagiarism.

    I’m working on my next book. It’s about these kids in Maine and a killer clown called Pennywise. Er, Dollarwise. I do mention Stephen King in the footnotes.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  9. CSK says:

    Did he hire someone to “write” it for him? Very often these cut-and-paste plagiarized jobs are contracted out by people too lazy or inept to do the work themselves. (I suspect this was the case with Crowley; she farmed out her dissertation to her staff.) There’s an unusually high incidence of rip-off in these hired productions.

    Once I had a job fact-checking a household hints book (hey, the pay was good) and discovered that the multiple “authors” had simply lifted all their hints, word for word, from various websites. The publisher didn’t care.

    FWIW, the Naval Postgraduate School has pulled Clarke’s thesis from its website.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Make sure the clown says they’ll fly, rather than float. Otherwise that’s totally a rip-off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. @michael reynolds:

    If you move the setting from Maine to New Hampshire, it’ll all be cool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. Franklin says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but this doesn’t seem quite as egregious as other publicized instances of plagiarism we’ve seen. Technically plagiarism, but almost borders on extreme sloppiness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Pch101 says:

    No one who has completed so much as a high school education can claim they don’t know they’re supposed to mark text taken from others with quotation marks

    There are a few people who post here who don’t seem to be aware of this.

    (I won’t mention any names, but one of them rhymes with “Jake”.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    and one assumes that these plagiarism revelations may have an impact on any future job offer.

    Why would you assume that? They hired a man under investigation by the FBI, after he told them he was under investigation by the FBI, to be NSC Director. Their hiring track record indicates that the plagiarism charges might actually increase his chances with these bozos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. @Franklin:

    Maybe it’s just me, but this doesn’t seem quite as egregious as other publicized instances of plagiarism we’ve seen. Technically plagiarism, but almost borders on extreme sloppiness.

    It is not as bad as some, but it is still clearly plagiarism and still egregious. The issue is not whether he crossed a clear, bright line; he did. Because some stray even further beyond that line does not absolve or lessen this kind of plagiarism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. Matt Bernius says:

    At my institution, we use a plagiarism detection software package to help identify problematic usage.

    When I was teaching and working on my grad degree, we definitely used software on undergraduate’s papers — in particular final papers.

    However, I suspect that graduate students papers and thesis were rarely run through the same software. Beyond a suspicion that many profs did not know (or didn’t care to learn how to use the software), I think there was an expectation that grad students in a humanities program would stoop to such methods. I’d like to believe that was the case, but I do wonder what would have happened if they had done a random sampling of graduate material.

    I always wondered if it was different for students in other professional masters programs (i.e. MBAs).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. PilgrimDuke says:

    I loathe Clarke and dropped out of a law enforcement organization that I had been a member of for decades because they recognized him as “Law Enforcement Leader of the Year”, but in this case I think it’s stupidity/ignorance not evil intent. This appears to be plagiarism as defined by the Naval Postgraduate School and my understanding of what plagiarism is. My impression is that someone that didn’t have the strongest academic background got in over his head. It’s still plagiarism, but probably not intentional. (When I have the choice of attributing things to stupidity/ignorance or evil intent, I always go for the former and I’m right about half the time.)

    I agree that a quick run through a plagiarism checker would have avoided a lot of problems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Gustopher says:

    Given all these Republicans plagiarizing their thesis, I wonder why I never got a graduate degree — I could have done that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. @PilgrimDuke: I will grant that “evil” may be a strong word, but the bottom line is that this is both theft (taking someone else’s words and ideas and presenting them as one’s own) and dishonesty (presenting to one’s supervisor that the work is one’s own).

    Doing it because he was in over his head (which is why most students plagiarize) really doesn’t change the situation to me versus if he did it with malice of forethought.

    I would say that almost all the plagiarism I have deal with falls into the category of “student in over their heads”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Top this one: I once had a student who plagiarized his term paper from the introduction to the Norton Anthology of English Literature (the class textbook), apparently out of the conviction that I myself had not tapped that vein of critical discourse.

    When I confronted him with it, he just shrugged as if to say, “Well, it was worth a shot.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. PilgrimDuke says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Steve, I probably overstated the other possibility of stupidity/ignorance being “evil.” Bad intent would probably be more fair. Assuming that Clarke did write the document (CSK’s comment about the possibility of the thesis being farmed out also occurred to me) my guess is that it was not intentional. I agree that’s still plagiarism, both from my understanding of the term and the rules of engagement that I’ve seen from the NPS. I agree that most plagiarism is committed by people in over their head. I think that Clarke’s version of being in over his head is, in some ways even scarier since he probably (in my opinion) didn’t know he was in over his head, while those that knowingly plagiarize have some self-awareness. (Again, assuming that he actually was the author.) This is a common point of discussion with my wife. My world view tends towards stupidity/ignorance, hers bad intent. Both of us are probably right half the time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Kylopod says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    There are exceptions, of course. Michael Steele and Tim Scott in South Carolina come to mind.

    As someone who lived in Maryland while Steele was Lt. Governor and when he ran for Senate, I beg to differ in suggesting he wasn’t a mediocrity. Now, granted, he didn’t engage in racist rhetoric like some of those other examples (with the proviso that “it can’t be racist because a black guy is saying it”), but he was always basically a doofus who was out of his element. The main reason he was selected for RNC chair in 2009 was his race. It was right after Obama’s historic election. One of the front-runners was a guy who turned out to have belonged to a whites-only golf club, and I think the GOP moved toward Steele at that point mainly out of panic.

    Are you telling me you don’t remember how laughable Steele’s tenure as RNC head was? It wasn’t just his tendency to put his foot in his mouth, but also the fact that he heavily mismanaged things. It’s really something for an RNC chief to get fired right after his party wins a landslide.

    Colin Powell and Condi Rice have rightly lost credibility due to their involvement in the Iraq War fiasco, but they at least are examples of African American Republicans who carried themselves with dignity and didn’t seem to be putting on a giant minstrel show designed to make white conservatives feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, a great deal of black Republicans these days fall in the latter category.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    There have been a long string of fairly mediocre black Republicans…who have been given outsized national prominence to show that the GOP is inclusive and can’t be racist…

    Let us not forget Clarence Thomas…such a sterling legal mind…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Actually, I have to agree with @Franklin here. I am vehemently anti-plagiarism, but this reads to me like inept paraphrase — especially since he did cite the originals. I can believe that he (or whoever actually wrote his thesis) genuinely believed that they were ethically OK, having changed the words and cited the original.

    I’m not saying it isn’t plagiarism, but (to me) it is vastly less blameworthy than stealing words or ideas without giving any credit to the original.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Bill says:

    I must be too much of a Congressional history buff- Does anyone else remember J. C. Watts, Gary Franks, or Edward Brooke? Watts and Franks were conservative. Brooke may have made Rockefeller look like Barry Goldwater.

    A key point that was raised by somebody else above- We only have Clarke’s word he is getting an appointment. He hasn’t been appointed to Homeland Security yet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s still grounds for rescinding the degree – which IMO is what should happen. People engage in this sort of academic fraud because 1) they seem to think that it’s no big deal and 2) the odds that they’ll get away with it in the end, even if they’re caught and some meaningless slap on the wrist penalty is imposed, are high.

    Start revoking degrees and/or expelling people – with notations on their records as to why they were expelled – and you’d probably see the incidence rate drop dramatically.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bill:

    This Gary Franks? :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. @HarvardLaw92: The degree should be rescinded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. Bill says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    This Gary Franks? :-)

    Yes that Gary Franks. I didn’t know about his ‘problems’ even though I live less than 50 miles from PSL. I sometimes edit Congress related wikipedia articles. I should add mention of that in the Franks article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Franklin says:

    @DrDaveT: Yeah, I just felt that providing the citations indicated that he was almost trying but didn’t know how. Which, come to think of it, sounds a little bit like Dr. Taylor’s description of “students in over their heads”.

    I think the disagreement here is largely over intent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It’s all of a piece with this guy: phony military-look medals on his chest, killing people in his jail just because they’re there so he can look like some kind of really tough guy, announcing his appointment at DHS followed by thunderous silence by DHS – getting more thunderous by the hour as his claim is left hanging out there in the public space. Radley Balko called him a fascist but I think not – this man is completely nuts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Kylopod: Steele is not an intellectual but he’s savy. He has a radio show on XM radio with Rick Unger–Steel can hold his own on most view points. His take on what drove him out of the RNC was actually interesting and he all but said he was glad to go because the Party had been hi-jacked. He wanted to stem the Tea Party tide but got steam rolled. I don’t like to see Steele get hammered because he’s a black republican. I’ve got no problem with how he handles himself as a black men–he knows racism exists but disagrees with the “what now?”. I see Tim Scott and JC Watts in the same vein. I wish more of them were in the Republican Party because in numbers they absolutely WOULD marginalize the White Sheet faction. The worse thing ever politically for black people was to get herded into the Democratic Party and have to depend on them to be in power perrenially. We need to be diversified. Black people culturally are conservative (little c). The dog whistle rhetoric and fascism is what keeps the Repulican party radio active for black people. Despite that–if I were King for a day—I’d decree that half of the eligible black voters register as republicans and vote in their primaries. That would more than water down the Tea Party influence–there were several initiatives to do this last election cycle that got a little traction…perhaps they’ll get more as time goes along.

    As for the other Sambos (yes, I had to find the worse slur I could think of), these clowns are a disgrace as Americans and as black men. They clearly sold out their better judgment for acceptance and coddling as tokens DuJour in the republican party. We are used those like them. When the domininate culture opens denigrates us–some of us begin hating ourselver. Eff-’em.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Kylopod says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Steele is not an intellectual

    Interesting way of putting it. Let’s review some of his “greatest hits”:

    – While speaking before a Jewish group during his 2006 Senate run, he told his audience that “you of all people” should have a problem with stem-cell research, because of the Nazi medical experiments.

    – When taking the job of RNC chair, he declared his intention to do a “hip-hop makeover” of the party.

    – Argued against global warming on the grounds that the island called Greenland is covered in ice.

    – Cited his favorite book as War and Peace, then went on to quote it as saying “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

    Oh, you were saying something about him being “not an intellectual”? What possibly gave you that idea?

    Look, I’ll give him this: the man is likable. And he did seem sincere about his desire to help create a more open, diverse GOP, even if he was laughably inept at actually doing anything to move the party a micron closer to that goal. Part of his problem is that he’s so eager to please whatever audience he’s addressing, he ends up looking silly in front of everyone. (That was definitely the case with the stem-cell research fiasco. It wasn’t the typical example of a righty making an obnoxious and inappropriate Holocaust reference. He seemed genuinely to think what he said would impress the Jews present, and after the uproar it caused, he not only apologized but clarified that he actually supports embryonic stem-cell research as long as it doesn’t destroy the embryo.) I don’t hammer anyone just because they’re a black Republican. I’ve already mentioned my respect for Colin Powell and Condi Rice. But with Steele, I always had the sense he saw himself as the big fish in the small pond, and while he’s nowhere near as repulsive a figure as Sheriff David Clarke, that seems to be ultimately what drives a lot of these guys. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0