The Dean of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry is stepping down because he plagiarized a commencement speech. In his address to this year’s graduates, the dean repeated several passages verbatim from a speech Atul Gawande gave to Stanford Medical School students in 2010.

There’s been no explanation for why the dean plagiarized the speech. In my experience as a classroom teacher, plagiarism becomes a temptation if the assignment is ill-defined, the timeline for producing it is too short, or the writer is unable to grasp the material. In the case of the dean, it’s not likely that a commencement speech assignment caught him by surprise or that he lacked understanding of the occasion.

More likely, it’s the vague role of a commencement speech that motivated him to look to other models. These speeches have to be memorable yet anodyne, uplifting yet realistic. Gawande does seem to have a knack for the pithy platitudes  (as evidenced by his address this year at Harvard Medical School). Even if a dean can’t match Gawande’s wisdom, it’s always better to deliver an honest speech and one that reflects the values of the particular institution.

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  14. It makes you wonder what the Dean was thinking. Many commencement speeches are taped these days, so any good speeches end up being seen by many people. It seems like he could give a good speech. Disappointing that he chose to just recite someone else’s words. It reflects badly on the University especially, I’m sure all those grads are really excited that their dean has embarrassed the school, I’m sure it makes the job search that much more difficult.

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  17. Wish I woulda watched romneys speech so I can compare how much of an idiot he’s to Obama

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