Kevin Kopelson's insanely complete confessional in the London Review of Books is probably going to destroy his academic career, but at least the University of Iowa English professor will have lent some (im)moral support to fellow plagiarists, from fake Harvard novelist Kaavya Viswanathan to Lonely Planet hack Thomas Kohnstamm to college students everywhere. Kopelson seems to take a certain glee in confessing his many acts of intellectual theft. They've been weighing him down for a while: Kopelson's plagiarism started in the fourth grade and continued through college, graduate school and beyond.
In the fourth grade, at a public school in Queens, Kopelson's teacher went on strike. He turned in to her replacement as his own report a verbatim transcription of a 20-page encyclopedia entry on explorer Hernando Cortez. He got an "A." "'Nice work!' Mr X commented. But, of course, unless the man was being ironic, he probably hadn't read it – lazy bastard."
Kopelson also criticizes the instructor he submitted plagiarized work to at Yale. She taught a "contemptible" music class. So instead of doing his own work, Kopelson submitted a paper his brother had written for a graduate school seminar. It was 50 pages long and included citations of work in French, German and Italian. Kopelson was only 18, hardly able to write such a thing. Still, he got an "A."
Kopelson used the same paper from his brother as a writing sample for the GRE graduate school test. He got into the English doctorate programs at Columbia and Brown.
At Brown, Kopelson has a "very old, very flatulent" professor who didn't seem to have revised his lectures in decades. Again, he found this instructor and his class "contemptible." So Kopelson submitted as his own essay an article called The Beast in the Closet. He got an "A."
Later, he sent this article to the woman who wrote it as a sample of his own writing. Somehow, he wasn't caught.
Now, giving lectures in Iowa to students he also has contempt for — they tend to be poor students, since the English department is one of the few without a minimum GPA requirement — Kopelson plagiarizes other authors for his in-class lectures.
Also, if I'm reading his essay correctly, it sounds like Kopelson is also implying that he plagiarized David Sedaris for Kopelson's book about the humor writer.
But, hey, at least we know the odds are pretty good the professor wrote his own confessional. Plagiarism isn't quite so hot yet that anyone else would claim to have done this much fibbing. But once Kopelson gets a big book deal out of his admission (like the Lonely Planet guy!), that's sure to change.
(Photo via University of Iowa)