Columbia DEI Chief Accused of Plagiarizing Wikipedia Dissertation

An official in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion at Columbia University Irving Medical Center was accused this week of plagiarizing large sections of his doctoral thesis, according to an anonymous complaint filed with the university.

The 55-page complaint accused the official, Alade McKen, of copying material from his 2021 dissertation at Iowa State University from more than two dozen other academics and from Wikipedia, which is written and edited by volunteers from the general public.

The complaint was Published online Thursday by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website that led a campaign last year against former Harvard University president Claudine Gay. She resigned in January following accusations of plagiarism and after her response to anti-Semitism on campus came under fire.

Accusations of plagiarism have rocked elite academia in recent months. They have often had explicitly political overtones, with conservative critics leveling accusations against left-leaning administrators and at least one high-profile accusation that has been portrayed as an act of liberal revenge.

The complaint posted online Thursday accused McKen of copying passages of his thesis from the Wikipedia entry on “Afrocentric Education” and from the published scholarship or doctoral dissertations of at least 28 people.

“Is Alade McKen a plagiarist?” wrote the anonymous author of the complaint at the top of page 1. “Below is a small selection of examples from his dissertation to guide his investigation.”

McKen did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday. Angie Hunt, a spokeswoman for Iowa State University, said the school had “received and is in the process of reviewing the complaint.”

“The university is committed to the highest ethical standards to ensure the integrity and public trust in research conducted at Iowa State,” Hunt said in a statement.

Columbia declined to comment on the case, saying in a statement that it does not comment on “the details of individual personnel matters.”

“Columbia University has clear standards and policies regarding academic ethics and integrity for all members of our community, including faculty, and we take allegations of misconduct seriously,” the school said.

The passages from Mr. McKen’s dissertation that are in question were largely copied verbatim from other scholars or from Wikipedia with only minor changes to grammar or tenses, according to the complaint. The New York Times reviewed parts of the dissertation and the Wikipedia page and found parts that appeared to be almost the same.

“Woodson criticized the education of African Americans as ‘bad education’ because he maintained that it denigrated blacks while glorifying whites,” McKen wrote on page 53 of his dissertation, referring to the influential black scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. “For many early Afrocentrists, the goal was to break what they saw as a vicious cycle of reproducing black self-denial.”

Almost the same phrase appears in the Wikipedia article on “Afrocentric education.” McKen appeared to have changed the order of some words and removed a hyphen.

“Woodson criticized the education of African Americans as ‘bad education’ because he maintained that it denigrated blacks while glorifying whites.” the Wikipedia article state. “For these early Afrocentrists, the goal was to break what they saw as a vicious cycle of reproducing black self-denial.” The Times reviewed versions of the page. dating back to 2013 in an online file and found identical language.

McKen is the third diversity administrator at an Ivy League university to be accused of plagiarism in the span of a month, after Sherri Ann Charleston and Shirley R. Greeneboth at Harvard.

At Harvard, Dr. Gay resigned in January after an anonymous whistleblower discovered more than 40 cases of plagiarism in her academic work. Those accusations began shortly after Dr. Gay survived an earlier campaign to overthrow her for what critics called her insufficient response to anti-Semitism after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

She had been president of Harvard (the first black woman in that position) for about six months.

Days after, an investigation The news website Business Insider accused Neri Oxman, the wife of one of Dr. Gay’s leading critics, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, of plagiarizing parts of her doctoral thesis from other academics as well as Wikipedia.

Ms. Oxman later apologized for what she called “mistakes” in a post on Twitter. Mr. Ackman saying he believed the allegations against his wife were retaliation for her advocacy for the overthrow of Dr. Gay, which he described as “my actions to address the problems in higher education.”

McKen began his work at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, which includes the university’s medical school, in September 2023. Before that, he was assistant dean of recruitment, diversity and inclusion at the Graduate School of Architecture , Planning and Inclusion at Columbia University. Conservation, according to a university profile.

In addition to his doctorate in education, social and cultural studies from Iowa State, McKen received a master’s degree in higher education administration from Baruch College and a diversity and inclusion certificate from Cornell University, according to the profile.