Course 4 lecturer fired:
Yim Lim accused of stealing student works
By Joanna Stone
Yim Lim, a former lecturer in the Department of Architecture, was recently dismissed by former Provost John M. Deutch '61 in connection with her use of work which was found to have plagiarized the work of two MIT graduates.
In a letter dated Sep. 6, 1990, Deutch ended the 10-month investigation of Lim's case and informed Lim that it was his conclusion that her actions did not meet with "the high standards" of the MIT teaching staff.
A copy of this letter, along with a cover letter from Architecture Department Chairman William L. Porter '69, was sent out to all members of the architecture department several weeks ago.
The provost's conclusions were stated to Lim as follows:
"1. Two photographs of Mr. Christopher Lyon's architectural model were used without appropriate attribution in panels prepared under your responsibility for Women in Architecture Exhibit in Boston in the fall of 1989.
"2. The drawings of Richmond House reflect knowledge of the work of Mr. Christopher Lyon and this was not properly acknowledged.
"3. The work of Mr. Horacio Chin was employed without appropriate attribution in the proposal prepared under your responsibility for the Chinatown community service faculty in December, 1989."
Christopher M. Lyon MAR '88 died in October 1989 after fighting a long-term battle against cancer. His wife, Kim R. Lyon, first raised the issue of plagiarism concerning his work when she saw what she believed to be an exact replica of his work on Lim's exhibition boards at the Women in Architecture exhibit at the Boston Public Library.
According to Lyon, Lim's boards for the exhibit contained photographs of Christopher Lyon's model and drawings derived from his design. "It was exactly his work," Lyon said.
The only difference, she said, was that her husband had intended his design to be a retreat for the terminally ill on the California coastline. "This particular design was so very important and personal to him because of his illness," Lyon said.
According to Lyon, Lim used the same design, but represented it as a home in western Massachusetts. "Nothing was changed except trees were added," she said.
Lyon immediately called the Boston Society of Architects, which sponsored the exhibit, to ask them about the boards. "I called to see if perhaps another board with proper attribution had been misplaced or something. I tried to rationalize," said Lyon. However, Lyon was informed that no attribution had been given to her husband, so she then called MIT to inform them of the situation.
"It then became an MIT matter, it was no longer a personal matter, and I trusted that they would handle the situation best," she said. She added that she was continually kept abreast of the status of the investigation.
"Kim Lyon brought it to me and asked me to examine the situation," said Jean P. de Monchaux, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. Lim was asked to voluntarily remove her piece from the exhibit so that a thorough investigation could be conducted.
Guidelines for handling such allegations are clearly outlined
in the book Policies and Procedures, and these guidelines were followed in handling this case, de Monchaux said.
"I believed that some evidence of plagiarism had occurred,"
de Monchaux said, and according to procedure, he then sent the case to the provost for further investigation.
Shortly after an investigative committee had been appointed by the provost, Horacio Y. Chin MAR '88, a former student and thesis advisee of Lim and a friend of Christopher Lyon, also filed charges of plagiarism against Lim. According to Chin, Lim used his thesis as a basis for her proposal for a Chinatown community service facility contest.
Rather than take the case up with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Chin discussed the matter with MIT faculty members. "I didn't want to totally ruin her career," Chin said. "I'd already talked to her about Christopher's case; I wanted to give her a chance to reform."
Chin decided the best course of action was to have Lim resubmit the project listing him as an equal associate. Lim did this, but she expressed her feeling of injustice on the matter.
Lim said that she did make
one attribution to Chin and that the other ideas in question were based on traditional Chinese ideas.
"They're public domain," she said. "Yet, threats were made, and in the end I agreed to give him 25 to 30 percent of the prize money," Lim recalled.
Lim denies charges
Lim said only one of the allegations was actually true, admitting that photographs of Lyon's model were used in her exhibit without proper attribution. "It was sloppy, not purposeful," she said.
Lim said she had gone to teach a class and had left all the materials for the exhibit with one of her assistants. "I didn't even see the completed board until it was on display," she said.
The design, however, she said, was based on concepts her firm, Yim Lim Architects in Cambridge, had been working on since before Lyon even began his work. Both were based on a similar traditional concept, she said.
Lim felt the MIT investigation was not handled fairly. "In the beginning when I agreed to the investigation, it was to hopefully clear things up," she said.
"But I was not given due process. The committee did not allow me to bring in any experts from the outside; my requests were denied on three different occasions. There was no real method of defense allowed from my point of view," Lim said.
The investigation of the plagiarism allegations was handled by Professor of Urban Studies Gary A. Hack PhD '76 and Professor of Brain and Cognitive Science Mary C. Potter, who had been appointed "to carry out a fact finding investigation," by Deutch.
Potter declined to comment on the investigation process except to say that she was surprised to find that her participation in the committee had been made public and that she felt it was important for such processes to remain private and secret.
Once the outcome of the trial had been concluded, Porter and de Monchaux decided it was important that everyone in the department be made aware of the situation and its outcome. De Monchaux said he believed that communication concerning such a pressing yet sensitive issue was essential.
In his letter to the department, Porter said, "I hope that this situation and its resolution may be a stimulus to discussions that will help the entire department community to become better versed and sensitized to these issues."
Lim, however, was not sent a copy of Porter's letter. "Like so many other things in this case,
I had to find this out second hand," she said. Lim plans to send a letter to members of the department explaining her side of the situation.
Kairos Shen, a graduate student in the Department of Architecture, said he was pleased that the case had been brought out into the open and that MIT has been so forthcoming about its position. "[Before this] we didn't have very clear guidelines," he said. "What constitutes plagiarism had never been discussed."
"The letter was not a personal issue; Lim's case can serve as
a guideline for what constitutes proper acknowledgment of architectural design," Shen said.
The line between proper architectural practice versus plagiarism is very fine, according to Mani Farhadi, associate architectural planner at Sasaki Associates and director of the Women in Architecture exhibit.
"There are no `copyrights' in architecture," said Farhadi. "Often, the person who does most of the work is not the person who gets credit for the design. That's standard architectural practice. To my knowledge [these sort of allegations] are rare."
Farhadi said she had not heard the outcome of Lim's case and believed that even if word of the case does spread throughout the architectural world, it will not adversely affect Lim. "I think people will be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt," said Farhadi.
De Monchaux agreed that her career need not be affected. "It is perfectly possible to do something you greatly regret and to continue your career in a positive way."
Lim said business at her firm is currently better than ever and that she would like to put the whole matter behind her as soon as possible. "While I was at MIT I experienced problems within the department. It's a very inbred department and any outsider who questions rather than complies
is going to feel prejudice," said Lim, who is from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.