2004 President Resigns In Plagiarism Scandal
Two months after their election to class of 2004 president and vice president, Alvin M. Lin and Nikhil S. Gidwani resigned in the wake of revelations that their campaign platform was largely plagiarized. The positions remain vacant.
Lin’s apology letter to the class of 2004, drafted to announce his resignation, itself contained a sentence from President Clinton’s 1998 speech to the nation admitting an affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Gidwani, who maintains that Lin alone drafted the pair’s joint platform and plagiarized from two former class council officers without his knowledge, later resigned under the threat of certain impeachment from the remaining class council officers.
The class will hold a special election to fill the offices, “probably within the first month of school,” said Matthew N. Styczynski ’04, the class treasurer. Patrick Y. Kim ’04, who was defeated by Lin in the election, said he would probably run again in the special election. Lin has said he will run again as well.
Former officers made complaint
In an e-mail sent May 16, Sean C. Fabre ’00 accused Lin and Gidwani of “blatant plagiarism” of the campaign platform written by Fabre and his running mate, Hugo B. Barra ’00. Barra and Fabre, who won the 1999 election for class president and vice president, asked for an explanation for this “severely unethical” action.
Lin and Gidwani’s platform is virtually identical to Fabre and Barra’s. They are available on the Undergraduate Association’s Web site.
Most of the remaining members of the class council agreed that Lin and Gidwani should be held responsible for the plagiarism, and threatened them with impeachment if they did not resign, Styczynski said.
Apology also plagiarized
Lin immediately accepted responsibility for the plagiarism. In a lengthy apology sent to the class of 2004 on May 18, Lin expressed his sorrow for the incident and tendered his resignation.
He said that he had discovered the Barra/Fabre platform in the UA election archives, and that it had “uncannily reflected my own goals and background.”
When platforms were due, Lin made what he later described as “a very, very stupid mistake” in deciding to run using the Barra/Fabre platform.
The apology e-mail also contained a sentence used by President Clinton in 1998: “It constituted a critical lapse of judgment and a personal failure on my part, for which I am solely and completely responsible.” Clinton used exactly the same sentence to describe his affair with Lewinsky.
In an interview later, Lin said he did not intentionally copy the sentence, and that he must have simply remembered it from Clinton’s speech.
“When it was brought to my attention, I was as shocked as the people who told me,” Lin said.
“I could not believe that it had happened,” he said. “I broke down when I heard.”
Gidwani contests charges
After Lin’s resignation, several of the remaining class council members sent another e-mail requesting Gidwani’s resignation.
“If Nick does not resign, we will begin the impeachment process immediately,” wrote Maria E. Hidalgo ’04, last year’s class president, on behalf of the remaining officers.
But Gidwani was not ready to resign. He did not believe that he was guilty of plagiarism, he said. Because he ran for vice president unopposed, he was “apathetic” toward making an effort to campaign, he said, and reached an agreement with Lin that any campaigning would be handled by Lin.
“Platforms are fluff, and I didn’t want to bother writing the fluff, Gidwani said. Lin “volunteered to write the fluff.”
Although Gidwani received a copy when Lin submitted their joint platform, Gidwani maintains that he took no part in writing it and made no attempt to verify its authenticity or originality.
The class council handled the matter inappropriately, Gidwani said, by not making enough of an attempt to hear his side of the story before asking him to resign. He said that no member of the class council contacted him before sending him an e-mail asking for his resignation.
Gidwani said that although the remaining officers claim to have attempted to reach him by telephone, he received no e-mails or instant messages from any of them.
After initially resisting the calls for his resignation, Gidwani became frustrated with the situation and resigned on May 19.
Lin says Gidwani blameless
“I am to blame,” Lin said, “and the evidence proves that.” The class council “made some assumptions about the situation that were unfair toward Nick,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened to him.”
Gidwani agreed, saying that Lin, who remains his friend, showed “a lack of integrity that I am paying for now.”
Barra, whose platform was plagiarized, agreed with Gidwani. “The impeachment/resignation is too strong a punishment for Nick,” he wrote in an e-mail to the class council. “He has and should continue to recognize the serious mistake he committed in relying on Alvin to ‘write’ their joint platform. However, given that he did not take direct part in the act of plagiarism, we feel that he should not face the same penalty.”
The class council disagreed. “Nick attached his name and liability to the platform statement and should be held accountable,” Styczynski, the class treasurer, said.
Barra and Fabre declined to comment for this article.
Disciplinary action unlikely
Although the plagiarism may be considered unethical, it has not been shown to violate any Institute rules.
The Committee on Discipline will not hold a hearing, or issue punishment, unless a formal complaint is filed, said Assistant Dean Carol Orme-Johnson. Nobody has filed a complaint yet, she said.
Styczynski said he does not believe that further charges will be pressed.
“They’ve been punished enough, or will punish themselves enough, by taking accountability for their actions,” he said.
Class goals will be met, officers say
Styczynski, Lin, and Gidwani all remain optimistic that the goals set forth by the class council will still be met.
“The career fair is going to be amazing,” Lin said, “and that’s something I’m proud of.”
Lin said he “will do whatever I can to help facilitate the [new president’s] transition so that it is as smooth as possible.”
“It’s just unfortunate that [the plagiarism] had to happen,” said Kim, whom Lin defeated in the election, “to have our class have to go through all this crap.”
Lin has served as vice president, risk manager, co-community service chair, and chaplain for Phi Delta Theta, his fraternity. He was elected as a write-in candidate for 2004 class treasurer in 2001.
“I knew it would be difficult for me to win as a write-in, but I thought it was important to have another candidate available,” he told The Tech after winning that election. “I was especially disappointed that the candidate running for 2004 Treasurer did not have a platform.”
Lin’s campaign platform is available online at http://web.mit.edu/ua/ elections/Spring03/candidates/2004Pres-Lin.html. The Barra/Fabre platform is at http://web.mit.edu/ua/elections/ Spring99/statements99.html#2000. Related stories: