A Principal Plagiarizes a Speech from a Student?

Naperville Central High School Principal Jim Caudill plagiarized a speech given by a student 11 years prior at the same event. To make matters more embarrassing, that student is now a teacher at Naperville and was in attendance for the event.

An irony which surpasses even this is that this same principal fired the 19 year “beloved” veteran of the school’s newspaper over a free speech dilemma.

Regardless of the attached ironies, the only solution to this situation is the firing of the principal. He does not deserve a second chance or another opportunity to create another flimsy, laughable lame excuse for his behavior.

Caudill said he decided to look for inspiration through previous speeches the school maintains in a file and found one by then-student Megan Nowicki, now Megan Nowicki-Plackett, a teacher in Central’s Communication Arts Department.

“I was looking at it and I thought, ‘Man, this is pretty good,’ ” Caudill said. He decided to use much of it and went to call Nowicki-Plackett for permission, then realized it was nearly 10:30 p.m., he said, and thought it too late to call. He considered sending her an e-mail but thought that an inappropriate avenue to ask such a favor, Caudill said.

He wrote a reminder to call her the next morning and placed it on his desk, he said. But, when he tried to contact Nowicki-Plackett Tuesday morning, he found that she was in class.

“It’s no excuse, but I just got busy and I forgot to do it,” Caudill said Friday. “I’m in the middle of my speech and I paused and I thought ‘Oh my God. I have not talked to her before.’ “

This paltry excuse reeks of the “oh, no, I got caught” rationalizations I’ve heard from students. As an educational leader he knew better and had ample opportunity to contact the original writer, credit the source form the start, and even make an omission during the speech that he was using another’s words. He chose to do none of these things. I would conjecture that he realized the enormity of his blunder when the original speaker “had left the gym.”

Beyond this, plagiarism is a crime. It is intellectual theft. Eric Zorn of The Chicago Tribune notes that Caudill was “deceiving his audience into thinking her words were his own,” which is the essence of fraud. Zorn continues on to say the school board or superintendent “must demote or fire him to underscore the school’s commitment to academic integrity.” Furthermore, a lesson must be taught and consequences accepted. As a model for student behavior, he must be held to the highest standard. No slap on the wrist will do.

As a high school English teacher constantly battling for educational and ethical integrity, I feel strongly that any consequence less than Caudill’s firing sends a message that plagiarism is only a major mistake when one is at the bottom of the totem pole. Those on top must be held to the same, if not a higher standard, than those who follow their lead.


Update on 5/29: Apparently, the local administration agrees with me: James Kimberly of The Chicago Tribune reported today that “Central High School’s principal [Jim Caudill] has lost his job.” Good. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think he won’t receive a hefty severance package or a new job in the district office (which so often happens in my district). 

Also, in the same story this little tidbit was added to the story as:

the district had discovered strong similarities between the commencement speech given by the 2008 valedictorian on May 21 and a graduation speech posted on a popular Internet Web site last year. The school district asked the student to return the valedictorian medal he received at graduation and will edit the speech from the video of the graduation, but no further action would be taken against the graduate.

Sheesh! What is in the water at that school?!


4 thoughts on “A Principal Plagiarizes a Speech from a Student?

  1. Betty

    That is just crazy. You know, that principal will probably decide to go into politics. I know what you mean about him finding another position with the district. That always happened in the district where I taught. One of my former principals was moved from school to school because of all of the complaints from staff and parents. He finally wound up in the administration building with a cushy job making the big bucks.

  2. drpezz Post author

    It’s a sad state in education when this type of thing happens, and then the incompetence is promoted to a job with more pay and less responsibility.

    Betty, I so want to blog about the absolute insanity occurring in my school mirroring this post, but I think I’m too close to it to compose a coherent, organized piece. It’d be a rant. Things are so bad in this school that teachers are flocking to leave.

    I just don’t understand how anyone thinks our leadership deserves to be in this building any longer. AAAARGH!

  3. Edward Carson

    I cannot recall at what college this took place, but last year a president at some school plagiarized a speech written by Cornel West; I wonder how he thought this would workout.


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