Rustad is nursing a bump on his head, figuratively speaking, caused by that anvil. What kind of indiscretion would cause removal from a school board? Can a school board member be judged by the same standards applied to students? Aren't board members elected on the basis of their views and priorities, and not on the basis of whether they'd ace a sophomore-level English class?
We had a member of our Morris Area school board stay in his position quite long after he probably should have been induced to resign. And that was a serious legal matter. We don't demand that our elected public officials be free of indiscretions. It would be nice if they were, but human beings make missteps and have peccadilloes and the like. Surely you remember Bill Clinton?
The curious case of Matt Rustad came to my attention thanks to the state news section of the Star Tribune. State news - actually I think it's called "area/metro" - is the one category where I find I really need to keep looking at the Strib. National, international and sports news are easily accessible online. An update on the Rustad case appeared recently.
If you're not familiar with the story, you might be thinking at this point he must have done some egregious or heinous thing. Well, his critics might indeed claim it was egregious, in the same sense the critics of Susan Rice would make such a claim. I'm not aware of any charges, criminal or civil, being aimed at Mr. Rustad. Now, I don't know the person and have no idea if he's the kind of person I'd vote for. But it clearly appears his critics are trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer.
These are precisely the kind of circumstances that call for an advocate who thinks like a defense attorney.
Will anyone even want to run for school board if they are put under this kind of microscope? No one does this seeking fame or fortune. It can almost be seen as a sacrifice. Board members are mature adults who have learned how to navigate in the real world and have found a niche for themselves. We don't judge them in the same way as if they were schoolchildren.
I have never watched "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" but I assume it's about the irony of adults having trouble mastering the same lessons as kids. I really don't see any irony. We all go through passages in life. An elementary school child is "wired," as it were, to learn certain things in certain ways. It comes naturally. Adults are done with that. They focus on priorities that enable them to be responsible in life. They have left such things as "social studies" far behind them.
I'm amazed at the stamina of young people who can be in class 7-8 hours a day, perhaps be in extracurricular and still have some "homework" to do. I couldn't cut it.
Rustad has been found to have "plagiarized." I put the word in quotes because I'm not sure this is what you'd call full-bore plagiarism. OK, what did he do? Matt Rustad lifted an item he found online (presumably online-only, a blog post in fact) and submitted it for the school district's monthly newsletter, called The Courier.
As a matter of pure principle it's of course always best to use your own words. We should also understand that the concept of plagiarism developed in the pre-Internet age. Way back when, to "publish" something was really a big deal. You almost had to have economic incentives. You needed access to a printing press. Either you printed something on your own dime (rare) or you sought some sort of commercial reward. Economic incentives always color a particular matter. The law gets involved when money changes hands.
You don't need me to tell you the online world has turned everything upside down. Today to "publish" means simply clicking on a little symbol on your computer screen, and spending no money to do so. The incentive is to simply share or opine. It's ubiquitous. We are saturated with information, unlike the "old days." How quickly we forget.
Today's young people have a much more loose understanding of "intellectual property" than older generations. This is why we saw the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation shot down. On the basis of pure principle, SOPA and PIPA seemed perfectly reasonable. But young people saw through this, readily, and saw the dangers. They know that in our online wired world, people will frequently "share" in a manner that might technically cross a line.
Here's the deal: Sharing is what the Internet is all about. With that as a backdrop, the strict and traditional understanding of "intellectual property" isn't practical. This is why we have the "Copyright Reform Act" on the drawing board, which actually goes in the opposite direction of SOPA and PIPA. The Reform Act is a new model statute for the digital age. It's a new project from Public Knowledge. It seeks to clarify the "fair use" principle and give people with innocent (non-commercial) purposes a little more breathing room.
While using someone else's words is never defensible, the small-time stuff should probably just be governed by a code of ethics, which young people in their good sense could easily adopt. They already are.
Ouster from a school board for borrowing some paragraphs found online, with no commercial motivation, doesn't pass the smell test. Again, where is this guy's attorney? It would appear the original writer had no commercial motivation. I'm not even sure a censure motion was needed, I just think a verbal apology and subsequent correction in this newsletter would be fine. Perhaps we could just call this "failure to attribute" rather than the "p" word of plagiarism.
The language being directed at Mr. Rustad has hyperbole. There was a petition with sanctimonious sounding language.
Surely "plagiarism" is an unforgivable act, right? Surely you should be pushed out of whatever position you held in which you committed such a dastardly act, right?
Well. . .
We're just talking a stupid school district newsletter here. It's the equivalent of putting some sheets of paper on a copy machine, stapling groups of them together, and maybe it's even done this way. But let's call it a "publication" if we're out to smear Mr. Rustad. And that's what it is, a smear, making any reasonable person think there are other issues in the background here. What? On a board of education? I'm shocked there's gambling in this establishment.
I'm 57 years old and have a pretty long memory of events in our state. Probing my memory banks, I remember an interim president of the University of Minnesota, surely an august institution, who was caught lifting material in the late 1980s. He had to apologize to the Regents' head. He felt he had to withdraw as candidate for president of another university. This individual's name: Richard Sauer.
An old AP report says "Richard Sauer admitted lifting part of a presentation for the North Dakota State University job from a magazine article without attribution." More: "Sauer has acknowledged that in a speech he has given several times in the past six weeks, he failed to credit the article." He told Regents' head David Lebedoff he'd made a "bad mistake." He called his failure to attribute "a dumb thing to do." He said "I made a mistake of poor judgment."
Surely Mr. Sauer was drummed out of the corps, then. Surely the Regents took some sort of prompt action booting him out of academia, because after all, "plagiarism" is an egregious thing that would make you ineligible to serve on a school board, right?
Well. . .
Lebedoff was asked by the AP reporter if the incident might lead to a call for Sauer to "step down" (not be forcibly removed) as interim president. Lebedoff answered: "I don't want to speculate on that." The AP report stated "Regents and lawmakers interviewed by the AP said they had heard no calls for Sauer's resignation, and expressed support for him."
"Expressed support?" You have got to be shittin' me. Not that I'd care about joining any lynch mob vs. Mr. Sauer who I'm quite sure is a decent human being, but how on earth would anyone square what the St. Francis school board is doing vs. past incidents that drew no drastic action?
We learn that Rustad actually "added and removed (only) a few phrases to the original text." So it's not even pure plagiarism, rather it's somewhat similar to what Fareed Zakaria of CNN was caught doing recently. Zakaria was suspended for his actions but he's back on the air now, in full glory. And this is a media professional.
Did Zakaria plagiarize? Like so many alleged incidents that are going to come about in our Internet age, there's a gaping gray area. Zakaria re-wrote some material he found elsewhere but didn't re-write it enough. He left footprints.
Do you remember the trouble that Doris Kearns Goodwin got in? I suppose I'm showing my age again. The well-known author got in serious trouble for committing non-gray area plagiarism. This surfaced in her book "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys." We learn from Wikipedia "she used without attribution many phrases and sentences from three other books."
Kearns Goodwin admitted she reached a large private settlement with author Lynne McTaggart. Slate Magazine discovered problems with the Kearns Goodwin book "No Ordinary Time," in which many passages were taken from "Eleanor and Franklin," "FDR's Splendid Deception" and other books. Kearns Goodwin has not disappeared as a result of all this. Although she did depart as guest pundit on a PBS show, she appears on TV today with some regularity offering her views. Would she be unqualified on the face of it to serve on a stupid little school board?
Rustad wanted to share about "paperless classrooms" in the district newsletter. Not even a controversial subject. Actually "paperless" is something I advocate so maybe I would be inclined to vote for Mr. Rustad. He found material from the International Society for Technology in Education. The piece he tapped was a lengthy comment on a blog. Just a "comment" and not the blog itself? I'm going by wording in an October Strib article. The item is still online "and is not identical to Rustad's column, but nearly so."
If this is grounds for being removed from a school board, heaven help us all. A majority on any public board could seek removal of adversaries just by doing your basic "opposition research." I'm sure our system of governance guards against this. It had better. Blogger John Hoff had to be rescued by our legal appeals system after he initially was in a courtroom where the judge didn't understand the First Amendment. That's not an exaggeration; she literally didn't understand it.
It's a shame the legal system might have to come to the rescue of Mr. Rustad too, not because he's an exemplary school board member but because our system of government is to be cherished and protected with vigilance.
In the case of Richard Sauer, he called William C. Nelson, chairman of NDSU's presidential search committee, to say he was withdrawing from consideration. Nelson told the AP that "he unsuccessfully tried to get Sauer to remain" a candidate.
Huh? We're talking a very high-level, important university administrator associated with "name" institutions, obviously with a resume nothing short of sparkling. And he's asked to reconsider his decision to withdraw? And Mr. Rustad, a small-time no-name school board member with a small-time and apparently very petty school board, is ousted?
And, Mr. Rustad is subjected to an "administrative hearing" on November 14, in which he had to answer questions "under oath" under "cross examination" by District 5 Attorney Amy Mace? We learn all this from an ABC Newspapers article.
Shouldn't his attorney at some point have advised him to just quit talking? Mr. Rustad is an elected public official who to my knowledge hasn't been the target of any legal action for anything he's done. We had a school board member here, initials V.G., who actually was the target of legal proceedings, remember? Eventually he resigned but it was very belated and it appeared not to be forced.
We learned that Rustad wasn't forthcoming when first confronted with the "accusation." What would you expect him to say? "Yeah, I plagiarized." He felt awkward, on the spot and knew he had done something not according to Hoyle, to be sure. But he didn't want to be that ant killed by a sledgehammer. In this sense he's like Mark Fuhrman, the detective in the O.J. Simpson case, who denied under oath ever using the word "nigger." Vince Bugliosi eventually defended Fuhrman's conduct in this matter.
There are probably other issues in the background of the Rustad case. He looks like a young guy and is maybe viewed as some uppity young individual who subscribes to some different ideas, like "paperless schools."
"Paperless schools" certainly threatens the book publishing industry.
Based on what I've read, the naivete and pettiness of St. Francis school board members should cause them, and not Mr. Rustad, to leave the board.