Thursday, May 21, 2009

academic politics and miscommunication

A former mentor with First Exposures, Erin Siegal, left San Francisco for Columbia Journalism School this year for her master's degree. However, she's been posting some cryptic stuff on her Facebook indicating that something crazy went down at the end of the year, and that she would not be getting her degree. I didn't want to push for more details since she seemed pretty upset.

Now her story has broken on Gawker:
Erin Siegal submitted the same work twice, to two different professors. But she insists she was above board about everything. Both her thesis adviser, Wayne Barrett, and her book seminar professor, Samuel Freedman, knew she would be sharing content between the two projects. The high-achieving scholarship student even made a PowerPoint presentation for Freedman explaining everything!

But now he's saying she took the three-way arrangement too far. Instead of giving him a big ole book and just excerpting 5,000 words for her thesis, she turned in the entire 16,000 words for her thesis at her adviser's urging. This apparently left no exclusive content for the book class, as Freedman had been expecting.

Freedman basically failed her for the seminar, which effectively blocked her graduation from the ten-month program.

I haven't known Erin for very long, but I know that she is passionate, super sweet, and dedicated to her craft. I can't imagine that she would do anything "unethical" knowingly, nor do I believe that if something inadvertently did happen she wouldn't do everything in her power to correct it as quickly and transparently. I'm really sad that she's had to go through this, and it's a pretty harsh lesson in the politics of academia (especially someone coming from the art world). It is tough to find out that you've done your due diligence, and still get screwed by people who you thought were in your corner. Or that you are the unwitting victim of your professors' pissing contest.

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