Sen. Joseph Biden

Biden Was Accused of Plagiarism in Law School

Published: September 17, 1987

LEAD: Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democratic Presidential candidate, was accused of plagiarism while in his first year at Syracuse University Law School, academic officials familiar with Mr. Biden’s record said today.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democratic Presidential candidate, was accused of plagiarism while in his first year at Syracuse University Law School, academic officials familiar with Mr. Biden’s record said today.

Mr. Biden, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is presiding over the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork, has called a news conference for 9 A.M. Thursday to discuss this charge and reports that he has lifted material from speeches by other politicians to use in his public addresses.

A Biden aide, who asked not to be identified, declined to comment on the plagiarism charge, saying Mr. Biden wanted to discuss it himself. ”It’s his life,” the aide said.

According to the people familiar with the record of the 44-year-old Senator from Delaware, he was called before the disciplinary body at the law school during his first year because of charges that he had committed plagiarism on a paper. Mr. Biden entered the school in 1965 and graduated in 1968.

CBS News tonight quoted an aide to Mr. Biden as saying he had been exonerated. However, an academic official said Mr. Biden had been found guilty, ”threw himself on the mercy of the board” and promised not to repeat the offense. This, according to the official, persuaded the board to drop the matter and allow Mr. Biden to remain in law school. Mr. Biden’s office declined to clarify the circumstances surrounding the case, saying the Senator had insisted on handling the matter himself at the news conference.

One academic official said Mr. Biden asked for and obtained his law school records several weeks ago and requested then that the school not distribute them until he had had a chance to examine their contents. Biden and Aides Meet

Mr. Biden and his aides were meeting late tonight to discuss the apparent crisis confronting him.

For a time this afternoon, on the second day of hearings on the Bork nomination, Mr. Biden left the hearing room. It was not immediately clear whether his departure was precipitated by reports swirling around the Capitol about his record at Syracuse.

However, Dan Forbush, vice president for public relations at the university, said Mr. Biden was ”in touch with the law school today.”

Mr. Forbush said he could not discuss the nature of the call. Nor would he confirm or deny the reports of plagiarism charges, saying it was not ”possible to release information on it without the permission of Senator Biden.”

Travis Lewin, the interim dean of the law school, also declined comment. Recollections of Professors

But two of Mr. Biden’s law school professors, reached tonight, said they had no recollection of any such charges. Asked about Mr. Biden’s record as a student, one of the professors, Robert M. Anderson, said, ”He wasn’t setting the law school on fire, but he was a competent student and a nice young man.”

The other professor, Samuel J. Donnelly, said Mr. Biden had been one of his ”more favorite students” because he was ”bright” and ”broad intellectually.”

The controversy surrounding Mr. Biden began after The New York Times reported last Saturday that he had appropriated, without attribution, the language of Neil Kinnock, the British Labor Party leader, to close a debate in Iowa last month.

In a television commercial during the British election campaign last spring, Mr. Kinnock asked, ”Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” Pointing to his wife, he asked, ”Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?”

In closing remarks at a debate at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 23, Mr. Biden asked,”Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?” Further, he asked, ”Why is it that my wife, who is sitting out there in the audience, is the first in her family to ever go to college?” Quotations From Kennedys

This week politicians from both parties – some of them partisans of other candidates in the Democvratic Presidential race – told members of the press of additional instances in which Mr. Biden had used the language and syntax of others, including John F. and Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey. The information provided to The New York Times today about Mr. Biden’s academic record, however, did not come from any rival Presidential campaign.

Some of the similarities in speeches were noted by The San Jose Mercury News and by The Des Moines Register in their Tuesday editions, and by The New York Times today. CBS News and ABC News broadcast reports on the subject this evening.

Mr. Biden and his aides have argued that the charges concerning his speeches are unfair, saying he used Mr. Kinnock’s remarks often and usually attributed them to the British leader. The instance in which he did not, his aides said, was a lapse. Mr. Biden’s campaign also argues that public officials frequently use material from the speeches of politicians of earlier generations. Division Over Impact

Political professionals, including those working for rival Democratic campaigns, were divided over the impact of the reports of speech-lifting.

Some said it would be particularly damaging because Mr. Biden’s campaign had emphasized his oratorical skills and capacity for ”inspirational leadership.”

”He, in one sense, created the standard by which he was to be judged,” said Harrison Hickman, a Democratic poll taker. ”He has said consistently that the next President must be the one who can motivate the American public. And if you’re going to make that argument, it seems a fair test to ask whether Joe Biden is a visionary or is Joe Biden a good speaker.”

Geoffrey Garin, another poll taker, said, ”This controversy plays into the case his opponents would like to make against him: that he is a person of style rather than substance.”

Other professionals said that in a campaign in which character was already an issue, dating from Gary Hart’s withdrawal in May, incidents like those that have dogged Mr. Biden in recent days were certain to be damaging.

As for the latest charge, that of plagiarism, one Democratic political consultant not associated with any of the campaigns said one factor in the way Mr. Biden would be judged was to what extent, if any, he had been exonerated by the law school.

”There are exonerations and there are exonerations,” this consultant said, noting that Mr. Biden might have been spared punishment without actually being cleared of the charge. Announced on June 9

Mr. Biden, a passionate orator, entered the Presidential race on June 9. He cast himself as the candidate who understood the aspirations of the generation of Americans from the post-war baby boom, and also as a political leader who understood the anxieties and aspirations of the American middle class. Mr. Biden’s aides have said that it was Mr. Kinnock’s evocation of the struggles of working people that drew Mr. Biden to the British leader’s speech.

Although he has gained considerable ground in the polls in Iowa, whose caucuses are only five months away, Mr. Biden has not succeeded in sparking the broad enthusiasm that he thought his candidacy would provoke.

Mr. Biden and his aides hoped that the Bork hearings would raise his visibility and stature, casting him as an intelligent and articulate critic of Judge Bork’s conservative judicial philosophy. Instead, the weekend before the hearings was dominated by stories of Mr. Biden’s lifting of Mr. Kinnock’s rhetoric.

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