Thursday, May 27, 2010

Columbia Valedictorian Steals From Comedian

I was always proud of graduating from Columbia University's School of General Studies. After all, we weren't the ones that invited a Holocaust denier to speak. We did, however, give the floor to a giant hack.

This week, valedictorian Brian Corman lifted part of his speech from one of comedian Patton Oswalt's most well-known routines. That's right - the guy smart enough to have the highest GPA at Columbia-FREAKING-University wasn't smart enough to realize that people don't like thieves.  

The evidence:

Thanks to this new thing called the interweb, Patton found out, and responded. After ripping Corman a new one via Twitter and his website, Patton talked to the New York Times.

"In people's heads, they think that comedians can't possibly make up their own material," he said. "They must get it out of joke books."

And that is what frustrates me most about joke stealing. It's the lack of respect for the writer. 8th grade girls are prosecuted for downloading a song illegally. But someone can give a speech in front of hundreds of people and take a comedian's words as their own - and the only repercussion is embarrassment.

Dean Peter Awn, who I respect a great deal, apologized (as did Corman). But (despite Jesse James' best efforts to show us otherwise) apologizing is not enough. 

Patton made another great point:
"Makes me wonder what he might have done to become valedictorian — I mean, if he’s willing to steal material for something as inconsequential as a speech, how rubbery did his boundaries become when his GPA and future career were on the line?"

If a college football program can forfeit wins, Brian Corman can forfeit his position as Valedictorian. As per Columbia's policy, had he plagiarized in a paper, he'd have been kicked out of school. All I'm asking for is that he not leave that school with honors.

I love the General Studies program. But the embarrassment that Corman brought upon himself is an embarrassment to every one of us who holds that diploma. I constantly get letters from Columbia asking me for money, and have yet to donate, since I find other charities to be more worthwhile than one of the largest land owners in NYC. But teaching people to be honorable? That's a worthy cause.

I will make you a promise, Dean Awn - if General Studies strips Corman's title as valedictorian, my next donation will be to you. Until then, please save your stamps.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I can't agree more. It would have been one thing if he'd given full attribution to Oswalt beforehand, noting that what he wanted to say had been said better. Or, as Michelangelo said, "When I steal an idea, I leave my knife." (Of course, what's funny about that is that Michelangelo was notorious for his art forging: much like Paul Revere's silversmithing, the real rarities were Michelangelo paintings with his name on them.)

    I had roughly the same case of conscience a few years back. My old high school is apparently having a serious issue with its budget, and solicited its alumni to chip in for money for science projects and paper for English exams. I thought about this long and hard, considering that my school also just resodded its football field for the third time in a decade. (I grew up in a horrible North Texas hellpit named Lewisville, where class reunion attempts to sing the school fight song fall through because nobody can remember the lyrics to "Dueling Banjos".) I wrote back and asked "Will any contributions be matched with budget cuts to the football program?" I never heard from them again.


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