OPEN APOLOGY TO MS. SUZETTE WALDEN-COLE
I regularly write consulting reports for campus clients – I have written over 20 such reports in the last calendar year. Any time I complete a report, I save the information in that report to a “master” template that is organized by topical area. This allows me to avoid redundant writing and ensure that the advice I provide to campuses is consistent with what we at Dyad Strategies view as best practice. Any time I write a new report, the “findings” are unique to each campus, but the “recommendations” are often similar (there are only so many ways to tell a campus how to manage its organizational misconduct process, for example). So, any given report that I write will contain material that is roughly 75 percent unique to the campus, and 25 percent “boilerplate” language.
Last year, I had the fortunate opportunity to work on an external review team with a group of collaborators, including Ms. Suzette Walden-Cole, at the University of Southern California. I wrote roughly half of the recommendations in that report, and the remainder were written either by Suzette or Dr. Jeremiah Shinn (our third collaborator, with whom I have a mutual agreement to share materials related to consulting projects). As usual, at the conclusion of that project, I dumped all of the information in that report into my master template, organized by topical area.
Earlier this year, I was contracted by the University of Missouri to complete a risk management assessment of their fraternity/sorority community. As part of that review, I reviewed polices and procedures, I visited the campus on two separate occasions where I conducted numerous interviews and focus groups, and wrote a 20-page report related my findings and recommendations. While I was only contracted to do a risk management review, and the vast majority of my report focused on risk management concerns, my findings and recommendations extended beyond simply risk management issues and included other topics that emerged in my conversations with students and stakeholders.
When writing the Missouri report, I did what I always do, which is to write original findings for the campus, but consult my master template document when laying out recommendations for addressing those issues. Of my recommendations section of that report, about half of the content is unique to Missouri (and all recommendations related to risk management are unique to Missouri), and the other half (assessment/strategic planning, organizational misconduct, etc.) are standard, best practice language that I have used in other reports.
At Missouri, one of the issues that arose in my conversations with students was the fact that NPHC and MGC groups did not feel supported by the University or included in the broader Greek community, so I wanted to include some guidance in the report related to those issues. While my written findings in this regard were unique to Missouri, I consulted my master template for recommendations, and behold, there were four lovely bullet points on best practices for supporting NPHC/MGC communities. Without a second of hesitation, I copied those four bullets into my report.
Once the Missouri report was released to the public by the University, it received a fair amount of local media attention and copies of my report were distributed widely. A few weeks after the report was published, I received a tersely-worded letter from Suzette’s attorney accusing me of copyright infringement. In putting the report together, it had completely slipped my mind that the four bullet points related to supporting MGC/NPHC communities were actually authored by Suzette in the report on which we collaborated at USC. Upon learning of my mistake, I immediately corrected the report and notified the University of Missouri of my mistake, and the corrected report (appropriately citing Suzette’s contributions) was posted to the University’s website. I removed Suzette’s material from my master report template. I also issued a letter of apology directly to Suzette for my mistake.
I have had my research used without citation by others in this industry, so I know how it feels to have your work used without permission or proper attribution. And while, in this case, my use of Suzette’s work was an unintentional oversight due to the sheer volume of information in my master report template, I feel that I owe her a public apology nonetheless. Suzette is regarded by many as a leading expert on advising and supporting culturally-based groups (something I have never claimed to be), and I would never intentionally use her work in an unauthorized way and I regret that his happened.
Suzette, I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me for this oversight on my part. I will be more careful in the future.
Gentry McCreary, CEO and Managing Partner
Dyad Strategies, LLC