U of Alberta dean accused of plagiarism apologizes

The dean of medicine at the University of Alberta is apologizing to his colleagues and students after being accused of plagiarizing his convocation speech.

The dean of medicine at the University of Alberta is apologizing to his colleagues and students after being accused of plagiarizing his convocation speech.

"The talk was intended for a private audience," Dr. Philip Baker wrote in a letter to the graduating class. "Nevertheless, my failure to attribute the source of my inspiration is a matter of the utmost regret.

"And, while there is no excuse for the lapse in judgment which occurred on Friday evening, I can only offer my sincere and heartfelt apology."

Dr. Philip Baker, the dean of medicine at the University of Alberta, has apologized for not attributing some of his convocation speech. (The Gateway)

Students claim Baker's speech given Friday during a graduation banquet, which told personal stories about how medical science has helped his wife and children, was lifted — word for word — from a talk given by surgeon and professor Atul Gawande at Stanford University's 2010 medical school convocation.

Gawande's commencement address was republished in New Yorker magazine, for which he is a staff writer.

In his apology, Baker admitted the theme and much of the content of his speech was similar to Gawande's.

"When I was researching for the speech, I came across text which inspired me and resonated with my experiences," he said.

"The personal medical traumas which I detailed were wholly genuine and did indeed engender the sense of inadequacy I highlighted.

'It's something that the university takes very seriously.'—Deb Hammacher, University of Alberta

"I also used a medical case of Dr. Gawande’s to further make my point."

Baker said he has apologized to Gawande. 

Gawande was flattered by his use of the speech and accepted the apology, said Baker.

Baker also wrote a letter of apology to his colleagues at the university.

Dr. Philip Baker's biography

  • Became dean of the faculty of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta Sept. 1, 2009.
  • From 2001 directed the newly established Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester, U.K..
  • From 1995 to 2001, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Nottingham University, U.K.
  • Wrote more than 200 scientific publications, more than 50 review articles and 14 books.

"I am sorry for any embarrassment or issues that may result from my comments."

"I don’t think an apology itself is enough," said Dr. Robert Agostinis, past president of the U of A medical alumni association, who received the email. "If it isn’t dealt with appropriately, this will continue to linger and the reputation (of the faculty of medicine) will be even more tarnished. 

"If anybody else, say a medical student, did something similar they would be expelled from the university," he said.

The university is looking into the plagiarism allegations.

"It's something that the university takes very seriously," said Deb Hammacher.  "We'll conduct a full investigation."

A written statement from University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera was released Monday evening.

"These are serious allegations, and the University of Alberta will treat them as such," she stated. "Academic integrity is at the heart of this university, and must continue to be so. We will undertake our examination within a fair process and with due diligence.

"As would be the case with any such allegations, a thorough review will be conducted under the university’s established procedures and codes of conduct."