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Princeton professor Kevin Kruse accused of plagiarism in Cornell dissertation, ‘surprised’ by lack of citation

<p>Photo Credit: Etta Recke / Office of Communications</p>

Photo Credit: Etta Recke / Office of Communications

Professor of History Kevin M. Kruse was accused of several instances of plagiarism by conservative historian Phillip Magness in an article published in “Reason” in June. 

In the article, Magness alleged that Kruse plagiarized sections of his 2000 doctoral dissertation at Cornell University as well as sections of his 2015 book, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.” Magness claims that Kruse plagiarizes Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Emeritus Ronald H. Bayor’s book “Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta.”

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Kruse expressed “surprise” at the allegations and attributed the lack of citations in one instance to an inadvertent oversight.

“While I indicated my intellectual debts to Prof. Bayor elsewhere in the text, endnotes and bibliography of the dissertation, I was surprised to see that there was an instance in the introduction in which I failed to do so properly,” Kruse wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

Bayor himself expressed skepticism around the allegations in an email to the ‘Prince,’ attributing Kruse’s alleged missteps to “sloppy notetaking” and suggesting that the recently surfaced allegations are politically motivated.

Kruse holds a reputation as a renowned left-leaning professor and “history’s attack dog,” as he was once termed by The Chronicle of Higher Education, with a long track record of taking to platforms like Twitter to correct common misinterpretations of American history by conservative and other political commentators. As a scholar of 20th-century American history, Kruse has written books on religious nationalism, urban and suburban history, and the Civil Rights Movement. He has served as a professor at the University since 2000, most recently teaching a lecture on U.S. history from 1920 to 1974 as well as a seminar on the political history of civil rights.

Several conservative critics, including Princeton University student Abigail Anthony ’23, have argued that the University’s seeming inaction on Kruse’s alleged plagiarism stands in stark contrast to what some have criticized as the unjust termination of former classics professor Joshua Katz this past May. 

During the spring of 2022, the University dismissed Katz following an internal finding that Katz “misrepresented facts” during a 2018 investigation into a relationship he had with a student, discouraged the alumna from participating in said investigation, and tried to prevent her from seeking mental health care when she was a student, according to the University. His defenders have claimed the dismissal was retribution for a controversial column Katz wrote for Quillette in July 2020 in which he opposed a faculty letter on racial equity and labeled a now-inactive student group, the Black Justice League, a “small local terrorist organization.”

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When asked by the ‘Prince’ whether the University is investigating the plagiarism allegations against Kruse, University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss said in an email that administrators are currently “reviewing” the claims.

“The University is committed to the highest ethical and scholarly standards, and thus takes allegations of research misconduct very seriously. We are carefully reviewing the concerns that have been shared with the University, and will handle them in accordance with University policy,” Hotchkiss wrote.

Magness, who works as a researcher at the libertarian think tank American Institute for Economic Research, wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’ that he discovered the alleged instances of plagiarism while reviewing Kruse’s book “One Nation Under God” for an academic journal. In the original Reason article as well as a slate of related blog posts, Magness identified two particular texts from which Kruse allegedly plagiarized: Bayor’s “Race and the Shaping of Twentieth Century Atlanta” as well as “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit” (published in 1996), a book written by Thomas Sugrue, a historian and Julius Silver Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University.

In one instance, Magness highlights a passage in Kruse’s dissertation in which he lists out the names of prominent African American residents who lived in Atlanta during the civil-rights era: “Central figures in civil rights history—such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White, Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Vernon Jordan, Ralph Abernathy, and Julian Bond—have lived inside its limits at one time or another.”

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Magness said he found that Kruse had appropriated and failed to properly attribute the original source of this list, as well as six other passages from Bayor’s “Race and the Shaping of Twentieth Century Atlanta.” In Bayor’s book, the text contains a similar instance of the list of figures that Kruse includes in his dissertation, with minor changes: “At one time or another such notables as W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White, Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Vernon Jordan, Ralph Abernathy, and Julian Bond lived within its borders.”

In response to allegations that Kruse plagiarized from his book, Bayor questioned whether such claims even merited discussion.

“It looks to me like very sloppy notetaking which can be fixed with an endnote. I did not see the dissertation but did read his book on [the] Atlanta suburbs and found it to be a sound and important history,” Bayor wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’

He argued that Magness’s allegations are made in bad faith.

“I don’t approve of politically motivated attacks on good scholarship whether it comes from the right or left, and I believe this scrutiny of Kruse’s work is just that. There is not a story here,” Bayor added.

Magness and Kruse maintain a history of fraught academic exchanges. In the past, Magness has leveled criticisms at Kruse’s work, including against his book “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism,” as well as with respect to his contributions to The New York Times’ 1619 project, an ambitious journalistic endeavor exploring the roots of American history through centering the implications of slavery and the efforts of Black Americans.

Kruse also said he has had the opportunity to discuss the unattributed passages with Bayor himself.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with Prof. Bayor about it, and I’m glad to have such a generous and supportive intellectual mentor,” he added.

In addition to passages from Bayor’s book, Magness highlights sections within Kruse’s book “One Nation Under God” that ostensibly derive verbatim from Sugrue’s book. Sugrue, who co-edited “The New Suburban History” with Kruse in 2006, did not respond to a request for comment from the ‘Prince’ by the time of publication.

Since penning the Reason article, Magness told the ‘Prince’ that he has unearthed additional evidence of possible plagiarism in Kruse’s book.

“I have since found several additional passages in One Nation Under God that closely resemble the wordings and argument structures of other previously published books,” Magness wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “These examples include citations in the footnotes, but they also generally lack the requisite quotation marks to indicate that certain phrases and sentences are borrowed from other authors.” 

Still, Magness said he sees these other examples as less “severe” than the first.

“Although these examples are not as severe as the passages from Kruse’s dissertation (which entailed several near-verbatim sentences without any citations or quotation marks to indicate their source), they suggest a wider pattern of possible problems in this book,” he wrote.

Soon after discovering these alleged instances of plagiarism, Magness said he notified the University about his concerns but never received a response. He claims the University only began to address his concerns after they became public in June.

“I received a response a few days after my Reason article was published,” he wrote, “indicating that they had begun an investigation. I have since provided the [U]niversity with details regarding additional textual irregularities as they have come to light.”

The University’s “Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities” directs all University members to observe “basic honesty in one’s work, words, ideas, and actions [as] a principle to which all members of the community are required to subscribe.”

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Hotchkiss wrote that the University had overlooked Magness’s original email for a simple reason: it never reached any administrators.

“On December 6, 2021, Phillip Magness sent a message to a generic email address monitored by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty. The email was overlooked, and the appropriate University officials did not learn of his allegations until this month,” Hotchkiss said in a statement first sent to the ‘Prince’ in June.

The news of Kruse allegedly plagiarizing material in his written work has prompted an outcry and calls for accountability among several notable detractors, including right-wing political commentator Dinesh D’Souza and Senator Ted Cruz ’92 (R-Texas), who have publicly called on the University to initiate a full-fledged investigation into the allegations.





The ‘Prince’ reached out to Cruz’s media relations team for comment and was directed to the tweet he posted on June 7.

Stuart Taylor, Jr. ’70, a co-founder of Princetonians for Free Speech, a self-described alumni academic and free speech group, said the University should thoroughly investigate Kruse, implying that to do otherwise would reveal an ideological bias against right-leaning professors.

“I do think that close scrutiny of how this and all other allegations of faculty misconduct are handled is warranted to shed light on whether the extraordinarily harsh treatment of Professor Katz suggests, as I believe it does, that he was judged by a double standard,” Taylor, a long-time defender of Katz, wrote to the ‘Prince.’

Princeton history professor David Bell, who serves as a committee member at the Center for Collaborative History alongside Kruse, offered his own perspective on the matter. He argued that the severity of plagiarism offenses exists along a continuum, and that Magness’s charges of plagiarism fall short of considering these nuances. Bell noted that his opinion does not represent the views of the history department, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center, or the University.

“While plagiarism is always wrong, there are, obviously, many different degrees of plagiarism. There is a huge difference, for instance, between passing off someone else’s entire article as one’s own, and copying a few sentences,” wrote Bell in an email to the ‘Prince.’

“In the latter case, it matters whether the sentences in question are crucial to the work or not—whether or not they represent a theft of key ideas or evidence. What Magness uncovered was the copying of a few pieces of felicitous, but essentially incidental prose. Magness is wrong to charge Kruse with plagiarizing a “key passage” of his dissertation. This should be kept in mind when asking what consequences Kruse should face,” he wrote.

The chair of the University history department where Kruse teaches deferred comment to the Office of Communications.

The University did not comment on whether or not it intends to open a full investigation into the matter.

Correction: This article previously included a statement from University spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss in which he stated that the University had not learned of the allegations against Kruse until “this month” without stating that Hotchkiss’s statement was originally sent to the Prince’ in June. Additionally, the piece previously referred to plural “emails” sent by Magness to the University prior to June. In fact, the ‘Prince’ is aware of a singular email in December. 

The story also referenced critics’ views on the contrast between this case and Joshua Katz’s in a way that was misleading. The ‘Prince’ regrets these errors and the story has been updated to reflect these changes.

Assistant News Editor Bailey Glenetske contributed reporting to this article.

Annie Rupertus is a first-year from Philadelphia and a News Staff Writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at arupertus@princeton.edu or @annierupertus on Instagram and Twitter.

Amy Ciceu is a senior writer who often covers research and COVID-19-related developments. She also serves as a newsletter editor. She can be reached at aciceu@princeton.edu.

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