On January 13, 2011, President Richard Joel of Yeshiva University announced that Lawrence Schiffman, the prestigious chairman of New York University’s Jewish Studies department, was leaving NYU and had been named vice provost for undergraduate studies at Yeshiva. Court testimony in the widely publicized “email impersonation” or “parody” trial of Raphael Golb, along with other documents, reveal that a dispute has arisen as to whether Prof. Schiffman quashed an investigation into allegations of plagiarism by providing false information to NYU officials.
Internet comments have suggested that Lawrence Schiffman left NYU and moved to Yeshiva to avoid an impending investigation of his conduct.
The following dossier consists of excerpts (1) from a “confidential letter” (now publicly available) Schiffman submitted to NYU officials on August 29, 2008; (2) from the article Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago published on Nov. 30, 2010, entitled “The Confidential Letter Composed by Prof. Lawrence Schiffman of New York University”; and (3) from the New York Criminal Court trial testimony of Schiffman and former deans Catherine Stimpson and Richard Foley of NYU.
1. Excerpts from “Response to Internet Accusations,” a document submitted by Lawrence Schiffman to NYU officials in August 2008:
In January of 1993, I was interviewed for a Hebrew newspaper article … that appeared in the prestigious Israeli paper Haaretz. The article was written by Avi Katzman.... Perhaps I should not have agreed to be interviewed by him.... Let me state that there is absolutely no accusation of plagiarism in this article... no such accusation was ever made.... Let me state emphatically that I was never accused of plagiarism in 1995 by Avi Katzman or by anyone else... there never was a plagiarism accusation in 1995, as inspection of the Avi Katzman article will show... Let me again state: I was never accused of plagiarism by Avi Katzman in Haaretz, nor was I accused of plagiarism by Norman Golb in his 1995 book, nor have I ever been accused of plagiarism.2. Excerpt from Norman Golb’s article dated Nov. 30, 2010, on the “Confidential Letter Composed by Prof. Lawrence Schiffman of New York University”:
Apparently as a result of his acquaintance with [my] articles, the Israeli journalist Avi Katzman had come to the conclusion that certain of Dr. Schiffman’s ideas as expressed in his writings were in fact restatements of ideas earlier expressed by me. That is evidently why Katzman posed the following question to Schiffiman in the course of his 1993 Hebrew interview with him, the pertinent passage of which I cite in English translation:
Katzman: But you also, in different articles that you published, have not hesitated to adopt portions of Golb’s theory without acknowledging as much, and without giving him appropriate credit.
Schiffman: This isn’t the issue. There’s no innovation in Golb’s theory.... Golb can say what he wants. The idea we’re not dealing with a sect is self-evident..... (Musaf Haaretz, ibid., p. 50.)
While stating that “there is absolutely no accusation of plagiarism” in Katzman’s article, Schiffman fails, in his communication with NYU officials, to divulge the relevant question posed by Katzman to him, namely why he did not hesitate to “adopt portions of Golb’s theory without acknowledging as much….” Quoting Katzman’s query would obviously have allowed the university officials to evaluate the accuracy of Schiffman’s statements in light of their policy on such matters. Schiffman restricts himself only to the mention of other matters discussed in the Katzman interview. Other questions were of course posed to Schiffman by Katzman during the interview, but Schiffman refrains from quoting the salient question asked by Katzman.3. Excerpts from the trial testimony of Prof. Lawrence Schiffman and former deans Catherine Stimpson and Richard Foley
Dramatic testimony at the trial of Raphael Golb reveals a concerted effort at NYU to quash an investigation into allegations that Dr. Schiffman plagiarized the writings of Norman Golb. Here are a few highlights:
A. Excerpts from the testimony of Lawrence Schiffman:
Schiffman: The blogs assert that charges of impropriety were made in a newspaper article by [Avi Katzman] in I guess 1990 and I don’t believe Avi Katzman made such charges. I reworded the article in English and Hebrew and I simply do not see that he charged me with impropriety.
Q. Do you have an obligation to familiarize yourself with the New York University faculty handbook?
A. No, there’s no such obligation... I have breezed through the handbook. Nobody reads it. They don’t even give it out. It’s not even printed.
Q. Is it a fact, sir, that every member of the university is expected to conform to the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Activities such as plagiarism and misrepresenstation are expressly forbidden. Plagiarism is the appropriation of another’s ideas, processes, results or words without appropriate credit.
A. I agree with that statement, but I have no idea whether that’s the exact text of [the] NYU document. I personally agree with what you read. That doesn’t mean anything.
[Schiffman translates from Avi Katzman’s article:]
A. “But you also in various articles that you published did not hesitate to adopt pieces of the theory of Golb, without... admitting it or acknowledging it, and without giving him appropriate credit.”
Q. Doesn’t that exactly fit into the definition of plagiarism from the NYU handbook and the NYU rules and regulations that we just spoke about a moment ago?
A. I have no idea.
Q. Does this refresh your recollection about what Avi Katzman had written when you read it in 1993?
A. Well, I read Avi Katzman’s article about a week ago. So I don’t need you to erase my time, refreshing my recollection. I don’t believe this is an accusation of plagiarism. It’s an accusation of too few footnotes to a guy.
A. It’s an accusation of too few footnotes to a guy. Norman Golb is footnoted in everything I’ve written. I have written seven books... I have written 139 scholarly articles. No one has ever accused me of plagiarism, and Norman Golb is footnoted in them... I have never plagiarized Norman Golb.
B. Excerpts from the testimony of Catherine Stimpson:
Q. If you could tell the jury a little bit about your duties and responsibilities as dean?
A. It’s a wonderful job... what a dean is responsible for is … making sure the students are taught by the best possible professors, making sure they learn things that are true and on the cutting edge of thought... We are also responsible for making sure that all policies and procedures are taken care of...
Q. How serious is an accusation of plagiarism for someone in your field?
A. It’s very serious... The plagiarist steals someone else’s ideas.... In the academic world … you live in truth, you have to be able to rely on people, you have to be able to know that people are telling you the truth and when you read an article you have to think this is reliable... The plagiarist... sullies the atmosphere of truth.
Q. Does New York University have a policy on plagiarism?
A. Yes, it does.
Q. And where is that contained or displayed?
A. Well, there’s a ... handbook by which we live, that outlines faculty procedures and processes with which we must comply.
Q. Did you read anything with regard to what the allegation of plagiarism was?
A. As I understand it, he was supposed to have plagiarized another scholar named Norman Golb.
Q. Well, were there any specifics that you were exposed to about what the nature of the plagiarism was?
A. I saw some of them... but they are very technical.
Q. Did you go outside the realm of Dr. Schiffman in evaluating the nature of the allegation? […] Did you do anything about the subject matter, whether or not Dr. Schiffman had in fact plagiarized Norman Golb?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Would it be fair to say that neither you nor [Dean] Foley called up Norman Golb?
A. No, we did not.
Q. Did you go outside the university anywhere?
A. No, we did not. I did not.
Q. Did you ask [Dr. Schiffman] whether or not he did these things?
A. Dr. Schiffman made it clear that he did not.
Q. Did you analyze that, did you have someone look into or investigate what he said?
A. I found what he said and what he wrote to be credible.
Q. Did you ask Dr. Schiffman whether or not he had read the faculty handbook?
A. I did not ask him explicitly. As a chair he probably did but I did not ask him explicitly.
Q. If someone adopts someone else’s ideas and puts it into his own writings and doesn’t give credit to the individual whose ideas he’s adopted is that plagiarism?
A. He publishes the writings, he takes someone else’s ideas?
A. He passes them off as his or her own?
A. And gives no credit to the other person?
A. I would call that plagiarism, yes.
C. Excerpts from the testimony of Richard Foley:
Q. There were some pretty specific allegations against Dr. Schiffman, weren’t there?
A. I don’t recall all the details of the allegations.
Q. You don’t even know what he was accused of?
A. I know he was accused of plagiarism.
Q. What was the plagiarism?
A. I don’t recall at this time.
Q. Who was he accused of plagiarizing?
A. It was a professor at the University of Chicago.
Q. Do you know the name of that individual?
Q. Did you attempt to communicate with Professor Golb?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Did there come a time when you learned that one of the  allegations was that [Schiffman] had previously been accused of plagiarism by a very prominent journalist in Israel by the name of Avi Katzman?
A. No, I was not aware of that.
Q. Well, you’ve said you didn’t find the charges credible, but would it also be fair to say that you didn’t do anything to check them out?
A. We did talk to Larry Schiffman... and what we knew of Larry Schiffman’s background, his reputation for honesty, and as an outstanding scholar, we decided that the charges were not credible.
Q. Did you ask Dr. Schiffman to take any steps, did you ask him to write a response to you?
A. No, we had discussions with him.
Q. Did he write a response to you?
A. I don’t recall, we didn’t request a formal statement from him.
Q. Well, isn’t it a fact that Dr. Schiffman sent you a response to the allegations against him that are contained in the document in front of you?
A. What I remember is that I had extensive conversations with Dr. Schiffman. What I don’t remember is these written documents.
Q. Dr. Foley, if someone appropriates portions of another scholar’s theory and presents them as his own without giving appropriate credit, does that fall under NYU’s definition of plagiarism?
A. I haven’t read recently the exact definition of plagiarism but is sounds like it probably would.
Q. Well, the definition of plagiarism is contained in the NYU handbook, isn’t it?
A. It is contained in the NYU handbook.
Q. Have you read the NYU handbook?
A. I have read the NYU handbook. I haven’t memorized the NYU handbook.
Q. [shows handbook] Does that … refresh your recollection that if one working for NYU appropriates portions of another scholar’s theory and presents them as his own without giving appropriate credit that falls under NYU’s definition of plagiarism; is that correct?
A. Yes, that is correct.
Q. If an NYU faculty member had been accused of doing exactly that, and then told the NYU officials including yourself that he had never been accused of plagiarism, would that be appropriate?
A. The definition of plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas without giving appropriate credit; that would not be appropriate.
Conclusion: As indicated above, Norman Golb’s article on Schiffman’s “confidential letter” is dated November 30, 2010. Six weeks later, on January 13, 2011, Yeshiva University announced that Lawrence Schiffman was leaving NYU.