KU’s vice provost for diversity, equity resigns after plagiarizing MLK Day message

University of Kansas
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The University of Kansas’ interim vice provost for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging has resigned after acknowledging that he plagiarized a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day message to campus.

Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer announced D.A. Graham’s resignation in an email to faculty Wednesday, two days after Graham told the Lawrence Journal-World he plagiarized his MLK Day message. Graham assumed the role of Interim Vice Provost of DEIB in December 2020.

Graham’s message, which he sent on Friday, contained sentences similar or identical to those in a message written by Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity in the Veterans Benefits Administration, in 2015.

“D.A. has offered to resign from KU, effective immediately, and I have accepted his offer,” Bichelmeyer said in the email. “While this is a consequence that befits the action, it is a sad day for all who aspire to greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at KU.”

Graham was trying to “hurry up and get the message together,” he told the Journal-World.

“As we prepare to take off for a long weekend, it is appropriate to take a moment to think about why we aren’t coming to work or classes Monday, Martin Luther King Day, a holiday that honors his commitment to equal rights, non-violence, and social change,” Graham wrote in his message.

Coy wrote in 2015: “As we prepare to take off for a long weekend, it might be appropriate to take just a moment to think about why we aren’t coming to work Monday … Martin Luther King Day.”

The paragraphs that followed in Graham’s message were nearly identical to that of Coy’s, with only some slight word changes or additions.

Graham’s role as Interim Vice Provost was to set a foundation for an “aspirational vision for DEIB,” Bichelmeyer said in an announcement to campus in December 2020.

His departure ends a bumpy tenure.

He was hired as University Ombudsman in 2017 and became Interim Vice Provost for DEIB after KU restructured its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in December 2020.

Graham’s role was to set a foundation for an “aspirational vision for DEIB,” Bichelmeyer said in an announcement.

The school added “belonging” to the name and shifted it to the provost’s office. Other functions were shifted to the Office of Student Affairs. But the moves were poorly received by KU students, faculty and staff because they were not consulted.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee of KU’s Student Senate — the student governing body on campus — sent a letter in January 2021 to Bichelmeyer voicing concerns about the reorganization and the firing of two employees within the campus Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Bichelmeyer and Graham met with students in early 2021 after they requested an explanation on the office’s reorganization.

Graham later blocked KU’s Black Student Coalition on Twitter, the University Daily Kansan reported, after the student group was tagging him and Bichelmeyer in Tweets highlighting concerns Black students had about KU.

KU is preparing to launch a search for a permanent Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, Bichelmeyer said in the message Wednesday. With Graham’s resignation, it is now searching for an active Vice Provost to serve in the role until a search committee finds a permanent candidate.

Graham did not immediately respond to The Star’s request for comment.

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