Jack Durham: If Dan Johnson Can’t Show Up When It Matters, Let’s Just Make That Permanent

Thursday, August 1, 2013

We can all agree that school board member Dan Johnson made a stupid mistake when he plagiarized a famous speech during the Arcata High School graduation ceremony on June 13. By his own admission, the mistake was the result of his own ignorance.

One would think that the person appointed to oversee McKinleyville and Arcata high schools would have a basic grasp of the concepts of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Apparently not.

Had Johnson acknowledged his blunder and apologized soon after the speech, perhaps we could put this issue behind us. A mistake was made. Johnson apologized. Let’s move on.

But for some maddening reason, Johnson waited a month and a half to say anything. During that time, he refused to return reporters’ e-mails and phone calls. He was unresponsive to his constituents. That, in and of itself, is a problem.

It wasn’t until last Friday that he finally made his apology. This should have been the end of the story. But no.

Johnson failed to show up at the special meeting that was set up to address his own problem. Why wasn’t he there? This meeting was about him. This was his opportunity to address the issue, but he was a no show.

Then there was his apology, in which he lashes out at critics.

Johnson equates this intolerance of cheating to some sort of profound personal flaw. That doesn’t make any sense. Do teachers who scold their students for cheating have a profound personal flaw? Of course not. Johnson probably doesn’t think so either.

In a prepared statement, he wrote:  “I understand that for some in our community – the self-appointed referees of good and evil – no explanation or apology I can offer is good enough. But I’m comfortable in the knowledge that their intolerance, so readily on display, is a far more profound flaw than mine.”

By using the words “self-appointed referees of good and evil” Johnson is belittling community members who care about academic honesty and spoke publicly about his plagiarism. They were speaking out during a time when Johnson and his fellow school board members were cocooned inside a  cone of silence.

There was an absence of leadership at the Northern Humboldt Union High School District.  The public had so speak out to fill the void. (Nobody, by the way, ever said that Johnson or his plagiarism were “evil.” Just dishonest.)

Then Johnson accuses his critics of intolerance. This, actually, is true.  Those who have criticized Johnson are intolerant of plagiarism.

Johnson may not be aware of this, but the institution he oversees is also intolerant of plagiarism and other forms of cheating. This is really basic stuff in academia, something that a school board member should know about.

Johnson equates this intolerance of cheating to some sort of profound personal flaw. That doesn’t make any sense. Do teachers who scold their students for cheating have a profound personal flaw? Of course not. Johnson probably doesn’t think so either.

The point of Johnson’s criticism is to shift the blame and turn himself into a victim. As one person wrote on the McKinleyville Press website, Johnson’s attempt at an apology “is not only backhanded, but also unremorseful, egocentric, narcissistic, and genuinely unapologetic.”

Following the June 13 commencement, when Johnson was informed that it’s not cool to plagiarize a speech, Johnson should have simply acknowledged his mistake and apologized. That would have been sufficient. We all make mistakes.

But his weeks of silence, unresponsiveness, lack of leadership and his lame-ass attempt at an apology really call into question his ability to serve as steward of our local high schools. It’s time for Johnson to resign.

Jack Durham is editor and publisher of the McKinleyville Press, a member of the Mad River Newspaper Guild.

 

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7 Responses to “Jack Durham: If Dan Johnson Can’t Show Up When It Matters, Let’s Just Make That Permanent”

  1. Greg Galardy

    The month and a half that Mr. Johnson was silent was how long he took to come up with his accusatory response to his own failure! Mr. Johnson's detractors' intolerance of plagiarism is absolutely NOT a flaw, but a basic principle of ethics. His sense of entitlement, for whatever reason, is the profound flaw in this case, and it's a flaw in his character.

    #70101
  2. Emelia Berol

    I have to say, Bob and I were present at the Arcata High School graduation, and we were horrified by Dan Johnson's narcissistic speech. How did this guy ever get to be head of the school board? I agree that he should resign.

    #70109
  3. Kevin Hoover

    Marcy Burstiner details how Dan got in there. He's never been elected, but is part of the NHUHSD jock-ocracy.
    http://www.northcoastjournal.com/humboldt/copy-that/Content?oid=2317906

    #70110
  4. Maggi Draper

    So inappropriate that a School Board could allow someone on it to set such a poor example. Stopping cheating and plagiarism is a basic function of educators. I can understand random negligence or malfeasance in some other area, but an intentional act of this kind is strange indeed on an educational board of directors. I'm merely speculating that the School Board's legal counsel may have told them they may all be liable for his error somehow, so keep quiet – and that is why nobody has taken a step to oust him? Who knows? In the past, I have seen school boards get some very peculiar legal advice. Many boards seem to place "butt-covering" above all else. Perhaps lack of action or comment from fellow board members stems from advice to do nothing in an "abundance of caution" – a phrase in common usage these days as window dressing for acting in reckless disregard of consequences.

    #70152
  5. What's the matter DJ? Are you a little off on your golf swing? Maybe you should upgrade to NIKE and be a good 'Sport'.

    #70490
  6. King Bear

    does this mean i can start plagerizing now? :D :D :D :D

    #70510

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