Democrat behaving badly

The appointed Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, has a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. But does he deserve it?

An examination of the 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” and posted online by The Times, revealed that about a third of Mr. Walsh’s 2007 paper consisted of verbatim language and extremely similar passages to other sources, without any kind of attribution.

“Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes but uses other authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks,” The Times said.

That first clause made me pause…you can get a master’s by writing a 14-page paper? My undergraduate students write far more than that every semester. Thanks, War College, for cheapening the value of a degree so much!

Even if two thirds of the essay weren’t plagiarized (really, he wrote about 4½ pages to get his degree?), I’d say that isn’t graduate level work.


  1. kingeofdremes says

    Not all Masters programs are thesis-based. Some are offered through course loads, with each requiring 6-10 page essays every few weeks.

  2. Moggie says

    How very dare you!

    “John Walsh is a decorated war hero, and it’s disgusting that Steve Daines and Washington Republicans are going to try denigrate John’s distinguished service after multiple polls show him gaining,” said spokesman Justin Barasky. “Steve Daines should immediately denounce these latest smears and call for an end to all attacks on John Walsh’s record protecting Montana and serving his country.”

    Once you’ve spent time in a foreign country shooting at the people who live there, you can do no wrong and are exempt from all criticism.

  3. says

    It beggar’s belief. My research psychology master’s was +- 140 pages AFTER cutting over 30 pages from it for conciseness. We were expected to produce a full scope dissertation on top of a 1 year full-time course load. After which you had 3 years max to complete the research and present the dissertation for examination.

  4. says

    My masters degree in Tropical Coastal Management from Newcastle University in the UK included the production of a paper short enough to be theoretically published in a journal – I think the limit was 10 pages. However, I don’t think it ‘cheapened the value’ of degrees because:

    – The paper was the result of the best part of 6 months of planning, fieldwork, desktop research, data analysis and writing.
    – It only represented a portion of our final grade, which included written exams, essays, practical assessments and other coursework.

    Obviously the plagiarism aspect is wrong, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude that a degree was earned easily just because the final ‘thesis’ was extremely short. If anything, compacting 6 months of work into 10 pages is *more* difficult than taking as much space as you want.

    Anyway, /endrant.

  5. toska says

    In Montana, we once again have no good choice for the election. It’s between this pathetic cheater and Steve Daines, an extreme anti-choicer who wouldn’t even allow exceptions for rape victims if he got his way. *sigh*

  6. says

    My advisor would have gutted me if I handed in anything like this. Hell she would have probably gutted me if my first draft looked like this.

  7. says

    My master’s thesis was 18 pages long. Of course, it was in math and the result on the last page was original.

  8. says

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude that a degree was earned easily just because the final ‘thesis’ was extremely short

    With a topic like: “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” a book-length treatment would be a start. Or, if it were the most brilliant and incisive paper on the topic, ever, 14 pages might do, but 1/3 of them wouldn’t be cribbed from other sources.

  9. says

    I was disagreeing only with PZ’s statement that the brevity of the paper devalues the degree. I agree with you that longer papers permit more detail, and also that plagiarism is wrong.

  10. says

    Here’s another person who didn’t have a thesis requirement for their MA. In addition to courses (with papers, presentations, and oral exams of their own), and language requirements, I had to present a short paper to an audience made up of all my fellow grad students as well as all the professors in the department.

  11. Markus Schäfer says

    I come from a family of M.D.s. Upon graduation some of them had “two dissertations ready in a drawer somewhere, I just have to choose which one to use”. Each was between 15 and 30 pages.

    The same people can’t comprehend what’s taking me so long to write my own dissertation in German linguistics (about the language of World of Warcraft users), staring incredulously at my ~250 pages.

    Oh, and the general populace treats me as a glorified taxi driver and the M.D.s as gods of science…

  12. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    War College? Pfft, I went to War Grad School. My thesis was “15 Ways To Wipe Out Entire Countries.”

  13. Brian of Nazareth says

    I recently finished an MSc at the University of Liverpool, UK (computer sciences) and worked my nuts off to get a distinction award. I don’t think that would have happened had the bibliography alone been less than 14 pages.

    (As a reference point, Liverpool are fanatically strict about plagiarism, to the point that by the end of it we were all quite paranoid. There was no case for accidentally mis-attributing a reference, even if in genuine error, let alone blatant plagiarism.)

  14. says

    I took a freshman history class that was 100% essay and required a 10-page paper that contained no more than 2-3 block quotes so that you couldn’t just pad it out like that. That much quoting, even properly sourced, would have failed that class. Turning in a paper like this would have gotten me expelled from community college.

  15. numerobis says

    I thought this was maybe a youthful indiscretion, but he only did his masters in 2007. So he’s a cheat.

    That proves he’s qualified to hold national office, yes?

  16. Al Dente says

    Marcus Ranum @9

    With a topic like: “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” a book-length treatment would be a start.

    I would expect 140 pages on this topic to be a bare, surface skimming review. Just as an example of the depth I’d expect on this sort of topic, Natan Sharansky and Ron Dermer’s The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror is 279 pages long (not including backnotes and index).

  17. says

    Rumour has it that Niels Bohr’s masters thesis was only a couple of pages long, though I have never been able to verify this. I know for sure that there is no lower limit to the number of pages in a thesis in Denmark, though given Walsh’s subject it seems impossible that an acceptable thesis could be so short.

  18. lochaber says

    Hell, I had to write a longer thesis then that to get a damned B.S.

    Even the course I took about feminism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer required several papers (not that long individually, but possibly in total…)

  19. says

    I wrote over 70 pages for my Bachelor’s degree. In Business, even.

    But I just checked Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers, and it looks like the longest is 31 pages. The others are 17, 12, and 3 pages.

    Maybe the length is a poor proxy for quality.