Blast from the Past

A former U. of Virginia grad student organizes petition to revoke invitation to Arianna Huffington to campus, citing allegations that she copied a former professor's work on Picasso.

October 14, 2013

Arianna Huffington is set to appear at the University of Virginia this week to meditate on its famed “lawn” with spiritualist Deepak Chopra. But a petition started by a former graduate student there calls for Huffington’s invitation to be rescinded, citing allegations that she once plagiarized a revered professor’s work.

“We are outraged that Ms. Huffington would come to very university that employed an esteemed professor of art history, the late Dr. Lydia Csató Gasman, whose original and groundbreaking scholarship on Picasso was plagiarized by Huffington,” the petition reads. “We hereby request that in deference to the legacy and memory of Professor Gasman who taught in the McIntire Department of Art and Art History for over 20 years, and in light of the fact that Ms. Huffington's actions were in breach of the Honor Code, Ms. Huffington be informed of this error in judgment, and therefore uninvited.”

Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, a Boston-area writer and adjunct professor of art history who last taught at Simmons College, and who received her Ph.D. from Virginia, started the petition late last week. She hopes to garner 1,000 signatures by Tuesday, when Huffington is set to visit.

In an e-mail, Cloutier-Blazzard said: “There are many former students, colleagues, and friends of Professor Gasman who remember the plagiarism incident when it occurred, and its effects on Professor Gasman, and are astounded that U.Va. would bring Ms. Huffington to grounds.”

Along with petition, the former student and others involved in the matter sent formal letters to President Teresa Sullivan and various faculty leaders.

The plagiarism allegations date back to 1988, and the publication of Huffington’s Picasso: Creator and Destroyer. Gasman, who had all but published a four-volume thesis on Picasso, already available on file in typescript, accused Huffington of stealing many of her ideas.

The incident is detailed in a 1994 profile on Huffington and her then-husband, Michael Huffington, in Vanity Fair: It alleges that Huffington heavily borrowed from Gasman's then-novel ideas about Picasso's relationships with women and other matters.

"On the eve of publication of Arianna’s Picasso biography, according to Gasman and her husband, Daniel, Arianna started calling them,” the article says. “She also sent Gasman a letter saying that she had quoted her and that ‘each quote is fully attributed in the Source Notes in the back of the book.’ When Gasman received the book, she was in Israel tending her sick mother, and she gave it only a cursory once-over. She sent Arianna a note. Later, however, after Gasman had given Picasso a more careful reading — it cites her only twice in the source notes, and not at all in the acknowledgments — she was horrified. ‘What she did was steal 20 years of my work.’”

In the piece, Picasso biographer John Richardson says that Huffington used Gasman’s thesis like a “kind of dictionary,” “systematically cannibalizing” her thesis.

Lyn Bolen Warren, a former student of Gasman's to whom she left her manuscripts, co-founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and publishing the professor's work, the Lydia Csato Gasman Archives for Picasso and Modernist Studies. She said the incident occurred during her time at Virginia.

"I clearly remember how incensed Professor Gasman was because she had spent decades gathering the information and discoveries in her thesis and [Huffington] just 'lifted' the whole parts, and yet she used what she stole in an abhorrent way emphasizing not what Gasman had found to be true about Picasso but instead played up an evil side of Picasso," Warren said via e-mail. "So she not only stole, she manipulated the material in ways opposite from Gasman's for dramatic effect."

Gasman, who died in 2010, is quoted as having told Huffington she was an “intellectual kleptomaniac,” who allegedly asked to settle the matter with her financially -- which Huffington denies.

Huffington was not quoted in the Vanity Fair article. She denied the allegations in a 2008 New Yorker profile.

Chopra and Huffington are guests of the university’s new Contemplative Sciences Center. In a news release about the appearance, David Germano, the center’s director, said the event was scheduled for a reading day so that students can benefit from the positive effects of meditation.

A university spokesman said via e-mail: “The University of Virginia is pleased to welcome Dr. Deepak Chopra and Arianna Huffington to Grounds for this public, guided meditation session on the lawn.”

Neither media relations nor legal staff at the Huffington Post, of which she is founder, responded to requests for comment.

Huffington promotes the “Third Metric,” a Huffington Post concept that promotes measures of success beyond money and power.


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