Lacking Citation?

Susan Dynarski, a prominent scholar, accuses Kevin Hassett, a top Trump administration economist, of plagiarizing her work in a 2007 column.

March 9, 2018
Kevin Hassett

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Susan Dynarski, an economist and professor at the University of Michigan, accused Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, of in a 2007 column presenting her proposal to streamline the federal student aid system as his own without citing her or her graduate student co-author.

A council official contested Dynarski's account.

The tweets followed an appearance by Hassett at the U.S. Capitol in front of the Joint Economic Committee to discuss President Trump's new steel and aluminum tariffs.

Dynarski, an expert on student financial aid policy, wrote in the tweets that in May 2006 she and her co-author, Judith Scott-Clayton (now a prominent scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College), released a paper showing how the complexity of the student aid financial aid system overburdens those who are least able to pay for college. The paper argued that a "radically simplified process" could distribute the same aid by collecting much less information from students.

In February of the following year, Dynarski and Scott-Clayton produced a policy proposal based on those ideas for the Hamilton Project. The same month, Hassett published a column in The Wall Street Journal making the same proposal -- including analysis of the simplified structure of the Georgia HOPE Scholarship and Social Security student benefit program -- without citing Dynarski or Scott-Clayton. The whole premise of the column came from their analysis, Dynarski said via email.

When she contacted Hassett at the time, Dynarski said, he acknowledged her authorship of the ideas but refused to make a correction, although he later praised the two scholars' work in a separate publication.

"That's it. No big deal to him to steal our work but it was a big deal for me as a young scholar," Dynarski wrote in a tweet about the incident.

Reached via email, Dynarski said she made a public statement about the incident because watching Hassett "misrepresent Trump's stance on free trade brought back this memory."

"As a junior professor, I was too fearful and uncertain about my status to make this plagiarism public," she said.

DJ Nordquist, chief of staff at the Council of Economic Advisers, said Hassett has a different recollection of the incident. Hassett, previously the director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a regular columnist at National Review and Bloomberg, did a literature review of the student aid issue and wrote his column based on several papers, including the one by Dynarski and Scott-Clayton, but it was shortened by Journal editors who removed some sources.

"She called him to discuss it; he apologized and they amicably discussed whether she would prefer he ask for a correction in the WSJ or whether she would prefer he write a new piece aimed to get the policy proposal further attention," Nordquist said in an email. "She chose the latter option, which is the [National Review] piece, and this is the first time the issue has been raised in 11 years."

Dynarski, however, insisted that Hassett refused to make a correction.

"The two -- an article and correction -- are not substitutes," she said. "I am sure he saw it as amicable. I was terrified."

Scott-Clayton said in a statement that her memory matched Dynarski's account.

"I do remember this incident, which occurred when I was a graduate student," she said. "My recollection, while a bit hazy, is consistent with what Sue Dynarski described on Twitter."


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