In his column "When a Hero Lets Us Down" (Commentary, Nov. 15), William Raspberry said that "it matters that Martin Luther King Jr. appears to have plagiarized important sections of his doctoral dissertation." In this Catch-22 situation, King should have given the numerous literary sources when citing the writings of other theologians and writers. But if a graduate student were to cite every source in the course of writing a paper or dissertation, the student's adviser might charge that the student lacked any original thoughts and simply quoted the ideas of others. Indeed, the graduate adviser might suggest that the student paraphrase or put into his or her own writing the ideas of others so as to avoid loading up the paper or dissertation with numerous citations.
In King's case, he might have decided to delete the excessive literary citations and either paraphrase them or put them into his own words. At the same time, he ran the risk that in later years some researcher (such as Stanford's Claybourne Carson) might charge that King's deletions or "appropriated passages" could be defined as plagiarism.
KENNETH LLOYD LARSON