CHICAGO, DEC. 25 -- Denying that he left the University of Illinois in 1960 under a cloud of plagiarism, presidential candidate Jesse L. Jackson said today that an article in an Illinois newspaper hit a "new low" in reporting.
The Champaign News-Gazette quoted in Thursday's editions two college acquaintances of Jackson who said they heard that he had been told to leave the school after his freshman year for plagiarizing a paper from an article in Time magazine. Both acquaintances told the paper their knowledge was based on hearsay.
Jackson's English professor at the university, Phil Coleman, said that while there were cases of plagiarism, perhaps one quoting a Time article, he could not recall the student's name, specifically did not know whether it was Jackson and did he remember the disposition of the incident.
"It's full of rumor and innuendo," said Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. "The professor said he knew nothing about it, and neither do I."
He said that, so far during the presidential campaign, there have been "a sex test, a drug test, a plagiarism test. Now there's a rumor test. . . . It's a new low."
Jackson was referring to the questions of character that have plagued presidential candidates this year.
In a telephone interview from his Chicago home, Jackson said, "It seems to me if the professor made the accusation, they would have a rack to hang their hat on. This is an accusation made by a journalist who pursued him trying to make him recollect. He couldn't."
The article quotes two men who knew Jackson from the football team at the university, which Jackson said he left after one year because of racism. He then went to school at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, now part of the University of North Carolina system.
A former Illinois teammate, Mel Meyers, told the paper he heard about the plagiarism "through the athletic department" but had no direct knowledge of it.
Arnie Yarber, a former assistant trainer for the team, recalled hearing similar details. "Jesse left school for plagiarizing," he said. "I remember him real well. I was a trainer with the freshmen that year and we talked a lot. He was supposed to turn in an essay and he took the article from Time."
Yarber said Coleman had previously read the Time article. "It was pretty much hush-hush at the time," Yarber told the paper.
Asked whether he recalled Jackson as the student who plagiarized Time, Coleman, who now teaches at California University in California, Pa., told reporters, "No. I'm not going to try and speculate."