In the context of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day welcoming address, full attribution might not be necessary, BUT arguing that plagiarism in oral remarks is acceptable probably is overreaching.
Nevertheless, a full apology was made. "I will take steps to ensure that all comments are properly acknowledged in the future, regardless of the venue in which they are given," Vandegrift said.
It does seem that plagiarism issues have been more fully addressed at Ohio University and Southern Illinois University than they were at the Harvard Law School. Nobody at OU or SIU tried the "different culture"/"stealing is all right" gambit employed at Harvard.
There is some irony in the plagiarism charges surrounding a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. day. There were charges of plagiarism against Dr. King concerning his thesis at Boston University:
On the evidence, there can be little doubt that he plagiarized his Ph.D. dissertation at Boston University from an earlier one by a man, now deceased, named Jack Boozer. Pappas compares eight or more passages from Boozer's thesis with passages from King's in which the ideas and phrasing are virtually identical. He also cites several passages in which King and Boozer make almost identical mistakes in citation or punctuation.
Barry R. Gross concluded:
The academy is not a business; it cannot point to a bottom line of profit to justify its existence. Nor is the academy a political entity; it cannot point to accomplishment in statecraft or public welfare to justify its existence. All it can point to is its guarantee that, insofar as humanly possible, the intellectual efforts produced under its aegis are genuine, that its assertions are believed to be correct, are believed to be made without knowing bias, and are made originally by the authors who claim them. And if the academy cannot say that, it can say nothing at all.
The wikipedia noted:
Although several newspapers had the story for over a year, none published it, later prompting speculation that the story had been withheld due to political correctness.
The incident was first reported in December 3, 1989 edition of the Sunday Telegraph by Frank Johnson, titled "Martin Luther King--Was He a Plagiarist?". The fact that non US media broke the story first is described as an indication of how sensitive the matter is in U.S. The incident was then reported in U.S. in the November 9, 1990 edition of the Wall Street Journal under the title of "To Their Dismay, King Scholars Find a Troubling Pattern". Several other newspapers then followed with stories, including the Boston Globe and the New York Times.
Further discussion of the matter appears here:
During the eight years I wrote columns for USA Today, I asked the editor if I could do a column on King’s plagiarism, however, I never got permission. I had read the story of King’s thievery in the London papers during a stopover from one of my trips from the Middle East. The editor of USA Today either did not believe me or more probably did not want to take the heat for breaking the story. The Wall Street Journal broke the story a couple of months later although they did so gingerly.
A rather intense story of the King matter appears in a piece by Alan Stang. Therein there is quotation of significant text by one Professor Gerry Harbison, of the Chemistry Department at the University of Nebraska. Also, there is discussion of an article in Chronicles in Jan. 1991 by Boston University president Jon Westling, denying the existence of plagiarism in King's thesis. There is discussion of Peter Waldman of WSJ. Stang suggests a "white" man would have lost his degree, but the story of Glenn Poshard of SIU suggests otherwise.