PLAGIARISM IN ACADEME

2007



Part I: The College Students

Part II: A NEW DANGER

Part III: The College Faculty

Part IV: Conclusions



This paper is written from the perspective of a teacher who over a period of many years has had to deal with one or the other side of plagiarism cases, and has come to feel that the two factors which bear on most plagiarism situations are the student's lack of understanding of what plagiarism actually means, and on the other hand a lack of experience with the academic judicial process. The "Rules regarding Plagiarism" will be found in every college Student Handbook, but I feel they do not provide sufficient awareness for the student's protection. So this account can be seen as a counselor for the student both before and in the tangle of the complicated set of affairs which we somewhat simplicistically call Plagiarism





The College Students

It is especially important for college students at the present time to become aware of Plagiarism in all its styles and dimensions, for a very specific reason. The ubiquitous use of the Internet offers far more temptation for lifting another's writing than the college library with its shelves of printed books. Web theft is easy, it is quick and it does not leave traces, while copying material from a book with scanner or keyboard is slow, and often detectable since the source is still there on the library bookshelves. College administrators have reacted to this situation by stiffening up standards for plagiarism charges, writing rules which include accidental citations as plagiarism even without proof of intent, and often including Conviction of Plagiarism as a notation on the student's college transcript.

In a rush to declare standards, college administrators have done something very strange. Charges of theft, rape, assault and drug use in college are felt to be of less importance than that all-threatening word PLAGIARISM, and these offenses will usually not appear on the graduating student's transcript. So the student convicted of plagiarism will go through applications to graduate school, job applications later, and CV summaries of decades of activity with this one word in clear view, marked as "plagiarist", a damning term now replacing the scarlet letter "A" in the public eye.

This paragraph alone should be enough to give any student pause. But since there are various kind of wrongly quoted materials, with plenty of room in a college Judicial Council hearing to let the student fall between the cracks, I suggest you read this paper carefully and remember the dangers which accompany copied written matters. These can have a profound influence of your career and your later life.

What is Plagiarism?

The word Plagiarism is found in all the Romanic languages with the early meaning of stealing, even kidnapping a person, and presumably comes from the Latin plaga "a trap, snare". Snaring something and keeping it for your own use probably reflects gamekeepers's theft of trappable animals from the estate of a owner. But the word became extended to literary theft as early as the 17th century, becoming more common with the increasing production of books in the following centuries. A definition is called for at this point.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2 ed. in 28 volumes, is the generally accepted authority for history and meaning of words in the English language, so it seems suitable to cite (with reference of course) the OED's definition of the word Plagiarism.

1.The action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one's own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.) of another.

1621 BP. R. MONTAGU Diatribę 23 Were you afraid to bee challenged for plagiarisme? 1716 M. DAVIES Athen. Brit. II. To Rdr. 46 A good Plea to any Charge of Plagiarism or Satyrism. 1753 JOHNSON Adventurer No. 95 9 Nothing..can be more unjust than to charge an author with plagiarism merely because he..makes his personages act as others in like circumstances have done. 1820 HAZLITT Lect. Dram. Lit. 257 If an author is once detected in borrowing, he will be suspected of plagiarism ever after. 1861 BUCKLE Civiliz. II. vi. 542 A certain unity of design which is inconsistent with extensive plagiarism.

2. A purloined idea, design, passage, or work.

1797 Monthly Mag. III. 260 He found the..song..to be Œa most flagrant plagiarism from Handel¹. 1850 MAURICE Mor. & Met. Philos. (ed. 2) I. 98 A Thaumaturgist whom they had created..to convince the world that the Christian church was a plagiarism. 1875 JOWETT Plato (ed. 2) I. p. xx, They are full of plagiarisms, inappropriately borrowed.

From the above citations, it is abundantly clear that plagiarism involves intent and a willful theft of someone else's writing for one's own personal use or financial gain. In the past Copyright Law has tried to set up standards for defining materials charged as plagiarized, but a quick perusal of the law shows that many different interpretations can arise. Since financial considerations are at the base of Copyright cases, charges of plagiarism are regularly treated in the framework of civil law, with orders to desist, with fines and punitive awards involved in provable cases.

Plagiarism on the one hand is theft and primarily prosecutable under the Copyright laws. Stolen written materials deprives or can deprive an author or copyright holding publisher of profits from the sale of copy in any form --- book, magazine, internet site. Literary Piracy has been around for centuries, and prosecution in a legal court situation has a background corpus of precedent to guide the court.

College Plagiarism

But College plagiarism is essentially different from this since it is an in-house college situation which does not involve financial losses and reparations. Colleges have always tried to keep problems within their own review and disposition, and charges or assault, theft and sexual molestation are normally handled internally without going to a court for prosecution. Plagiarism has fallen in with these internally handled charges, but is not concerned with Copyright Law and the defrauding of an author of publisher of financial profit from copyrighted work. Plagiarism would seem to be more of a Moral Situation in which the student is felt to have behaved in an improper manner, and plagiarism might logically be thought to be classified along with theft of college equipment, camera or sport gear, as a less aggravated offense.

But since writing and the creation of written material is an important part of college education, it is probably felt by college administrators that the reputation and worth of the college's education is liable to criticism if many of the students pass stolen material to their teachers as their own. In other words, deceit in the educational contract for honesty would appear as violating the college's academic integrity, and it is for this reason that colleges are so concerned with plagiarism as both a moral matter, and also as a factor which can damage the college's reputation in the outer world of Education as a business enterprise. A charge of rape is generally handled internally because of possible notoriety for the college's record, while theft and wanton destruction of property are so prevalent in the society at large that they do not seem to be worthy of serious college action beyond reproof and reparation.

But Plagiarism is something different. It violates the conditions of the college's Honor Code which students subscribe to on entering college and often on each examination paper; so it represents a situation parallel in some ways to perjury in a legal framework. Having sworn not to cheat, the cheating student is doubly guilty, because he not only did something reprehensible but also violated a sworn statement, and this has the presumption of being a semi-legal offense. College plagiarism does stand in a special category among student offenses, and it is treated with severity by an administration angered by the fault of the crime, along with that of the broken word. How can a student afford to not be wary of a loaded situation of this sort, with its double liabilities?

Plagiarism with Intent

Look first at a case in which intent is clearly involved, when a student purchases a term paper for his own use:

CASE I: The student finds on-line a number of businesses which offer choice of over fifty thousand student papers on every academic subject, with assurance of match to the student's academic talents and year status in a college course. Cost for such paperwork is substantial, and there will be a money trail from student to seller. There is obviously no question about Intent in this purchase.

The teacher can usually spot such a paper if it has references to books not in the college library. The student may state he did work in a public library on school vacation, but this cannot be checked because these days libraries will not give information about books called because of privacy rules. Stylistics alone are difficult for the teacher to count on for a charge, but a Judicial Council may indict on the circumstance of "un-likeliness", which is of course poor evidence. Most students will admit fault at this point and show remorse as a way out of the judicial situation, a sort of in-house plea bargain which avoids protracted investigation.

Circumstance or Intent?

It is clear that in the above case of bought paperwork, Intent is a component of this act of plagiarizing and you would think that this is the first thing to be discussed in any suspected plagiarism situation: Whether the student had actually "intended" to lift the martial, or if this was somehow fortuitous and the evidence circumstantial. In any legal situation in a proper Count, intent will always be a primary consideration. But a college statement regarding plagiarism can proceed on a cited word basis, counting the number of words and phrases and how often repeated, and use that as primary evidence while refusing to consider the primary level of Intent. This is contrary not only to the Law in every proper court case, but also to basic common sense. It offers college Judicial Boards a mechanical procedure, which saves time and effort by avoiding the complexities of examination of motive. This is a questionable way of proceeding, which could never stand up in a legally tried case, where intent is the first thing to be proved or disproved. Disregarding intent steers the case to conviction almost by default.

But in a college Judicial Board proceeding, things are different and the college rules may in certain cases define Plagiarism as the mere appearance of identical materials without discussing whether intent was involved. The makes the investigation far simpler from the college's point of view since without a discussion of Intent conviction is pretty much assured in the majority of cases. Remember that the college "trial" is an in-house procedure and here, as in any private company, whatever rules are established will be outside the purview of a real court proceeding. Even if the college Court does something which would be unacceptable in legal practice, it will be very difficult for a lawyer to win a case against a private institution and few will want to undertake a case for the injured student.

The one thing a college must protect is its reputation. Years ago it was clear that Communists must be routed out of college since their presence would infect the integrity of its teaching. A good reputation for sexual propriety is also important to colleges since that involves contracts in which the institution has been assumed to stand legally in loco parentis . Plagiarism at this point seems to have excited similar apprehensions about preservation of the college's reputation:

"What sort of an education is offered when many students fake their written work and the college does not know or mark the deception."

Infractions of this ilk strike close to a college's reputation and will lower its stance in a competitive educational world. Therefore it should be no surprise that fighting Plagiarism, whether real or imaginary, serious or circumstantial, intentional or accidental, will be high on the college's list of danger spots. Prosecuting and convicting plagiarism will be seen in the public eye as marks of a college's seriousness and integrity .

Humanities vs. the Sciences

There are many situations in life in which quoted words are unconsciously used in the construction of new sentences, yet nobody would really refer to phrases like "our daily bread" or " to be or not to be..." as plagiaristic. When commonly known wording becomes a part of the English language, it is free for common use and is so used by any novelist or poet without citation, reference or apology. That much is clear.

There are similar situations in which the student does not show intent to steal material, yet has not made it pellucidly clear which words in the paper are his own and which are a part of a text from an author being studied. This situation is further complexified by differences in accepted standards in Literature and Science fields, as in the following situations:

CASE 2: The student in a Literature course has quoted material from a poet whose work he is discussing and has failed to mark several line of poetry with quotation marks, although it is clear where the lines came from in light of the title of the paper, the actual discussion and the bibliography. The teacher considers this not as incorrect formatting but as plagiarism, and is required by College Honor Rules to report it as "possible plagiarism". The Board following the Rules as written will easily bring a charge of plagiarism rather than improper citation of materials. The result will be: Conviction.

CASE 3: A student in a Science course cites several lines of tightly written scientific terminology. Course requirements have prescribed not using " " but ask for paraphrasing the words as in normal scientific publication standards. The student finds he cannot paraphrase the given string of words because of their technical nature, and rearranging ("re-verbalizing") is noted as not acceptable , so he deletes the quotes marks from his draft as recommended. The teacher reports a questionable situation and the Judicial inquiry, seeing no quotes although there are references at quoted points, decides Plagiarism on the basis of the Rules. The student's plea that he has been put into an untenable catch-22 situation does not carry with the Board.

In the strict judicial application of plagiarism charges, if a small number of words, often stated as "three or more", is found in the same order as in a source, that by itself can constitute plagiarism. On the other hand nobody would charge plagiarism for three words from Shakespeare or the Bible, since there are many phrases which have been subsumed into the language. We all use words from sources which are in many cases forgotten or never known in the first place. The problem here is that if a short string of words in found to be identical with a presumed "source", and if intent is precluded from the judicial consideration, then upon the raising of a charge, conviction is almost certainly guaranteed. Copyright infringement is not the question here, nor is depriving someone of rightful profit from his writing. What we seem to have is a newly generated Academic Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shall Not Steal Words as part of a new moral code applied specifically to students in an educational setting.

The Proper Documentation

From the above, it is clear that a student must take care to avoid any possible appearance of plagiarism, since charges may be heavily loaded against him, and Conviction in many cases becomes a part of the student's college grade and course transcript. For this reason the student must be over-careful in documentation, with these precautionary measures kept strictly in mind:

     A: Use quotation marks on all cited materials as the sure way of protecting yourself from charges. If told NOT to use them, submit a draft to the teacher without them and ask if the paper is in acceptable format. If the draft is returned with " " marked for removal or with an express note to that effect, keep that draft for your own protection. Then you can submit the paper without " " assuming that you are covered; or you can put them in and face criticism and even a poor grade on the basis of improper format. But that is preferable to charges!

     B: Be sure the sources of all cited materials are listed in your bibliography, which should be written in a format consonant to that of a professional Journal in that field. Look in the Journals in the college library for citation and reference format, and follow that exactly, keeping a note of where you got the format you used. There is great variation in publication standards and your source will be important.

     C: Be sure that at the close of each citation or each sentence with a citation that there is a reference to the bibliography, usually with author's initials and date of the publication (e.g. RG l998). And conversely be sure the bibliography is there for the text references, neither should be without the handshake of the other, and no extra items left to float loose.

These three precautions will cover all situations you are likely to face, in a factual and reasonable manner, and if you do these things conscientiously you should be on safe ground. But also be sure to read all relevant paragraphs in the Student Handbook which should cover the same items, but if the language is different be sure to see if any serious differences. The college Rules are written by faculty members schooled by committee meetings in a habit of writing overly complicated documents, which tend to becloud simple situations in a quagmire of verbiage. Within the Rules there may be hidden dangers, and "things are never what they seem" (Gilbert-Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore), so I advise caution as a word to the wise.

The Possibility of a Hostile Charge

Every college states almost ad nauseam in its public relations, in the college catalog and now on the Internet, that the teacher is there to help the student in a personal and friendly way, while outlining standards for solid academic learning and independent thinking. Although this is generally true, there are situations in which the teacher, who has almost unlimited and unquestionable command over the administration of his courses, can assume toward some student a hostile and even punitive stance. Since faculty and administration usually stand firmly together with the teacher in a self-protecting manner, not unlike the metropolitan policeman's Code of Silence, the teacher's statement will often be the final word in the matter. If it is a question of preserving the student's rights and reputation, as against the honor of the teacher as an employee of the college, the choice often goes toward saving the teacher. It is so in government and in business, therefore not surprising find this true in the academic world as well.

In many years of college teaching, I have seen less than six actual cases of questionable or unfounded plagiarism charges. In two cases with my own students I remember one student came back from spring vacation with a paper far superior to his prior work, and I queried him about its source. None of his sources were in our library, but he stated that he had done work in a large Public Library with new source material. Realizing that I would have to charge on purely stylistic grounds, which I felt would be questionable and probably untenable, I told him my opinion and remarking that this would be on his conscience for some years, decided to let him off. Technically I was bound to report any suspicion by the Rules, which in this case I felt I should ignore, referring the matter back to the student's own sense of conscience, and I suspect this effected a fairly reliable cure.

In a second situation I had a paper of some twenty pages in flawless format with perfectly done footnotes on each page and a professional bibliography. I told the student I hadn't seen work like this for the last twenty years, and was very suspicious. He smiled and told me that he worked summers for two writers as clerk and apprentice and was intending to write professionally, and was polite in accepting my sincere apologies. But had I acted in anger and haste, this could have gone to the Board as a case of plagiarism, with subsequent embarrassments on both sides.

But there are other cases I know of which unfortunately reveal a far different turn, which I would like to summarize with a few changes in the interest of anonymity:

CASE 4: Two professors who were incidentally ordained ministers, raised charges against a student for parts of sentences used in four places, which are also found in a standard reference book. The student's excellent personal history seems to rule against intentional lifting of material, but the words were there and as the Board investigation proceedings, the professors ask that the student be dismissed from college and precluded from applying for re-admission at any later date. The Board was ready to adjudicate as plagiarism, but it was the excessiveness of the suggested punishment, not the facts of the case, which turned the proceeding against the teachers. The student was relieved of charges, and while the professors were not admonished they soon left the college.

CASE 5: (This follows from Case 3 in a science course as above:)
The student had been reprimanded for over-enthusiasm and too many questions in class, felt that there was heavy tension between him and the teacher. When he had passed a final paper draft without " " marks to the teacher, there was no comment; but when the same material was presented as final paper, charges of plagiarism were raised. It would seem that the teacher had laid a trap for the student, but when the Board reviewed the case it never questioned the professor's charge or asked a senior faculty person to discuss it with him. The charge ended as a conviction with permanent entry "Plagiarism" in the student's transcript, a serious impediment to future study.

CASE 6: Plagiarism charges can become far fetched and even ridiculous. A student who was writing a satiric piece for the college paper chose a passage from one of his professor's articles and used it for a humorous account of a class in that professor's course, although no name was given. The professor charged the student with plagiaristic use of his material since no consent had been secured and the words were neither marked in quotation marks nor referenced to the original article. The Board was taking the charge literally by the Rules, until heated arguments from other faculty on the nature of satire, parody and humorous writing came in to get the student off. This might be classified as a case of Reductio ad Absurdum

Of course these are unusual situations , but there is a potential for this sort of thing happening again. Relationships between students and teachers are not always amicable, partly because of a difference in age and experience, sometimes because of a student's resistance to the voice of authority. Male teachers who have a tendency to favor girl students in grades and can feel challenged by some of the more aggressive men students, especially when first entering the field fresh from their graduate studies where authority rested in the next level above them. Nobody will sense hostility sooner than the student. So if a student feels uneasy in a course, they should be very cautious about conforming to exact standards in writing, as the sore spot for any charges concerning written materials. If a student is feeling uneasy there is probably a reason, so take charge of the situation early with written course work done very carefully.

What are your Legal Rights?

I must tell you at this point that you have almost no legal rights if charged and convicted in such a situation. First of all, you are judged in what is in effect a "private Court", which like a judicial proceeding in a commercial company, does not have the regulation or protection of our national laws. These proceedings are strictly "in house" and will never be referred to an outside legal review and almost never appear in the press. So when a conviction for plagiarism is arrived at, the case is effectively CLOSED

Even a conscientious lawyer who sympathizes with the situation will tell you that it is very hard to overturn a charge like this in a private institution. Colleges make up their own rules which are iron-bound unless they conflict openly with a student's Civil Rights based on race or gender. Having a lawyer present at the judicial hearing might seem wise, or it might be offensive to the Board members and work again the case.

If convicted and there is a mark on your transcript which would work against future studies or employment, remember that a transcript follows your forever; so you might think of a civil case against the college after graduation on the basis of lost reputation and earnings. But this again is questionable as to effectiveness, and might be waste of time, emotions and money.

If convicted and the transcript carries the charge, the best procedure might be to find several faculty members who will supply letters which are assured to go into your permanent transcript record,. They should state that the case was flawed and unwarranted, with sufficient detail to make their statement supportable. Whether this will hold water in the next higher level of academic administration at application to Graduate School or when interviewing for a job is not clear, but it is probably better than nothing at all.

Critical Advice

All of this bring us to a final piece of advice for students, which is very simple:

THINK AHEAD

Do your paperwork with punctilious caution and leave no possibility of citation error unturned. Read the Rules with an eye to trouble, talk over any problems with a friendly teacher, and if not sure about his answers go to someone else, a senior professor or someone in the Dean's office. But the final authority for correct work which is proof against charges must rest with you yourself. Nobody else but you is the final responsible person who will ensure that your written work gets through the tightest scrutiny without any question.

This is more than a question of writing an acceptable college paper. It is a rule for conducting the course of your life in such a way that you never have to look back and say you should have done it differently, or blame the teacher or supervisor who should have set you straight. There are many places to go awry in the coming years, and nobody can outline for you the curves on the road or the bad drivers in the other lane. Steering wheel or pencil on paper, the course finally rests in your own hands.





Part II: ALERT TO A NEW DANGER

Since the publication of the above report on 2003, a dangerous new tool has made a widespread appearance on the American education scene. Briefly this is a google-style registry of everything which the electronic world has been able to robot-search, devised and run by a commercial company, which now sells its product to schools and teachers on contract, for the purpose of locating possible "plagiarism" of words and phrases in student papers. Originally a system designed to track down commercially sold term papers, it is now being used in many colleges for far different purposes.

In many schools students are required to hand a copy of a new paper to the teacher and simultaneously send a copy to Turnitin, which decides without any human judgment if the paper is plagiarized. This result is registered and made available by the company and the written material "archived" permanently in violation of copyright law. The Verdict is either documented on college transcript, or available online, and can be confirmed later by questioning on job application with obviously disastrous results.

There is a growing awareness of Turnitin as the leading edge of a massive invasion of privacy. It is coupled with a court-style judgment on the source of written material, but works without a human judge or any possible review or appeal. Operating within the confines of a college or university, this constitutes a new kind of Private Law, unknown to the world since the days of Ecclesiastical Law which in the 17th century wielded the infamous powers of the Inquisition.

As it now stands, plagiarism procedure in our colleges starts with the teacher using a Turnitin report, and making an accusation to the student who is asked to confirm that it is accurate and true. The student, contrary to every procedure of Law in the Western World, is at that point presumed GUILTY. He or she can make an appeal to a college appointed Review Board but no adviser can offer an opinion. Reviews almost universally support the original charge. Many schools register this charge on the students transcript, a clear bar against subsequent employment, but even if not so listed, the charge can be raised by an employer who inquires about a "clean slate" history as preface to employment. The student gets caught either way.

There is much argument about this self-styled Anti-Theft program at the present time in 2007, too much for me to tabulate and discuss here. I urge you to search the net for yourself, to find information about privacy issues and this gross abuse of electronic power. If personally concerned, check the Internet for legal counsel on issues connected with Turnitin, where watchdog groups are already being formed.

But there could be a way out of this evil situation. Give to the student password access and permission to enter a paper before handing it to his teacher. This would determine if there have been unintentional slips in citing of material, and then Turnitin would be a teaching rather than a punishing instrument. Add to this a warranty that the entered student paper will be erased from all archived files on completion of the testing session, and we would have a good solution to a complex and troubling situation. The unintentional plagiarist gets warned and corrected, the plagiaristic thief realizes that he is caught before he gets into trouble, and all parties should be satisfied.

All parties except Turnitin, which would lose face and some income, if the program becomes an voluntary educational option. Of course there would be embarrassment in administrative Academe as Turnitin back-tracks from an unholy academic war.

What can be done right now? Many teachers see that this sort of electronic surveying represents a danger to our schools and to our democratic institutions. If a concerned teacher will give his Turnitin password to his students so they can check their work first, that would be a step in the right direction. Since passwords circulate magically on the Internet and are as reproductive as dandelions in a lawn, we can see the first erosion of the New Inquisition, done as correctly from the individual teacher's ground level up. Amen!

Why so many Plagiarism Cases now ?

The setting in which plagiarism occurs has changed radically in the last twenty five years. A student in l975 might find important passages in a book he was reading for a course assignment, and he would have a choice of how to retain that information. Writing a note on paper would be enough to get the central ideas down, and since it would be standard abbreviated 'note-taking' it could even if used in a paper, never stand as plagiarized material.

But if the intention were to lift the material and use it as his own, that would entail having the book open before him while typing out words and sentences, a slow and laborious process surely involving purpose and intent. But in either case, the read document would have been saved by a penciled note before typing up the paper, or it could be actually copied letter by letter as it was incorporated into the text of a student paper, in which case clearly Plagiarism.

At the present time it is entirely different. Much student material comes from an electronic source, where a touch of the mouse will 'copy-paste' words, sentences and whole paragraphs to the student's open notepad for later use. But the computer notepad has no knowledge of where the cited material comes from, and the student can easily mistake it for something he had merely noted, something the professor had said in class, or an idea from a seminar discussion. The copy-paste action can land the whole citation or any parts of it into a paper being constructed on the wordprocessor, without the merest touch of "Intent".

Students are moving nationally from the shelves of the library, to using material accessible on the computer screen, and it is the instant availability of this wealth of material which poses the newest danger to the student's work. If all copied material came with a coded source, like image .jpegs which are automatically coded with their point of origin, the present problem would not exist. Almost everything is free and open to lifting at the touch of a button.

But the student, who is encouraged to search the web for new and pertinent information, has not been cautioned to add a clumsy URL in brackets after each copied sentence or paragraph! So it is by the freewheeeling nature of the Internet and one-touch instant copying procedure, that today's student is enmeshed in a new web of circumstances, now shifted from financial copyright issues to a questionable new area of "student morality".





Part III: The College Faculty

There is another level of academic theft which I wish it were not necessary to mention here; but since teachers are so closely involved with the types of plagiarism mentioned above, I feel it is only fair to say something here in closing. Do not imagine that Plagiarism is an infection which affects only students in college. Subtler and far less liable to be detected is the plagiarism of the professors in their academic publications, and even when detected many of these will be passed over in silence rather than create ripples on the lake of learning.

Plagiarism here can be unintentional of course, not only of phrases and notions which have been so worked into language that they can hardly be said to "belong" somewhere any more. But there are also slips in the citation process due to carelessness or lack of accurate proofreading, and these don't seem terribly important, just poor looking in a stream of professional knowledge. But there are other cases of plagiarism which match the most obvious delictions and commissions of the student body, and there must be taken as an integral component of the plagiarism phenomenon.

Let me outline a few cases which I have know about from in my years in Academe.

A well known professor in the Humanities who published a wide range of well-received books on his subject, had the unfortunate habit of taking passages and even whole pages from standard books of reference and criticism, and using them in his copy without quotation marks or bibliographical reference. He was well along in years when people began to take serious note of his practice, and a review of what he had been doing appeared in a prominent Journal in the l960's, another quite independently went over the same ground a couple of decades later, and the secret was out.

From copyright point of view, Prof. H. infringed and was a plagiarist, but the critics who did the investigation seemed to many worse in their inquisitional tone than the light-penciled author. The situation died down, nobody was hurt, and the author was considered by people as merely curiously negligent in his assembling of material. What point can be drawn from this case I do not exactly know.

Should he have been excoriated, his articles refused by all Journals, his professorship canceled? If we followed the roles we use for students, these things would have been normal procedure. Partly out of compassion, but more out of a code of respectable academic silence, the matter dropped and was forgotten.

But there are clearer cases, which have a very different meaning:

A respected professor in one of the sciences had been working on a project which attracted national attention and he published it with two others at other institutions with regular papers on developments in their work. I asked him once if he could tell me something about the research, not my area but I knew him and was interested, to which he answered: No! I was surprised and he offered an explanation:

He had ascertained by bitter experience that when he applied for funding for a new phase of his work, his application went through many hands and was read carefully by many eyes. The upshot was the publication of his project by others before he could get his copy in for review. After this was ascertained for sure, he and his group completed their research and wrote up results including a final paper all ready to go to a Journal. Only then did they apply for funding, and a less than month later the paper went to its Journal, to everyone's surprise.

As to not discussing the work with me, he said they had an agreement to let no word slip out; later when he knew I was harmless to his field, he did relent and I was pleased to know what his work entailed.

Another man who was well known for his work in the Social Science had gone to the annual professional meetings and found a colleague in another school with whom he had lunch and discussed new work he was developing. The colleague like his ideas and the lunch was not thought of again until a few months later when a paper which was essentially his appeared under the other's name. OF course he could have remonstrated and appealed to the Journal or to the colleague's administration for action against him, but he did the better thing: He forgot it and became far more cautious in talking with people he did not know thoroughly.

So this case should also be put in perspective beside the student-cases I have been recounting above. There sharp and punishing action is required as part of the system of enforcing academic honesty. Here with the professors, there is a quieter and more lenient handling of intentional cases of academic thievery. Perhaps the voice of conscience will jab the guilty mind later, certainly his theft, whether found out or not, will not be forgotten.





Part IV: Conclusions

If there is a moral which can be abstracted from this study, it will clearly have to apply not only to the student body, but also to the teachers of the faculty who are liable to some of the same defaults of attention and honesty. It would be surprising if a student body had a percentage of corrupt members, while the faculty were white as the driven snow. Professors and their students like clergy and laity live in the same imperfect world, and neither group is immune to error.

But in recent years in America the students have born the brunt of investigation of plagiarism. It is not only those who have plagiarized materials for their papers, but those who are honest and correct who must sign statements with each examination that they have not given or received help. The inquisition for the plagiarism chills the honest along with ferreting out the dishonest, something which we often forget.

Punishing students for stolen writing is largely counter productive. If there is theft with clear intent to steal and deceive, that should mean that the student is missing the point of his education, and should certainly be suspended for a period while he thinks about what he has done. But most cases will not be simple purchasing of a prepared paper for a sum of money, they will fall in the gray area between faulty citation standards and a lack of clarity about what is "mine" and "thine". Students are expected to memorize passages from their textbooks, but not reproduce them outside their examinations. Students are encouraged to use the Internet where everything is more-or-less free and open, where few standards for copyright are even now formulated; but use of web materials presents difficulties in citation. How does one cite in a bibliography from "http://www.usx.edu/~jones/ethics.html" with a page and line reference? Our world has outstripped our old standards and none of us are completely secure with our new informational sources.

Surely the proper way to proceed is for the teacher to advise students on matters of citation and format, but continue to guide them when they do not quite get the point about plagiarism. Giving them Rules and telling them to go ahead, saying if they consider something all right it will probably be OK ---- this is not enough. It is not sufficient tell someone walking in the dark that there are things to be careful of; if he falls into the alligator pit that is his problem. If teacher is in some sense in loco parentis he should also be to a certain extent in loco amici and not let his friend fall into unsuspected error.

So much for dealing with the student, but how about the professor? If someone steals my research and publishes it under his own name, I can protest to the Journal that printed it and ask for a review and an apology; but this doesn't correct the fault and it takes time to be studied and may not be proved in the end. Is it worth the trouble? Or I can appeal to the Dean of the other man's university and hope he will not sweep my protest under the carpet. This is often done to avoid asking embarrassing questions and involving the college in a contest in the public eye.

If someone in today's credit-card world steals my card, he steals more than cash, because as the poet says, he steals my name. My bank will cover the financial loss but not the personal loss; but if my research is lost to a thief, how can it be reclaimed? And since we have been speaking forcibly about punishing students for term-paper plagiarism, what would be suitable punishment for a thieving professor?

If a Senior Professor he may be admonished and told to be careful in the future, but if a junior Assistant he will probably be dismissed. But should he be marked with "Plagiarism" on his references, like the above student? Certainly not, no more reason here than for the student, since both will go on with a long life of various activities, and correction is a far more useful remedy than punishment. Professional teachers will often be forgiven or mildly reprimanded, while the hunt for student plagiarism is pursued with alacrity and attention.

There are in fact two healthy morals which we can draw. First, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and student should not bear the brunt of a plagiarism search when their teachers are not subjected to the same process. Second, and this is the important point which cuts ice: When plagiarism occurs, it is a sign that the sense of the educational process has been ruptured, and other than in cases of intentional deceit, the teacher must share some slight responsibility. A student who looks up to his teacher as a good person with strong values interlaced in his teaching, will not think of cheating, because that would be personal cheating on a close associate. When there is no personal connection between the one and the other, there is no moral obligation and it is at the level of that connection that the study of plagiarism has to begin.

Much college education these days will be impersonal, the large classes have replaced the close associations of half a century ago, and there is no repair for that loss in today's financial straits. So the final responsibility for dishonesty will rest with the student, and although some will take correction positively, others will try to slip by with deceit. This is not surprising in a deceitful world when inside-traders and corrupt corporation managers steal far more than a good name from unsuspecting small investors. Students who grow up in such a world are liable to slight-of-mind thinking, and it is for the college to set higher standard for life than for the course term paper. Whether this can be done in the conflicting world of changing standards in State and College, is not clear. On the other hand, a new world in which everybody thinks it is acceptable to get away with everything he can get away with ---- this is not something any of us really want to envision.



William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris