Friday, March 6, 2009

Plagiarism - What Is It? Part 1

In the academic community, it is not debated that plagiarism is Bad. Cases of student plagiarism seem to abound, sometimes with impunity, and institutional policies are declaring war on it.

Late last spring, a student working for me and for whom I had positive regard, threw together a draft report before leaving for summer. The student had borrowed a significant amount of verbatim language from other sources, minimally citing them and using no quotation marks. As is often the case, these problems stuck out to me because the direct language was phrased in a manner so unlike the student's writing. My institution's policy addresses these matters as follows, and I paraphrase:
  • Plagiarism - intentional passing off of another person's words, ideas or work as if it is one’s own
  • Unattributed Copying - passing off of another person's words, ideas or work as if it is one’s own because of reckless or grossly negligent practices
  • Verbatim copying of another person's words, ideas or work without proper attribution is presumed plagiarism and conclusively presumed unattributed copying.
I am curious that my college's policy seems to draw a distinction of intent between plagiarism and unattributed copying; but when verbatim copying occurs, the policy considers them to be essentially the same. Moreover, whether deemed plagiarism or unattributed copying, the accused is equally subject to a highly formal process involving a complaint, a determination whether to prosecute, and a lengthy hearing, and which can equally conclude with suspension or expulsion.

In this blog entry I have carefully paraphrased my college's policies because I do not wish to single out my college or have to cite the student code of conduct. And yet, am I not plagiarizing the code of conduct - according to the code itself - because it further provides that paraphrasing without clearly indicating and crediting the source also constitutes plagiarism or unattributed copying?

I suspect that a key difficulty with defining plagiarism is that in the process of doing so we may rather quickly reach some bizarre if not absurd results. Yet, it is not something we can ignore. And so in this blog series, "Plagiarism - What Is It?"I will explore just what it is we think or know plagiarism to be.

In closing, I shall leave the reader with an idea I have formulated (or think I have), and will reflect back upon it, as I suspect it will be a kind of beacon, or homing mechanism, when I drift too far out. I have Googled this idea, these words as put together, to see if really I am just stealing someone else's idea or words. And they seem to be my own.

"Artists are perhaps the most plagiarized and the least paid, though they complain about it a lot less than journalists and scholars."

All the Present Fuss About Adjuncts

The role of adjunct faculty is drawing a lot of attention in the academic community among the tenured, tenure track, and those seeking such positions (Lesko, 2009). Adjunct faculty also are generating much attention through organized efforts to unionize (Ingram, 2009). Some of the comments in the news and online discussions have been highly disparaging, such as suggesting adjuncts are not interested in student learning or are undeserving of teaching opportunities when others more qualified are looking for full-time appointments.
The adjuncts I know are committed to student learning and generally have greater expertise than those recently graduated from Ph.D. or profesional programs. This is because they typically have spent the time in the field (in the trenches) living and breathing the work, and truly becoming expert in an area of teaching need. Academia can be subject to criticism when placing recent graduates directly into teaching. I would not want my child learning from a teacher who was trained by an education faculty who had never taught children. I do not wish to see a dentist who was trained by a dental faculty who never practiced dentistry. This matter of expertise is worthy of greater discussion.
Sommer Ingram, Adjunct Committee Reflects Local Concern, The Lariat Online, March 4, 2009, available at
P.D. Lesko, The Blame Game and Part Timers, The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 5, 2009, availabel at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hiring and Tenure in the Current Economic Climate

There are a great many opinions and experiences being shared regarding hiring and tenure issues due to the economic downturn. Colleges and universities that keep their searches open are benefiting from a stronger than usual applicant pool, and first choices may more readily be accepting offers. Professor Molly Olsen at Macalester College in St. Paul argues that filling tenure track positions and maintaining the tenure line is important to students, educational quality, and the institution (Kerwin, 2009). But many schools are actively cutting spending in ways that particularly impact potential hires, adjuncts, and those on tenure track.
There is great variation in how schools are handling budget cuts. Those seeking tenure track are among a wider and more talented field aiming for fewer opportunities. Perhaps more than anything, institutional and departmental climate may dictate impacts on present faculty. Is a department seeking to diversify its faculty and expertise, or replicate itself? Is the present economic downturn a reason to award tenure and preserve faculty lines, or deny tenure to save money and fill teaching gaps with adjuncts? Does support for awarding tenure come from within the department, perhaps in spite of deans and provosts, or only from deans and provosts?
Generally, we know whether or not our departments and colleges provide a supportive climate for non-tenured faculty. In times of budget cuts, if they do, our working extra hard is more likely to pay off. If they do not, our working extra hard may just keep us in an environment that is unhealthy.
See: Daniel Kerwin, Current Professor Searches Draw Top Candidates, The Mac Weekly, February 20, 2009, available at

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Open Access Journals

Scholarly journals are now regularly adopting open access policies, often as part of broader social justice initiatives and/or to build a more international reputation. Thirty-five (35) of South Africa's top academic journals across multiple disciplines will go 'Open' by the end of 2009, aiming to increase access for the benefit of development in Sub-Saharan Africa (Makoni & Scott, 2009).
When I first saw one of my colleagues publishing in an electronic-only journal a few years back, I was quite reluctant to participate, and did not though the opportunity existed. My discomfort arose, in part, from the prospect of losing the satisfaction of pulling a print copy of my work off of my bookshelf anytime I pleased. It also struck me that technology had advanced to the point of permitting most anyone with access to a computer and the Internet to start an e-journal or self-publish. Were our standards for peer review and other forms of vetting our work becoming just a little less important?
Maintaining scholarly integrity in the present publishing climate is becoming evermore challenging. The ubiquity of information alone tests the academic's resolve to scrutinize each piece of information for its authority, methodology, and contribution. That said, I do support open access initiatives; they are a democratizing force in a world where many people lack the opportunity to practice freedom of thought and action. Open access undoubtedly will increase the competition for resources among scholars, and may push academics to seek to standout in both more deserving and questionable ways.
See: Munyaradzi Makoni & Christina Scott, South Africa: Top Science Journals to Go Open Access,, March 2, 2009, available at

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Scholarly Integrity in a Rapidly Changing Academic Environment

In April 2008, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released a report announcing the Project for Scholarly Integrity, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Research Integrity. The report, "The Project for Scholarly Integrity in Graduate Education: A Framework for Collaborative Action," described significant concern for three phenomena in recent past and present research activities in higher education: (1) increased instances of research misconduct, (2) commercial and governmental encroachment upon the freedom of academic research, and (3) increased responsibility or expectations for reseachers in a global academic community. These developments occur, nonetheless, while researchers, especially in the medical and scientific communities, continue to have high public confidence.
Among the more compelling factors reported by the CGS that influence the present climate was its juxtaposition of the "ever-contracting 'half-life' of knowledge" with the increase in "average age of first tenure appointments and ... average time spent in postdoctoral appointments." (p. 6). Faculty on tenure track may more frequently experience pressures that quantity takes precedence over quality in tenure decisions. Furthermore, the report suggested that the shear rate of research, competition for funding, and "unprecedented opportuntities for ... broad public benefit" have pressured researchers to reach conclusive findings and seek prompt publication at the expense of traditional scientific replication or self-regulation (p. 7).
While the CGS report emphasized these developments primarily in the context of the health, natural, and engineering sciences, it did not excuse other disciplines from these concerns, recommending the importance of including the social sciences and humanities in the dialogue to reach systemic solutions.
Some unique social and economic benefits may only arise from interdisciplianry collaborations among such diverse disciplines as law, education, psychology, information technology, and communications. Ultimately, all researchers may be impacted by these phenomena and may wish to monitor the activities and outcomes of the CGS Project for Scholarly Integrity.
For more information:
Council of Graduate Schools, The Project for Scholarly Integrity in Graduate Education: A Framework for Collaborative Action (Apr. 28, 2008), available at