Purloined Letters II

Second of two parts

When a professor suspects a student of plagiarism, it is College policy that the matter be referred to the academic dean. It is acceptable for professor and student to settle the matter between themselves, said Carol Traupman-Carr, associate dean for academic affairs, but in that case the student has no right of appeal if he objects to the professor’s solution (e.g., taking a lower grade in the course).

The charge is laid before the Academic Standards Committee, chaired by Traupman-Carr. (Though there are students on the committee, only the faculty members hear and rule on plagiarism charges.) Punishment may range from failure of the assignment to expulsion from the College.

In addition, students should become aware, if they don’t know already, that plagiarism is a crime. Out in the real world, plagiarism—of the magnitude of, say, a book or a scientific discovery—may leave the perpetrator open to punitive damages, though these are rarely inflicted, and the recall of grants, commissions, publishers’ advances, and honors. More important, the loss of reputation often kills a career in its tracks.

Many students don’t know how to avoid plagiarism, and professors may not have the expertise to guide them until it’s too late. “In most cases, teaching students about plagiarism becomes the sole responsibility of the English department,” dryly notes librarian Mary Hricko in an Internet guide to plagiarism published by Kent State University in Ohio.

“With freshmen, we tend to be much more lenient,” Traupman-Carr said. Their high school experience often has not prepared them for college standards of research, she explained; and moreover, when a professor tells them, “I want you to follow APA style,” they often have no idea what he means or how to find the style guidelines, much less how to apply them. But with juniors and seniors, “there’s no excuse,” she said.

Traupman-Carr is in the midst of rewriting the academic honesty policy for the 2002-2003 edition of the Student Handbook. “It’s not a bad policy, just woefully inadequate for this day and age,” she said. For example, the current policy makes no mention of sophisticated on-line resources such as foreign-language dictionaries and translation services such as bluefish.com. The revised policy will.

College policy, she said, needs to specify what students can and cannot use to write a paper or take a test. “A Muhlenberg student used a Palm Pilot to cheat on an exam,” Traupman-Carr said. But is it cheating if the rules don’t include it? At the time Moravian’s rules were written down, Palm Pilots did not exist. So Traupman-Carr is writing the new guidelines to be comprehensive without getting into brand names. “They will say that calculators or other hand-held electronic devices may not be used without the permission of the instructor.”

Here are some resources to help faculty and students understand the issues and vocabulary of plagiarism. They include clear examples of acceptable scholarly usage and unacceptable theft:

  • Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary Guidelines for the Academic Use of Copyrighted Material is posted on the Reeves Library home page, and print copies are available at the reference desk.
  • www.plagiarism.org Everything you always wanted to know about plagiarism but were afraid to ask.
  • http://www.mtsu.edu/~itconf/proceed98/mhricko.html Everything, etc., but at a higher level of discussion and bolstered with ethical arguments. Kent State University.
  • http://www.mcgill.ca/artscisao/academic/plagiarism/ From McGill University, this includes passages plagiarized and paraphrased, so students can learn to tell the difference.

January 29, 2002

Purloined Letters II
Second of two parts on student plagiarism. Includes local and on-line resources for students and faculty.
The Ice Skates Cometh
Bob Stinson finds a pair of skates.
A Philosophical Outlook
Profile of Trish Glazebrook, interim assistant professor of philosophy.
Faculty/staff honors, achievements, transitions.
Calendar of campus events.
All-campus annoucements.
The Write Stuff
3 students win on-campus prizes for essays written in Writing 100.
Fall 2002 Registration