Sunday, May 4, 2014

Professor Moves to Dean's Post Despite Multiple Incidences of Plagiarism

Because inadvertent plagiarism is not included as a research misconduct infraction in the institution's policy, a Brown University English department faculty member began a new job as an associate dean after her "unintentional" plagiarism had already surfaced ("After Plagiarism Allegations, Prof. Was Named Dean," The Brown Daily Herald, April 24, 2014).

Vanessa Ryan used over two dozen copied passages from other authors in her 2012 book that is no longer in print from Johns Hopkins University Press. She has apologized publicly about her errors, but also located "unattributed material in her dissertation" from Yale. The committee looking into her plagiarism while on the payroll at Brown acknowledged that she did plagiarize the work of others, but that her "honest error" was not considered "misconduct."

Discussion Questions:
  1. Should an English professor know better than to make such obvious mistakes as copying others without giving them credit, especially in a book published by a well-known university press? If so, why do you think she committed such errors?
  2. Her new administrative job is a temporary one for eighteen months, but should she have been fired for such a blatant mistake? Since she also acknowledged errors of attribution in her Yale dissertation, why would Brown want to continue to employ her?
  3. She continues to work with students on research projects on a limited basis. If you were one of those students, would you want to ask if you could work with another research adviser that had a better academic reputation even if the completion of your work might be delayed by the change? 

Professor Focuses on Unintentional Plagiarism

At a recent Conference on College Composition and Communication, discussion centered on instructing students how to use source material correctly to avoid mistakes in attribution ("Beyond Plagiarism," Inside Higher Ed, March 21, 2014).

Professors in attendance talked about students who used an inappropriate source that really didn't prove a point, citing an abstract (summary) of a paper instead of the paper itself, and other errors that may be overlooked in traditional anti-plagiarism instruction. One professor mentioned tips about clearly marking where a source begins and noting where a student's ideas begin. But one panel of educators agreed that teaching citation strategies is not only a job for writing professors, but a responsibility for all professors on campus.

Discussion Questions:
  1. What do you check to determine if a web page or article is a reliable and pertinent source of information?
  2. Is it a challenge to take notes from sources so you know where an author's ideas end and your thoughts begin? Or do you have a proven technique for separating your ideas from others?
  3. Do you feel comfortable citing sources in different formats such as MLA, APA, or Chicago Style? Is in-text citation harder or easier than writing a bibliography/works cited/references page? Why or why not?
  4. Have you asked a professor, tutor, or librarian for help with citing sources? Did they provide useful instruction or cause you more confusion?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Air Force Test Cheating at Nuclear Missile Base

Discovery of test questions and answers being text messaged caused the firing of nine mid-level officers and lesser punishment for junior officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana ("U.S. Air Force Fires Nine Officers Following Nuclear Test Cheating Probe," Washington Post, March 27, 2014).

The individuals who were fired did not take part in the cheating, but fostered a climate where it was considered acceptable according to the Air Force. The cheating scandal erupted as a result of an "unreasonable drive for perfection rather than an ill-trained force," according to a professor at the Air Force Research Institute who documented the problem. The unethical behavior seemed to be a commonplace occurrence (based on the Air Force reporting) on competency exams among personnel who "saw perfect scores as their only chance for promotion and career advancement."

Discussion Questions:
  1. Apparently, cheating of this type was not found at other Air Force bases, but does this scandal make you wonder about the possibility of unethical behavior being condoned elsewhere in the Air Force?
  2. In the article, there is a comment from the Air Force that states, "the cheating should not call into question the readiness of the team at Malmstrom, which oversees intercontinental ballistic missiles." Does this statement make you wonder why would Air Force personnel be interested in cheating if they felt confident about their job skills?
  3. If you were working with someone you heard was cheating on these types of tests, would you feel confident that you could trust them to perform their job well?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Survey Finds on the Job Ethics Improving Possibly Due to a Slow Economy

Businesses seem to be promoting ethical behavior on the job, but less than robust economic conditions may provide a stronger incentive for good employee conduct, according to a recent survey ("Workplace Ethics Increasing, Perhaps Because of the Recession, but Misconduct on the Job Still High, Survey Finds," Cleveland.com (Cleveland Plain Dealer), February 10, 2014).

The 19th National Business Ethics Survey from the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) using "6420 responses from employees in the for-profit sector" found that retaliation for reporting misconduct was still a concern even though it saw a slight decline. Yet, there was an increase in employee reporting of unethical behavior on the job. However, the ERC President mentioned that if a stronger economy returns, more employees may be tempted to engage in unauthorized practices to increase the bottom line for themselves and their employers.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Do people you know act ethically on the job and in their personal lives? Why or why not?
  2. Would you report misconduct that you observed in your workplace even if you might face retaliation?
  3. Have you ever worked for an unethical supervisor? If so, how did his or her behavior affect you?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Academic Scandal with Years of Grade Changes & No-Show Classes

Hit with an indictment for academic fraud, a former University of North Carolina (UNC) professor is under fire for leading a department with a history of forged faculty signatures, unwarranted grade changes, and overly lenient class structure ("A’s for Athletes, but Charges of Fraud at North Carolina," The New York Times, December 31, 2013).

Although Dr. Julius Nyang’oro left his position in 2012, he is accused of accepting $12,000 for a course he never taught. That course, AFAM 280 in the department of African and Afro-American studies, was filled with North Carolina football team members. A former governor of North Carolina led an investigation into the department, discovering "problems with dozens of courses" going back as far as 1997 including what appears to be over 500 "unauthorized grade changes."

Discussion Questions:
  1. Although these irregularities only involved one department at UNC, how do you think the reputation of the entire school will be affected?
  2. Would you accept a grade for a class that never actually met? Why or why not?
  3. Why would a once-respected educator at a noted university allow his department to become so corrupted?
  4. Why did this apparent lack of academic integrity persist for so many years?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Is Actor Shia LeBeouf a Serial Plagiarist?

After actor Shia LeBeouf came under fire for taking the idea without attribution for his short film, HowardCantour.com from graphic novel author, Daniel Clowes, other writings by LeBeouf are suspected of being plagiarized from uncredited sources ("Shia LeBeouf Plagiarizes More Apologies, Website Sections," Philly.com, December 20, 2013).

Evidence suggests that LaBeouf used comments and works by American writer Charles Bukowski, French writer Benoit Duteurtre, golfer Tiger Woods, and former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara without crediting them. Reports mention that Clowes is considering legal action against the actor.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Based on this Philly.com article, it seems that even LeBeouf's apologies were ripped off from others. Why do you think a noted personality so easily becomes what appears to be a serial plagiarist?
  2. With the availability of search engines to easily corroborate claims of plagiarism in online sources, why would someone take the chance of ruining their integrity and ability to get hired for their creative abilites by using the work of others without citing? Isn't LeBeouf already rich and famous as an actor, so he doesn't need to be a filmmaker?
  3. Is it arrogance or ignorance that caused LeBeouf to engage in this behavior?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Study of European Universities Shows Wide Range of Academic Integrity Policies

The state of academic integrity policies at European universities is quite varied, with the UK providing the most comprehensive programs, according to a new study. ("UK Leads Europe in the Fight against Plagiarism," Times Higher Education, 10 October 2013). The Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education across Europe research project based at Coventry University (UK) received 5,000 completed surveys from students, faculty, and administrators to measure "use of plagiarism software, consistency of sanctions, transparency, training, efficacy of prevention policies and efforts."

Surprisingly, Germany and Finland, with highly-regarded educational systems, scored low in their ability to handle academic integrity issues. Some individuals surveyed in France thought that academic integrity was not an important topic for undergraduates. Students in Spain noted that plagiarism detection software was seldom used and policies for academic integrity infractions were not prevalent. Complete results from the study will be published in November.

Discussion Questions:
  1. As a result of this study, do you think if you had a degree from a German university, it would not be considered valuable, because there would be some skepticism that you didn't follow academic integrity principles?
  2. This study acknowledged some lack of completed studies from low-performing countries, so should these results be published if they project doesn't have enough data to draw valid conclusions?