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?