John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
What comes after plagiarism
One has to wonder whether this intern was uncommonly bold or uncommonly stupid. To lift material from any source in the Internet age is risky; to do so from The New York Times virtually invites discovery.
But the questions don’t end there. Hailey MacArthur is a student in the University of Florida’s School of Journalism and Communications. Today, Mindy McAdams, who is on the faculty at Florida, retweeted this question: “Should j-school allow plagiarist to return to school?”
This is both a technical and philosophical question.
The school’s policy on plagiarism resembles the codes at many colleges and universities. It includes this warning: “Failure to uphold the standards of academic honesty will result in a failing grade for the course and, potentially, other serious disciplinary action up to and including expulsion.”
But unless Ms. MacArthur was receiving college credit from the internship, she was working outside the university. Does this policy — can this policy — be applied to a student’s actions off campus?
Apart from whatever disciplinary action the school may or may not see fit to carry out, it is not just Ms. MacArthur who has a problem. So does the School of Journalism and Communications. If it is reluctant to ruin a student’s career, if it does not want to say that youthful mistakes are final, if it finds a promise of contrition and reform persuasive and allows her to continue toward a degree, a shadow will linger over its programs.
Expulsion is the nuclear weapon at a university, and it is always a difficult matter to decide whether to use it. Happily, it’s not my case to adjudicate. Or yours. But you should feel free to express your sentiments on the matter.
*Plagiarism, of course, has been a perennial college problem. In 1978, when I was assigned as a teaching assistant to a professor in a large lecture section of the sophomore survey of British literature, a dubious paper turned up. We didn’t have time to run down sources, so we announced to the class that there would be a delay in returning that set of papers because we were investigating a potential case of plagiarism. By the next class session, five students had dropped the course.
The extent to which theft is commonplace at publications great and small is indicated by Craig Silverman’s annual plagiarism roundups at Regret the Error. Here’s the collection for 2008.