Administrators and Plagiarism

For years I taught my students about plagiarism, thinking I was teaching about honesty itself. To pass the work of another off as one's own was ignoble, dishonest, just plain wrong. It would be as wicked for a scholar to tolerate it as it would be for merchant to tolerate the sale of tainted goods or a policeman to tolerate the use of bogus evidence. I also thought that position was one of the underpinnings of an academic world in which people were evaluated mostly by their writing.

I have not changed my views, but I cannot teach them to students without admitting that the standards I espouse apply only in the artificial setting of the classroom. The university as a whole acts on the assumption that doing your own written work is like emptying your own wastebasket: something you do only if you are not important enough to have someone do it for you. Students are still punished for plagiarism, and plagiarism might sink an applicant for tenure. But my university—from which I am semi-retired—is governed by a chancellor and a president who are both proven plagiarists and who have ample staffs to write the documents they sign and the speeches they write.

(I would find the ghostwriting less offensive if the administrators followed the lead of those honest celebrities whose autobiographies appear “as told to” the real author. Acknowledging the real author in the text of the document or program of the speech would be honest and might make clearer what jobs academic administrators actually do.)

But the question remains, do we demand students do their own work simply because we have to test them on it? Does our society, even in its academic institutions, no longer value giving credit for ideas and the eloquent expression of them to their creators? The behavior of many academic administrators says it does not.

(Ref: “
Faking It for the Dean” by Carl Elliott, Chronicle of Higher Education “Brainstorm” Blog, 2/7/12.