Preventing Faculty Plagiarism in Higher Ed
A recent exposÃ© in a respected publication for higher education presented evidence that faculty plagiarism is probably widespread and that the academic community has done little to address it.
However, while technology has made pilfering prose easier than ever, technology exists that is making it tougher â€“ when that technology is used. While gaining increasing acceptability for student work, the technology as yet remains relatively rarely used in ensuring faculty originality.
As is described below, Kennedy-Western University, an online university offering Bachelorâ€™s, Masterâ€™s and Doctorate degree programs since 1984, has proactively ensured originality of faculty work, and in doing so, proven that its own faculty abides by expected academic ethics.
Professorial plagiarism is a real problem Plagiarism of all kinds in academia is widely reported to be more prevalent than ever before. If laziness, procrastination and competitive zeal drive plagiarism, then word processing software and Internet search engines have shifted plagiarism into high gear.
Professors are being found to have brazenly presented as their own the work of colleagues, authors and their own students, all to advance their careers in a â€˜publish-or-perishâ€™ culture. In a special report, The Chronicle of Higher Education, in its December 10, 2004 issue, revealed a disturbingly widespread trend in professorial plagiarism.
The Chronicle presented more than anecdotal evidence of the prevalence of plagiarism. â€œIndeed, an editor at History News Network now investigates only those (accusations of plagiarism) involving well-known scholars. A professor at Texas A & M International University was bombarded with hundreds of email messages after writing about being plagiarized. Many of them were from graduate students and professors who believed that they, too, had been victims.â€
Also cited by The Chronicle was a 2004 survey conducted by two University of Alabama economists that revealed 40 percent of the 1,200 professors polled believed their work had been brazenly pilfered at least once.
The Chronicle report presented the story of one Oklahoma State University professor, George O. Carney, who is alleged to have a long track record of plagiarism. In one case, according to The Chronicle, University of Oklahoma Press reportedly rejected one of Carneyâ€™s book manuscripts â€œbecause portions were obviously plagiarized.â€
What can be done
Stealing anotherâ€™s statements is a serious charge, and when true, goes to the core of a professorâ€™s credibility. When professors think nothing of plagiarizing, and think they can do so without penalty, what is the academic community to do?
The struggle against student plagiarism provides the solution.
In December, 2001, to prevent student plagiarism, Kennedy-Western University was among the first adopters of a then-new Internet-based anti-plagiarism service, Turnitin.com, provided by iParadigms. The service electronically scans documents for signs of plagiarism and either missing or improper citations. Every phrase is scrutinized and Turnitin.com rates the likelihood a phrase or passage isnâ€™t original. When plagiarism is found, the original document is cited for verification.
Turnitin.comâ€™s service in itself works very well, but its mere use is a strong deterrent to student plagiarism.
Currently, an average of only two percent of KWU studentsâ€™ work is flagged as suspicious. Yet, as is typically the case at other schools, when KWU first implemented Turnitin.com, that average was higher. Since 2001, only eight KWU students have been expelled, each as a result of having two incidents of confirmed plagiarism and after undergoing an academic review process.
Turnitin.com works equally well with faculty plagiarism. While there were no suspicions of KWU faculty plagiarism, KWU began in October 2004 routinely using Turnitin.com to review all faculty written work. These reviews include course descriptions, outlines, lectures and other course materials.
â€œFrom the start, the intent has been to merely ensure proper citations,â€ says Susan Ishii, KWU Director of Student Services. â€œTo date, there have been no findings of plagiarism, and the system has been received well by our faculty,â€ Ishii adds. â€œOur faculty sets a positive example by participating.â€
Advantages of anti-plagiarism technology
Typically, plagiarism is only discovered by happenstance, or, in a small minority of cases, when it is suspected. This undoubtedly means many cases are missed, and when the few are found, it could be months or years after the suspect work is completed.
In contrast, anti-plagiarism technology has various advantages.
It is proven, relentlessly consistent technology that doesnâ€™t rely on human memory.
It is totally objective and apolitical. Since the scan for plagiarism requires no human involvement, there is no worry about favoritism or accuracy.
Obtaining a scan for plagiarism is ready within minutes after a piece of work is submitted for analysis.
It can be routinely implemented for all written work, ensuring nothing is missed and that all work is treated equally.
When the use of anti-plagiarism technology is systemic, and the identification of plagiarism isnâ€™t the domain of one or a few whistle-blowers, no energy can be spent on lawsuits or career vendettas. On the few occasions when plagiarism is exposed and the perpetrator challenged, the accuserâ€™s career path often suffers, even if vindicated in court.
â€œAnti-plagiarism technology validates academic rigor and high standards of originality of all faculty work,â€ says Jane Kuzmanovic, KWU Faculty and Curriculum Manager. KWU faculty are notified that their work is routinely passed through the plagiarism service.
Turnitin.com allays faculty concerns as well. â€œKennedy-Western respects faculty members and their intellectual property,â€ says Keren Meister-Emerich, Adjunct Faculty and leader of the KWU Faculty Core Team that sets academic policy for the University. â€œNow, more than ever, my colleagues like to know that the University does its part to protect their work as their own,â€ she concludes.
â€œFrankly, itâ€™s a bit surprising that so many institutions have yet to adopt this technology to identify either student or faculty plagiarism,â€ says Ishii. â€œOur experience has been extremely positive and we are very satisfied that, for students, anti-plagiarism technology is an excellent deterrent,â€ she concludes. â€œFor faculty, Turnitin.com ensures their credibility and the academic integrity of the University.â€
Traditional as well as online post-secondary educational institutions are at a crossroads, and bear collective responsibility to take the road towards restoring and maintaining instructional credibility. Kennedy-Western University has proven that the proper use of established, reliable technology fulfills this responsibility.