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Academic Plagiarism Allegations: A PhD Student and A Principal

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Two plagiarism stories caught our attention recently---one on an ex-Kent State student who was accused of plagiarism for not citing sources in a "draft", and the other on the principal at Chapel Hill High School being accused of plagiarizing in multiple documents.

More details on both stories as follows:

Ex-Kent State Ph.D-Candidate’s Lawsuit: No Such Thing as ‘Plagiarism’ in First Drafts

The Cleveland Scene reports that Ph.D. candidate Carrie Pfeiffer-Fiala is suing her former school, Kent State, alleging breach of contract.

According to Pfeiffer-Fiala, she was working on a Ph.D. at Kent State, which would have been her third degree at the school, when she submitted a 55-page first draft of her dissertation’s first chapter. The professor she submitted it to deemed the work to be plagiarized. However, Pfeiffer-Fiala claimed that she knew her citations were incomplete and that she was going to correct them in later revisions.

The school, however, didn’t see it that way and brought Pfeiffer-Fiala before an “academic hearing panel” that deemed she had plagiarized. After losing her appeal, Pfeiffer-Fiala withdrew from the school and claims she missed out on a degree that she had spent some $50,000 to obtain.

The school has not commented on the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, many of the important details in this case are, as of right now, unknown. We don’t know how much of Pfieffer-Fiala’s work is accused of having been plagiarized and we don’t know how egregious the attribution issues involved were in the rough draft.

On one hand, Pfeiffer-Fiala has a point. A 55-page rough chapter in a dissertation is a very early stage in the writing, likely the very first item submitted. The draft was going to be edited and modified heavily before being submitted and part of that editing process is cleaning up/fixing citation errors.

On the other hand, academic integrity is meant to be woven into the entire writing and editing process, not just something for the final draft. If Pfeiffer-Fiala was flagrantly copying large chunks of text without attribution or otherwise making egregious use of the works of others, it likely is still a serious ethical issue.

The question, in the end, comes down to whether or not Pfeiffer-Fiala’s alleged plagiarisms were either simple mistakes or errors that could easily be corrected or a systemic problem in the work that indicated something much greater.

Chapel Hill High School Principal Accused of Plagiarism

Indy Week reports that Chapel Hill High School principal Sulura Jackson has been accused of plagiarism by teachers at the school, including in a letter addressing students that she wrote before arriving at the position.

Jackson arrived at the school this summer and, in her short tenure teachers at the school have found “multiple documents” that she has allegedly plagiarized in, lifting passages from letters, books, online sources and resource guides, using them in letters, including recommendation letters for colleagues, and staff memos.

For her part, Jackson has acknowledged the use from letters, books and articles in her writing but claims that its not for “personal gain”. She was surprised that her teachers were angry and, if they had approached her, she would have cited her sources.

While the district superintendent, Tom Forcella said he wanted Jackson to ensure her sources were cited, he noted that he was happy that she was increasing communication. However, the matter will be brought before the school board in a private meeting where they will determine what, if any, action they should take.

As with the story at Kean University, administrators, teachers and other educators are held to a higher standard when it comes to academic integrity than their students. They’re more than just teachers, they’re examples for young minds to follow.

When word arrives that a principal has been passing off the words of others as her own, it sets a terrible example for students and raises questions about why plagiarism is wrong, especially when someone such as the principal can do it and get away with it. It seems unfair to punish students for something that their educators are excused from.

Jackson had to know that her using the works of others without attribution would, at the very least, raise serious questions about plagiarism and integrity. She shouldn’t have to wait for someone to bring it to her attention. Though form letters and templates are not great sins in many fields, educators have to be held to the highest standard in the academic field, which already has some of the most stringent standards for attribution and reuse of any field.

 As such, the practice of using form letters needs to be scrutinized as does Jackson’s action. If she has been found to have plagiarized, it’s up to the school board to take the correct action, both for the sake of the school district and its students.

These stories also appear on the iThenticate Blog.

Current Events plagiarism, missing citations, academic integrity, school board

Published on by jbailey.