WriteCheck Blog

The Problem of Plagiarism and Superintendents

The Daily Citizen in Madison, Wisconsin is reporting on Fall River School District Superintendent Kellie Manning, who is facing allegations of plagiarism in her monthly letter published as part of the district’s newsletter.

According to the report, of the 16 letters Manning has penned, some 8 of them have uncited and copied text from other sources. Often the text comes from other letters from other superintendents, but, in at least one case, the text involved came from a page on Wikibooks, which was used in violation of their Creative Commons License.

Manning, for her part, denies the allegations. She says they are “superficial” and “bizarre”. She goes on to say that she is, “Part of many associations that share professional information that address current educational topics,” and is also part of a cohort group from Lamar University, where text and ideas are often exchanged.

The paper’s investigation also found that Manning was not alone with the copied text. When they examined her May 2014 letter, they found that over half a dozen other superintendents had used it as well. When they tracked down the original author, she said that no one had asked for her permission to use her work.

However, Manning is far from the first Superintendent to face such allegations. The most famous case took place in January 2013 when Chris Spence, the former Director of Education of the Toronto District School Board, was forced to resign following multiple allegations of plagiarism against him.

At the same time, Bedminster Township School District Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Koos was reprimanded but not fired over allegations she sent a letter to the district that was nearly a verbatim copy of one published on the site of an Iowa school district.

In fact, the problem of plagiarism by superintendents has been a major one for quite some time with cases in Oberlin, OH; Florence, MT; Mansfield, MA; Newton, MA; Zeeland, MI as well as many other cases.  

Almost all of the cases involve public letters or speeches, which makes sense given the nature of the profession. However, what is troubling is that many of the cases involve school officials claiming that the plagiarism is acceptable either because it is a “compliment” or because it was done with permission.

Looking at these cases, it becomes clear that. among a minority of superintendents, there is a permissive culture of plagiarism that would never be accepted among their students. For example, if one student allowed another to copy their assignment without attribution, that would not make it less of a plagiarism. However, this is exactly what some superintendents have claimed in defending their actions.

If superintendents want to help shape and create students who follow ethical standards in academia, they need to lead by example. This means ensuring that all of their work, especially their public work, meets the same standards that they put on their students.

While it is true that different professions have different standards for attribution, superintendents are, at the end of the day, educators and need to live up to the same standards as the students they lead.

Simply put, if educational leaders can’t or won’t follow the ethical standards expected of students, then there’s little hope those students will respect and maintain those standards through their educational and professional careers.

Published on by jbailey.