UniversityIn Depth: Probing plagiarism
In Depth: Probing plagiarism
November 21, 2010
November 21, 2010

Plagiarism is like pornography. People know it when they see it, but they don’t take the time to find its real definition. (Clarke, 2006)

Clarke, Robert (2006). Plagiarism by academics: More complex than it seems. Journal of the          Association for Information Systems, 7(2), 92.

This, according to the American Psychological Association, a style of referencing used by the academe all over the globe, is the proper way of citing sources from a journal You copy-paste, and don’t cite the source; you plagiarize.

The Philippine Star reported that in April, the country’s Supreme Court (SC) decided not to press the government to support a demand by “comfort women” for an official apology from Japan for its actions during World War II.  With their bid lost, the women’s lawyers moved against Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, author of the ruling. Del Castillo was then accused of plagiarizing in his ruling. Del Castillo was accused of lifting passages from a law book by Christian Tam, an article in the Yale Journal of International Law (2009) and another from the Case Western Reserve Journal (2006).

In July, he blamed his researcher instead, after pleading innocent with “no malicious intent to appropriate another’s work as our own.”A mere three months passed before the SC let him go, scotch-free, according to the same article.

Tucked behind heaps of legalese, they thought they could get away but not from those 37 University of the Philippines professors, who marched out to call for del Castillo to step down. The media turned its eyes away from the plight of comfort women, the original case, to the SC’s free comfort for criminals and the merits of plagiarism.

Where DLSU stands

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines plagiarism as “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.” The traditional concept of plagiarism does not mention anything about intent but this concept has been threatened by the issue that surrounded the SC. The SC now describes that “…Thus, plagiarism presupposes intent and a deliberate, conscious effort to steal another’s work and pass it off as one’s own.”

Atty. Christopher Cruz of the DLSU Intellectual Property Office laments that it will definitely affect the academe because “no malicious intent” may be used as a refuge of some students or faculty who “inadvertently or through negligence omitted their references.”

He just hopes that the SC will have a second hard look at the case but stands firm that the University will stick to the ethical norm that malicious intent is not a defense, unless a plagiarism case becomes a legal matter, which rarely happens in the academe.

When caught red-handed

High-profile cases in the academe, which are ethical issues, most often result to grave penalties like suspension for students, revoking of degrees for graduates and cancelled publication for authors.

According to The Harvard Crimson, when Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan wrote How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, she did go wild. Fans found out she’d copied dozens of passages from two novels by Megan McCafferty. Her publishers decided to stop publishing and DreamWorks Productions abruptly cancelled the film they were planning for the book.

In 2001, the New York Times reported the case ofUniversity of Virginia  physics professor Louis Bloomfield, who realized 60 of the term papers his class passed were almost exactly alike. More than a hundred students were accused of cheating and faced expulsion or stripped degrees.

DLSU too is no stranger to plagiarism. Just last year, a student who won in the 24th DLSU Annual Awards for Literature for her work was accused of plagiarizing. An investigation ensued and she was proven guilty. Her penalty was suspension but she opted to transfer schools. Malate Literary Folio, the award giving body, also revoked her award and released a public letter of apology.

Plagiarism, according to the Sec. of the Student Handbook, is a major offense categorized as academic dishonesty. University of Sto. Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University also consider plagiarism a major offense.

Dr. Hilario Caraan, Director of the Discipline Office (DO), imparts that the usual penalty for plagiarism is suspension. He assures, however, that the DO considers the circumstances of each case depending on the gravity and attitude of the student. There have also been cases when accused students are acquitted.

Regarding the recent SC controversy, Caraan clarifies that as an educational institution, as far as student discipline cases are concerned, “our policies on academic honesty are very clear, and we are upholding [these] existing policies without modification.”

Plagiarism’s culprits: Language and teaching?

Plagiarism in the educational institutions, according to Dr. Paolo Valdez of the Department of English and Applied Linguistics (DEAL), has causes that range from language familiarity, technology dependence and teaching method; but these are not excuses for students to plagiarize.

For example, that English is a non-native language for Filipinos make it difficult for Filipino students to paraphrase and restate materials from their sources of information. It is problematic because paraphrasing is one skill students should have to nip plagiarism.

The learning relationship between student and teacher is also crucial in understanding why students plagiarize because teaching strategies affect students’ views on academic writing.

It is important then that teachers set a good example to the students. Alastair Pennycook, author of Borrowing others’ words: Texts, ownership, memory and plagiarism regrets the double standard in academic circles when teachers use materials without citing their sources, but expect their students to cite their sources properly.

When teachers don’t cite their own sources in their lecture materials, it brings the wrong impression that students can do the same. This influence of a teacher on his or her students is reflected by Ron Scollon, author of As a matter of fact: The changing ideology of authorship and responsibility in discourse, and Jane Sherman, who wrote Your own thoughts in your own words.

According to them, if a teacher’s perspective on ownership of ideas is different from that of the students, who happen to be non-native speakers of the language used in the classroom, the students may plagiarize just to meet the teachers’ requirements.

Is it the internet’s fault?

For Valdez, another factor students plagiarize is their heavy workload, which does not exactly give them time to digest and reflect on their readings.

This factor leads to another cause of the problem that is plagiarism—overdependence on the internet. In this age of technology, access to the internet gives students a plethora of sources only a few clicks away.

Prof. Enopia(not her real name), a professor of English Research (ENGLRES) blames this overdependence on technology for the gradual loss of students’ library skills.  This culture of laziness does not only make plagiarism the more convenient route for students to take. It also affects the quality of sources students use for their papers.

Emmanuel Garcia, a professor from the Chemistry department, defends that the internet is not all that evil. He just warns students to be wary of the links they use. He advises them to instead, use websites of journals and other academic publications.

The internet: also a solution?

The internet, a source of the problem of plagiarism, has also become a source of the solution.  Turnitin, a service that detects if a work is plagiarized is available online. Turnitin checks if a work is plagiarized based on its database composed of more than 130 million papers submitted by students, more than 13. 5 billion indexed web pages and more than 90 000 journals, periodicals and books.

Ivy League school Princeton University is not one of more than 9 500 educational institutions worldwide that already use Turnitin. In 2006, The Daily Princetonian reported that the university will not subscribe to the software because Turnitin requires every paper submitted to be added to the database, something which Princeton is not comfortable with.

While DLSU is also a subscriber to Turnitin, Atty. Cruz argues that it is a violation of copyright if a professor, without the student’s consent, submits a student’s work to an online database, which will archive it and make it available online. This has actually happened in the States, and has affected the credibility of Turnitin.

In the University, there are 48 members of the faculty and 700 students who use Turnitin. Library Director Ana Maria Fresnido attests that compared with some institutions in the States, the University is very pleased with the school’s subscription to the “plagiarism detector.”

Crafting solutions

Nevertheless, the disadvantages of Turnitin require some professors to use the traditional “plagiarism detector,” which is close monitoring of the students’ work.

“In college, you get to encounter students who do not even have the slightest idea of achieving novelty in writing. In a nation where education, much like access to English language, is a class issue, plagiarism is one result of varying qualities of education,” he recounts. This translates to the need for a professor to closely collaborate with his/her students especially if the students come from high schools that don’t espouse strict research rules.

This will also enable teachers to not just identify students plagiarizing but to also make them aware of their mistakes and ultimately, be able to correct the mistakes themselves.

According to the DO’s record, there are very few cases of plagiarism in the last three years. A reason could be the difficulty in tracking down the students who plagiarize, something Prof. Enopia admits to considering all the ENGLRES classes she handles.

In the University, ENGLRES, a required research subject, runs a whole term. It is scheduled before the students are required to do research for their future major subjects. It trains the students to look for the right references and to properly cite their sources when they do their theses.

Black and white

The recent controversy on the SC has resulted in doubt on the integrity of the court and a haze of confusion over the real definition of plagiarism. The academe, on the other hand, sticks to plagiarism’s traditional definition.

At DLSU, ENGLRES teaches students to use credible sources of information like the dictionary, encyclopedia and journals, and to cite them properly.

The average Lasallian who passed ENGLRES will highly likely define plagiarism traditionally.

For the Merriam-Webster dictionary, plagiarism is “to steal or purloin from the writings of another, to appropriate without due acknowledgement (the ideas or expressions of another). True enough, the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 identifies the Latin word plagiarius as the etymology of plagiarism—“a kidnapper, stealer or abductor of a slave or child.”

However, the challenge for a university like DLSU is not just for it to remain firm on the traditional definition of plagiarism but for it to educate students who will still follow the principles of academic honesty long after they’re done with school. What happened in the SC only proves that plagiarism does not end where life after school begins.