AP: Plagiarism a 'Consequence of the Internet'

Just once I'd like to see blame for one of our societal ills put in the proper place these days. Everyone has to finger point at everyone else while ignoring their own part in the mess. This incident, though, is just another bad example of blame put everywhere but where it belongs. In this case, the AP reports about a University of Texas at San Antonio incident of plagiarism of which Clemson University's Daniel Wueste ridiculously blames on the Internet.

At the UofT, a student committee was convened to write an honor code to discourage cheating and plagiarizing, a rising problem in our Universities nation wide. Unfortunately, the student committee's results lifted sections of Brigham Young University's honor code that the UofT students found on-line. Yes, the code to discourage cheating and plagiarism was, in part, plagiarized.

AP gives us the details:

Student Akshay Thusu said that when he took over the project a month ago he inherited a draft by earlier project participants, including a group of students who attended a conference five years ago put on by The Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson.

Materials from the conference, which are used by many universities, were probably the main source of UTSA's proposed code, Thusu said. That's why parts of the Texas draft match word-for-word the online version of Brigham Young University's code.

BYU credited the Center for Academic Integrity, but the San Antonio draft doesn't.

But, what or who is at fault for this "oversight"? The AP asked Daniel Wueste, director of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University why he thought this was becoming so prevalent?

"That's the consequence of the Internet and the availability of things. It doesn't feel like what would be in a book. You Google it and here it comes."

I'm sorry, what? It's Google's fault, it's the Internet's fault?

No, Director Wueste, it is not the fault of the Internet or Google. The fault should be squarely placed on our educational system. The problem is that our schools do not teach our children to properly cite their sources. Our schooling has become lazy and filled with "self esteem" and feels-goodism instead of rigorous training.

And, worse still, this story got out because this rough draft without citations was put forward as a reviewable copy. What this means is that there was no oversight by any professors or teachers during the drafting process. If there had been, the teacher in question would have been guiding the work of this student committee and such an error should have been caught long before there was any chance that the error could have come to the AP's attention.

So, Mr. Wueste, while the Internet has certainly made it easy (maybe even too easy) to find information that can be "cut and pasted," the Internet is not the reason that plagiarism and cheating has become so woefully prevalent in our schools. For that we must look to society and the lack of attention of our educators. Google may be responsible for a lot of things, not all of them good. But Google didn't cause these kids to plagiarize their honor code.

Sadly, we cannot even seem to be able to expect the a director for ethics at one of our top Universities to place blame where it belongs.

(Photo credit: Erickson Press, "Ripped from the headlines" series)

Mike Nizza over at The New York Times blog The Lede picked up on this one. So, kudos to Mike.

Education Media Bias Debate Associated Press

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