Thursday, February 14, 2008


Ask the Administrator: You've Got to be Kidding...

A regular reader writes:

A probationary faculty member in my college plagiarized his entire statement of teaching philosophy in his RST (Rank, Salary, and Tenure) file. Not just lifted a few phrases, but downloaded someone else's teaching philosophy from the Internet, omitted a few paragraphs that were too specifically about the actual author, and put it in his file.

The department has talked to the faculty member, and he "realizes that this is a serious matter" and he's really sorry. I say that I hear that kind of crap from my students way too often. I don't have to put up with it from them, and I sure don't want to put up with it from a colleague. Somewhere in the course of his advanced degree program, they should have mentioned that plagiarism was bad.

As far as I'm concerned, this is sufficient reason to vote for a terminal contract. The department feels otherwise (although I gather that they are split.) What do you think?

That's amazing.

This is where the 'law and order' side of my 'law and order liberal' politics comes out. I'd fire the dumb bastard. The rule against plagiarism is fair, it's directly relevant to the academic enterprise, and this guy doesn't even dispute that he did it. Throw the bum out.

A friend of mine at a comprehensive university recently had a book project canceled out from under him when a chapter submitted by his co-author turned out to have been lifted wholesale from Wikipedia. (His co-author has tenure; he doesn't.) This is not a victimless crime. My guess is that folks who get away with this keep doing it, though I'd imagine it's much easier to catch in the age of Google.

Just for fun, let's imagine what happens if, say, this joker gets tenure, but someone else who actually made an honest effort gets shot down. For more fun, let's assume the denied candidate is a member of a protected class. In administrative terms, it's “liability-a-go-go.” Let's imagine the courtroom dialogue. “Did you know that Mr. Whiteman's portfolio contained plagiarized material?” “Well, yes, but we didn't think it was any big deal.” “Did you have any reason to suspect that Ms. Unemployed's file was illegitimate?” “No, but we thought it wasn't up to snuff.” “So you define 'up to snuff' as 'plagiarized'? Or do you define 'up to snuff' as 'white and male”?”

Not pretty.

On an emotional level, I couldn't help but read your candidate's actions as somewhere between 'arrogant' and 'contemptuous.' If he really can't be bothered to try to whip something up to keep his job, what does he think of his job? Is that really someone you want to make bulletproof for the next several decades? If he escapes consequences now, when he's at least potentially vulnerable, can you imagine the crap he'll pull once he's tenured? This guy will be an ongoing nightmare for the rest of his career, and he will be a nightmare of your department's making.

I'm guessing that some of your colleagues feel bad for him, probably on the grounds that they think of statements of teaching philosophy as inherently vapid and extraneous. There's some truth to that, but that's an argument to be had on its own merits. (In eight years of observing and evaluating faculty, I haven't noticed any correlation – none – between good statements of teaching philosophy and good teaching.) But that's not a justification for cheating. It's a justification for trying to get the rules changed going forward. The issue here isn't whether a statement of teaching philosophy carries any weight; it's whether honesty does.

If it doesn't, you're in very deep trouble.

What if the guy starts fabricating outcomes assessments? What if he publishes something that turns out to have been plagiarized? And do you really want this guy judging other candidates for promotion and tenure in the future? My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Kick him to the curb. If you don't, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Wise and worldly readers – what would you do?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


OK, what Dean Dad said. Plagiarism is the ultimate academic sin because it subverts the entire point of academia. It's like being a cop on the take.

I'll agree that statements of teaching philosophy are generally a waste of time, but any potential faculty member who:

1) can't be bothered to bang one out himself
2) thinks the solution is to steal someone else's
3) when caught, thinks "gosh, I'm really sorry" is sufficient

needs to be bounced higher than a SuperBall.
I think it's hard to know what to do because we don't really have all the information. Questions that came to mind as I was reading:

1) How frequently do candidates at this institution submit their materials? Is this the first time anybody's seen this stuff, or has the person been submitting it year after year and being passed through? If the latter is the case, that doesn't justify the plagiarism, but it does suggest that the problem isn't only with the candidate's ethics but also with the process/practices related to tenure at this school, and given the situation, that's no longer a separate issue from this individual candidate's case.

2) Is there a policy on record (in, say, the faculty handbook) about what to do in such a case? I'd imagine that there would be. If so, this isn't an ethical dilemma for the department/school - they need to follow the policy.

3) I would have liked more background on the candidate. How did the person get caught? How did s/he react (because, in spite of your impulse that s/he responded in a manner that was arrogant and contemptuous, I'm not sure that judgment can be made when we're hearing from a reader who admits he/she already believes the candidate should be let go - I mean, what is a person *supposed* to say instead of "this is a serious matter" in this situation? Is the person otherwise a good colleague, or have people had questions about this candidate in other areas (which is maybe why they looked to see if s/he plagiarized)? Plagiarism is wrong - I'm not saying it isn't - but there's usually a fuller picture that has to be examined - all plagiarism cases are not created equal.

Having dealt with a great many plagiarists in my time, I don't think that people plagiarize because they are arrogant or contemptuous. I think they plagiarize because a) they are insecure about their ability to succeed on a task b) they have left a task to the last minute and so they figure there's no time to do anything but to plagiarize and c) they don't think that anybody actually cares about or reads what they write, and so they might as well plagiarize. Are any of these excuses? No. But people don't plagiarize to insult others or to express contempt for them. Honestly, they aren't thinking about the reader when they plagiarize *at all* and to take it personally doesn't really make much sense to me, and doesn't really get one closer to resolving a plagiarism case.

All of this said, I think a policy at any college/university should be that one's P&T materials are to be the original work of the person submitting them, and that submitting materials that are not one's own should be grounds for dismissal. This shouldn't be something that people engage in hand-wringing over - or that is decided on a case-by-case basis - it should be an across-the-board policy, clearly stated and of which the candidate is aware from the date on which s/he starts the job. If there is no such policy, I think it's difficult to know what this reader or his colleagues should do, as we don't know enough about the tenure and promotion process at the individual institution, this specific candidate, or the reasons why people seem to be fighting to save the candidate.
Oh my God! =8-0
My favorite was class I took as an undergrad in intermediate theory for majors where the overburdened graduate teaching assistant lifted her slides from one professor's web site, the assignments from another, and the tests from two others.

None of these materials came from my university.

Since most of this was incomprehensible, a couple of us consulted Google and voila! there was all of our work.

When the department chair was informed, nothing happened. I think as Dr. Crazy mentions above, the incentives lie with cheating since it seems as though there is little repercussions for developing one's own material.

Send a clear message that one's own scholarship is important.
I'm not condoning the bozo's actions, but at the same time from down here in the lowly adjunctified trenches, this just seems like business as usual. As in the business world, so too in academe: do whatever it takes, whether it's to get a job or keep a job.
If a student plagiarizes wholesale like this character did, I don’t think most of us would ponder whether or not to hold the student accountable. Why is the situation different because it’s a faculty member? Maybe he’s gifted teacher and a lovely colleague. OK. BUT, he’s also an academic thief, which makes me think he’s not actually that lovely of a colleague.

Dean Dad and Dr. Crazy both make wonderful points. I especially like Dr. Crazy’s point about how this situation could be indicate problems with the institution’s tenure process.

Bottom line: the guy is a thief. Rewarding academic theft with tenure sends an interesting message to students (“we don’t take plagiarism too seriously around here if we otherwise like you”) and is a slap in the face to all faculty that publish (“original work and stolen work have the same value here”).
Two quick points:

1. I have unfortunately been in a situation where a (foreign national) student lifted a RAND report wholesale (changing a word or two every 5 or six sentences) and when I pushed to give the student an "F" I received SIGNIFICANT push-back. "Perhaps it is his culture." "Think about what his home nation might do to him." etc... The "powers" didn't deny it was plagiarism. They just felt perhaps we shouldn't "pull the trigger" on him.

2. A Law and Order Liberal. Yes, I remember you writing this before. I do have to ask though: What happens to him/her after being "let go?" If this person's whole life has prepared them for life in academe, (and assuming they aren't in a lucrative discipline like business or engineering) I suspect their earning prospects will be significantly diminished. I mean, would you hire this person back in to an academic position? (OR an administrative one in academe?) To be true to a liberal view, we should be more concerned with ensuring they have a right to health care, a right to a good paying job, and a living wage, than adhering to some sort of archaic "law and order" view--right?

Just checking...
Buh-bye. No, let's not play the "well, how can we justify his behavior?" or the "do we have a policy in place for this?" game. Tenure portfolios are by their nature presumptively original and summative; that's one of the things that make them stressful as hell to assemble. Prof. CheaterPants has had six years or so to meet the day of reckoning and it wasn't sufficiently important to him to do so with thoughtful, original work. That should tell you all you need to know about his professionalism. Moreover, most faculty manuals and probationary contracts have language about meeting the highest professional standards and wholesale cut-and-paste plagiarism isn't it.

Entertain the other option for a moment -- keep this guy around and what have you just done to the tenure process at your school? You've made it a bad joke.
DD, sorry for your friend with the bad co-author.
This is obviously another blatant case of the intolerant, white, patronymical absolutism that has inexorably led to the decay of the modern university.

The collaborative, nurturing environment in which the cultural norms of the victim were formed was obviosuly based on the superior pre-industrial cultures of our wise foremothers.

How dare you superimpose your judgemental values on what was obviously a virtuous exercise in shared learning?

I'm certain that in *our* enlightened Post-Modernist Studies Department his performance art presentation of the evils of "Private Intellectual Property Rights" [sic] would be applauded, not ignorantly condemned!

You obviously Don't Get It.
OK, not following some of the comments.

The faculty member in question is probationary. The point of probationary status is to give the department a chance to check out whether the candidate is someone you want to have on your faculty for life. If they have behaviors that are going to be a problem, this is the chance to toss 'em and try with another candidate.

The person in question has certainly spent at least a decade in academia. Trust me: he knows plagiarism is wrong. I agree with Dr. Crazy that this might not be a case of arrogance or contemptuousness, but it is definitely a display of spectacularly bad judgement in a mission-critical area. The department may well have problems with their policies overall, but that doesn't mean that the plagiarism doesn't matter.

Professor: I may not be reading your last comment correctly. Was it meant tongue-in-cheek?
Wow! I can see being inspired by someone else's statement of teaching philosophy. I can't see copying it wholesale!

That said, I'm pretty sure that not too many people at this institution have taken the whole "statement of teaching philosophy" very seriously. I bet that it is just a motherhood & apple pie kind of exercise -- we all believe in "student-centred learning" and so on.

I would encourage the T&P people at this institution (or the faculty association) to run a workshop about model statements and maybe to provide some exemplars online for candidates to see. If you want candidates to understand that these statements are useful and distinctive -- and actually mean something, they're more likely to do them and do them well.

That said, I think that the outright plagiarism of the statement is very troubling -- an indication of ethical failures (whether caused by overwork, anxiety or arrogance is debatable) that raise red flags at this point in an evaluation.
Probationary faculty member copies nearly wholesale a teaching philosophy from the net?

Not even a question. Terminal contract. Gone.

As for the faculty member's future earnings being hurt etc, as we say to our young people "you should have thought about that when you clicked ctrl-v."
Honestly, someone with such impaired judgement, for whatever reason, is a liability in an academic department.

I have to wonder, though: how was the plagiarism discovered? Did someone already have a sense that this person was dishonest?
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Plagiarism is passing off someone else's work as your own. I cannot find, in the description here, that that happened. Person submitted an unoriginal statement of teaching philosophy. The whole thing was unoriginal, not just a few phrases (which, would, perhaps have been OK?).

Research products are supposed to be original. Teaching products, not so much. I've shared slides. I've used other people's assignments which were known to work. Bureaucratic products are usually not original. Once someone discovers a formula which can be used, everyone uses that formula ever afterwards. Originality is neither required or desired.

So where does a statement of teaching philosophy fit. It's certainly not a research product (except perhaps in a philosophy department, maybe an ed department). It's not even a teaching product. As the Dean says, there's no correlation between teaching and statements of teaching philosophy.

So it must be a bureaucratic product. And the guy treated it as one. He has been told that was tactless and expressed sorrow. that should be an end to the matter. (Though it would be nice if henceforth statements of teaching philosophy were discontinued.)
I see a day coming soon when we all turn in our tenure and promotion materials through
ROTFLOL at what "yet another confused professor" wrote.

This would be terrifying if it was at a CC, where there aren't any research papers etc as part of the file / portfolio being sent forward, and where stealing other aspects of your teaching-related documentation would be just as serious.

It is no less serious at a 4-year school (as suggested to me by the RST reference) because, as DD alluded to, that person might stop doing any research after getting tenure and all you would be left with is a teaching philosophy that you have never evaluated.

What bothers me the most is that the person realized "this is a serious matter" but did it anyway. That is the red flag. Someone mentioned how tragic it is that this person prepared their entire life for academia ... well, if that was really true, they would not have carried out this particular act of plagiarism.

It *is* different when done by a student. It is often not worth the effort to file the paperwork if you know the people acting on it are more "student centered" (or "tuition centered") than "learning centered". But do you want a faculty member with those ethics interacting with your students?

Give this person a year to find a job along with a modest recommendation and let it be someone else's problem. There are plenty of businesses without ethics if a university or college isn't interested.
Dictyranger makes a great point: “The faculty member in question is probationary. The point of probationary status is to give the department a chance to check out whether the candidate is someone you want to have on your faculty for life.” If you see problems NOW you can do something about it. Once this bozo is tenured, you can’t do a damn thing about it. Use the probationary period for what it is – an audition that this guy has failed.
jim writes:
"So where does a statement of teaching philosophy fit. It's certainly not a research product (except perhaps in a philosophy department, maybe an ed department). It's not even a teaching product."

Well, I don't know about anywhere else, but here, the P&T guidelines make it clear that the candidate is being asked to write a statement of his/her philosophy or teaching. The language in the guidelines is clear enough that no one who is paying attention coould possible think that copying someone else's statement fits.

Maybe we need to treat probationary faculty members as being too dumb to figure that one out? (I've known some...)

In fact, I seem to be reading a lot of "Well, maybe that's not such a serious offense," but I can't agree. Submitting the work of someone else as your own is, in a profession allegedly commited to truth and to the creation and dissemination of knowledge, about as bad a thing as you can do.

Dismissal is not too harsh a penalty.
I agree with DD: Gone. Out. Bye.
This is so simple. This person works in academia. In academia, one has to produce these little personal essays again and again, beginning with getting into college for the first time. The academic system counts on those statements being written by the student, not the student's parents, not someone else on the internet.

You can't let someone be a professor who, essentially, just faked his application. He may teach students who want to go on to graduate school. "Just download your personal statement instead of writing it" won't cut it as advice or example. College students who fake applications can wind up in jail. ie:

Faculty should at least wind up fired. I'm guessing that the faculty at this University is NOT unionized, or people would realize pretty quickly that to tenure this guy would mean they'd never be able to deny tenure to anyone again.
Being an old fashioned Favog, I side with those saying it is a no-brainer. Kick the scoundrel to the curb. I am troubled how we rationalize behavior today. I know it is far removed from the ivy-covered halls of our learned institutions, but the recent news article regarding a mother/daughter faking a contest entry has stuck in my psyche. Mother Dearest encouraged her young daughter to submit an essay for Hannah Montana tickets detailing the loss felt when husband/father was killed in Iraq. In reality, he wasn’t dead or in Iraq. When it came to light, the rationalizations flew (tickets too expensive, always sold out, would do anything for daughter, some things a lot worse than fibbing, etc.). Where did we lose the pride in being truthful and playing the game honestly? What Ken Lay did with Enron (Lord rest his soul) or Roger Clemens built with steroids is not an excuse for me to take liberties with rules of my profession. You live by a code of honor that is unconditional. If others fall short, that in no way changes my course or behavior. I am responsible for me. Tell the truth. So simple that a learned member of the Academy, as well a six year-old Miley Cyrus fan and her mother should understand it.

a saddened Mighty Favog
"Research products are supposed to be original. Teaching products, not so much." This statement troubles me. Not only does it subscribe to the "research is serious, teaching is secondary" paradigm of higher ed, it's supported by a subscription to corporate plagiarist culture that says "Sure, I'll re-package the research of twenty years ago, stamp my name on it, and call it original!" I don't think this is a norm we should encourage. Teaching "products" or methods or paradigms should acknowledged in some way. It's work. It's *good* work.

And in case it wasn't clear, I vote "no-brainer" as well. I can't believe it's even a debate.

The material that I teach is, mostly, not original with me. It is the accumulated wisdom of, at this point, a couple of generations. I do not see why I need to restrict myself, in explaining this material, to language and examples that I have thought up myself. If a colleague has come up with a technique that resonates with students, that helps them understand the material, I should avoid using that technique because it isn't original with me? Is that your claim?

Some of what I do in a classroom is original with me -- or at least independently invented. But some, much, is not. Some comes from my own teachers, some from ideas of colleagues. I do not pretend that what I teach is original. I carry on a tradition.

In general, it seems to me, academia makes a fetish of originality. Dr. Crazy, above, with her usual sanity, says each institution ought to have a policy about this. I agree. She goes on to say, though, that policy should insist on all materials be original with the candidate. I disagree. Where originality is unnecessary, it should not be insisted upon.

Had the hapless candidate prefaced his reprinted download with, "I didn't write this, nor do I know who did, but it perfectly captures an attitude to teaching to which I aspire:", would anyone have complained? Substantively, is there any difference?
Oh, and Mighty Favog, I don't think anyone is claiming that the statement of teaching philosophy that was submitted was untrue, or dishonest; that it didn't actually represent the candidate's approach to teaching. The complaint is solely that it was not original with him.
Jim: Had the hapless candidate prefaced his reprinted download with, "I didn't write this, nor do I know who did, but it perfectly captures an attitude to teaching to which I aspire:", would anyone have complained? Substantively, is there any difference?

Um, yeah. A big difference I would say.

It would have at least acknowledged and/or credited the work to the appropriate others. If that's the case then do so. That would have at least shown some spine in openly saying "We all know these statements are a joke. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel. My philosophy aligns with what thus and such said about it...yada yada".

It is the inherent deliberate attempt to mislead that seems to be an issue, and not the fact that he "borrowed" somebody elses words, in and of itself.

deliberate attempt to mislead

I think this is the central part of our disagreement. Mislead on what? What's a statement of teaching philosophy for? Why is one demanded?

Let us assume (we'll be generous) that the statement of teaching philosophy has a use. What use might that be? Well, the P&T committee has a task. It is to judge the candidate's teaching. It has, to that end, a scattered assembly of disparate evidence: student evaluations, some with comments, class observations by peers, some teaching materials -- syllabi, samples of slides, handouts, assignments, exams. The statement of teaching philosophy might act as a framework to fit these bits of evidence together. If we know what the candidate was trying to do, then we can, perhaps, use the evidence to get a sense of whether, on the whole, the candidate succeeded or failed.

If this is the function of the statement of teaching philosophy -- to act as a framework to tie together the other scraps of evidence about the candidates teaching -- then its instrumental value lies in its accuracy. A statement that was wholly invented by the candidate that tried to say what the candidate thought the committee wanted to hear -- as Ancarett said, we're all about student-centered learning -- is, in fact, misleading. A statement written by another which accurately reflected what the candidate was trying to do in the classroom is not.

But I get the sense that many of the commenters here don't think that's the use of the statement of teaching philosophy. They think of it as an honorable burden, piled on the candidate BECAUSE WE CAN! WE WANT TO MAKE THE CANDIDATE SUFFER! I'm sorry. That was an eruption from my id. An honorable burden, like Prospero making Ferdinand pile wood, as a test of character, of compliance. And the candidate shirked this burden, showing his unfitness for Miranda's hand, or (the greater prize) tenure. It looked as though he had piled the wood, but he'd got a genie from the internet to do it for him. he hadn't banged it out. He'd misled us.

And, yes, this sort of honorable burden is common in academia. Anonymous said, "In academia, one has to produce these little personal essays again and again, beginning with getting into college for the first time." I have now had to put two daughters through college. In helping them to navigate the admissions process, I learned an interesting fact. There are a number of universities, mostly large public universities (many applicants, small admissions office), which ask each applicant to write a personal statement, but no-one reads them; admission decisions are made on quite other grounds. They also ask for high school recommendations, which similarly go unread. Yes, academia is full of such little games. But I'm not sure we should boast of them.
I'm the original correspondent (posting with even more anonymity than usual, lest any details be traced back to my institution.)

I thank you all for your feedback. I admit that I fell all along into the "No question, bounce him" category, and was at least partly looking for validation.

I'm sorry to say that our side lost, and a contract renewal was voted for this person. That may, of course, be overridden at a higher level, but I doubt it. The one good thing is that this wasn't the person's tenure decision, just renewal. There is still a possibility that the person will be dismissed some time in the future.

Related to that, the plagiarism was discovered because (a) the stolen statement didn't seem to match the style of the person's other work, and (b) some members of the department already had suspicions about the person's ethics. So, there are other issues, which I hope will someday bite the person in the ass. But not today, alas.

Thanks, y'all, for the feedback. If anyone has anything else to contribute, post it here, by all means.

As for the suggestion (made more than once) that there may be inherent problems in the Promotion and Tenure process at my comment.
And so an unethical piece of trash gets a renewed contract while hordes of adjuncts remain in low-paying positions...

Yet another reason I am glad I quit grad school.

I've seen far too many liars, cheats, thieves, and idiots get well-paying contracts while honest, hardworking, yet much less savvy part-timers string together 4 jobs just to make ends meet.

The whole system is fucked up.
jim is scaring the crap out of me. Not even my worst students put forward such vehement defeneses of plagiarism. After all, what is an essay assignment but a "burden" unfairly assigned as a power trip?
Well, I will have to ask though, since we are such a "liberal" group...

What happens to this person after we "kick 'em to the curb?"

If this person cannot find a job, what obligation does a society have to this person? If their loss of livelihood was due to failing to meet the commonly accepted standards of our profession, does society let this person flounder? Do we put them on welfare? Do we provide them with state-subsidized job retraining?

Or do we politely encourage them to go work at Wal*Mart, where they can at least get health care benefits, if they so choose?

Seriously--I am asking, because DD mentioned being a "law and order liberal" I am curious how we can so easily bifurcate a decision to punish, and then argue that society somehow has obligations to these people.
Jim says:

The material that I teach is, mostly, not original with me. It is the accumulated wisdom of, at this point, a couple of generations. I do not see why I need to restrict myself, in explaining this material, to language and examples that I have thought up myself. If a colleague has come up with a technique that resonates with students, that helps them understand the material, I should avoid using that technique because it isn't original with me? Is that your claim?

I says:

No honey, it's called citation.
The Professor:

You keep harping on how the plagiarist might be treated with kid-gloves because of the "liberal" attitudes [of academia? You seem oddly fixated on the term.]

I'm curious though...since when does "liberal" mean "chump"?

The plagiarist has demonstrated questionable credentials to be in this predicament, especially if, as you say, "this person's whole life has prepared them for life in academe."

My response is: Not so much.

The PhD is now a *BIG* gamble. I took it and lost; so have legions of others.

Why not the lying, cheating plagiarist?
The Professor: I had thought your original comment was facetious. Apparently not.

You're right that I support a single-payer health care system. Under that system, health insurance comes with citizenship, rather than employment, like the right to vote does now. So if this guy gets kicked to the curb, under my preferred system, he'd still have his health insurance, as would everybody else.

In terms of employment, he's free to look elsewhere. He may or may not need to find another line of work. I'm okay with that; if you show by your actions that you can't be trusted to do you job, you shouldn't have your job.

I don't see the contradiction, unless you take 'liberal' as a caricature of an uber-softy. I don't.
On the liberal law & order side as a Canadian I just don't see the disconnect.

There is a huge difference between having a relatively prestigious job with disposable income, and living on $590/mo (welfare for a single healthy adult) in a rooming house, but still having access to health care and some training programmes. That's enough "law & order" for me.
"I'm curious though...since when does "liberal" mean "chump"?"

Since 1932.
Okay--so here is the reason for my question/comment:

It seems we can be "law and order" when it involves me, looking out for my own budget/company, etc. I don't want to have people working for me that I can't trust/aren't capable, etc.. I am fine with all that.

What bothers me then, is a mind-set that says that our personal responsibility to this person ends when we (as was so nicely written) "kick em to the curb" but that our social responsibility should now kick in--and spend other people's money to do it.

In a (admittedly very) over-simplified way, we are saying "I don't want to pay this person anymore, but I believe we all should, as taxpayers."

I suppose, at the deepest levels, this is what my gripe all along has been with social liberalism as demonstrated through government programs--it separates the person from the responsibility to care. Caring for others is not "my" responsibility, it's the government's job.

In the day to day hurried life, it is easy for us to compartmentalize and rationalize. "It's not my job to worry about where they end up. I have to take care of my department/division/college." But then, whose job is it?

In this particular case from the blog-post, my concern is actually one of "where does he go from here?" Should we consider this as we make decisions to let someone go? Do we have any social obligation to help this person land "safely" or is our only obligation to (using the violent language from before) "KICK" then to the curb--and I suppose say as they go, "don't let the door hit you on the way out." I am asking for your views on our immediate, social responsibility here vice letting "society" care for him/her.
If you tell your students not to plagiarize, and then you do it...??
Like all valuable management theories, it is of course explained by a 2X2 matrix.

Let's call it the "Reasoned Theory of Societal-Individual Theft Equity." [hmmmm I feel a paper coming on . . . ]

On the X axis we have the protagonist (thief): Individual vs. Society.

On the Y axis we have the antagonist (victim): Individual vs. Society.

In the diagonal quadrants, we have Individuals Stealing from Individuals: Bad. We call that “Ripping Someone Off” and Ripoffs are Bad.
Societies stealing from other Societies: Bad. We call that “War” and War is Bad.

The opposite diagonal is Good.

It's O.K. when Society steals from Individuals. We call that “Taxation” and taxation is Good.
Likewise, it's o.k. when the Individual steals from Society. We call that “Welfare” ooops “Social Responsibility” and Social Responsibility is Good.

Therefore, when the professor stole the intellectual property of another, he was being Bad.

We can cancel out the act of Badness by placing the individual on welfare, which is Good.


It all makes sense, as long as you have a 2X2 matrix . . .
The professor, there is a substantial difference between a professor's salary and social security payment. The purpose of the first is to buy a comfortable life style, while the second is meant to keep people from starving. (Perhaps I have not read DD's post carefully enough, but I failed to see where he proposes that social security should pay this guy a professor's salary.)

If someone (e.g. I) thinks that the fraud does not deserve his job, this does not automatically mean that the same someone thinks he deserves to starve.

I am sorry, I wasn't meaning to imply that DD suggested that Social Security pay the "ne'er do well" a professor's salary.

And I agree with you when you write:

If someone (e.g. I) thinks that the fraud does not deserve his job, this does not automatically mean that the same someone thinks he deserves to starve.

My point is that our actions, even in "kicking to the curb" have repercussions. This person will be "on the curb" as a result not only of his/her action, but also as a result of our "kicking."

If the outcome is "starving" do we just say "oh well, the government will take care of him/her" or should we step up on the front end, and with a sense of personal responsibility be actively engaged in the "landing" of this person, and in the act perhaps even play a role in the rehabilitation of a cheater?

So let me be clear: I am calling for us all to take a more personal role and step up to even the tough responsibilities of our decisions.
"The" Professor,

If you want to argue that this isn't a hanging offense, go ahead. But don't base the argument on the assumption that this guy will "starve" without this job. If we have to worry about that, then no one should ever get fired from their academic jobs. The guy can't teach, doesn't do research, harasses his students, and occasionally knocks over a convenience store? Well, if we fire him, where is he going to go? We'd better keep him.

The original question seems to me to be asking if this offense is serious enough to warrant a terminal contract. As Dr. Crazy says, we don't really have enough details to tell, but I guess I would lean towards "Yes." It's not the value of the teaching statement itself. It's the idea that this guy can't be bothered to complete the assignment, and so feels free to take a shortcut. Not a good sign that he's going to be a dependable colleague for the long term.

You might feel otherwise, and feel free to post your arguments (although I gather that it's too late.) But the argument that "we're liberals, so we should take personal responsibility for this person, even if we don't want to work with him" seems pretty weak to me.

"A" Professor
On a side note,

I am a little confused about the attitudes towards assignments (and maybe tests) that a few of the commenters have mentioned.

When professors (or grad students) hand out an exercise, I don't expect them to cite its origin.

Moreover, when people in my department (grad students are what I have mostly noticed) copy each others (or professors) teaching methods (including ideas for assignments), that feels, in my program at least, understood by all as part of how you learn to teach.

Regulating "original" teaching methods seem to me to be a quest towards something that in itself is not the point. does it work - that's what I want to know. Should we be punishing people for using good teaching methods if they copy them from somewhere else? Do people "pass off" their teaching methods as originating anywhere? Is that how most people think of assignments - as works of authorship in themselves?
The Professor,
My step was to vote for a government that would take care of him. Until I moved to the US, I also paid sufficient taxes to feed him. Actually, this is one of the main arguments for welfare as opposed to charity: The fraud should not have to depend on my angry self. Anyway, just turn your argument around: If they keep him, Ms Unemployed does not get the salary, so nothing is gained at all.
Seriously, are you all actually reading what I write? It sure doesn't seem that way...

I did NOT write that we should treat the plagiarist with "kid gloves."

I did NOT write that there should be no repercussions for his/her actions.

I did NOT write that the offender should "keep" their job.

I did NOT write that the welfare state should match the salary a professor receives.

What I am writing is that we should be willing to be PERSONALLY involved in helping achieve a "soft" landing on that curb to which so many wish him/her to be kicked, and perhaps, through that process, rehabilitate the person.

"The fault, dear Brutus..."

I don't think you get it.

Most of us don't think he's worth rehabilitation. He shouldn't require re-education about something he should have known *before* he got on the job market merry-go-round.

Or even better: He should rehabilitate himself.

Why should this person's unethical behavior really be anyone else's problem but his own? Isn't the terminal contact enough of a prompt for "rehab"?


"I don't wanna go to rehab...I say No, No, No..." --Amy Winehouse

[look! it's easy to cite stuff!]
As a non-academic who has fired a journalist for plagiarism, I find it kind of funny to read that some people feel like there is some kind of responsibility towards an employee in that way. In my world, we don't keep employees who violate company policy and journalistic ethics and if that puts them flipping burgers at McDonalds, so be it.
"Moreover, when people in my department (grad students are what I have mostly noticed) copy each others (or professors) teaching methods ... that [is} ... understood by all as part of how you learn to teach."

Okay, but what about when they (grad. students) copy all or parts of each others job application letters? I've seen it done ... extensively. Not only that, but when I was in grad. school there were examples of successful letters kept in a binder for any and all to peruse. In fact, we were encouraged to do so.
Shorter The Professor:

Mallard Fillmore rules!
This person will be "on the curb" as a result not only of his/her action, but also as a result of our "kicking."

Not so. It will be solely the result of his or her actions.

But I can think of a doctor in Michigan who wishes "The Professor" had been on his jury for insurance fraud. Did the jury worry about what curb he would live on when he got out of prison in 10 years, now that his 7 million dollar house has been auctioned off? Or should that be the cost of stealing 2 million dollars to fund his lifestyle while skimping on such things as sterilizing his instruments?

Hey, Professor, do you blame the jury for him losing his home and going to prison?

"It's not my job to worry about where they end up. I have to take care of my department/division/college." But then, whose job is it?

His job.

Now, to get this back to academics, how can anyone look at this issue and not be reminded of the story that broke out of Florida State, where a professional member of the academic support program in the athletic department (as well as a tutor) helped something like 60 athletes (including roughly a quarter of the football team) cheat in an on-line class. Could this be in your future if you tenure a plagiarist?

That goes double when you dig a bit deeper into the story and find that the professor teaching the class used the exact same test (administered over the web with no controls or any kind) for years without changing a single question. One wonders if the Dean praised that Professor for having a really high success rate in that class, right up until the reason made the papers.
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