You call this Academic Honesty?
Image from Flickr (click for original)

Ever since I began my university career two and a half years ago I’ve had the concept and importance of Academic Honesty pounded into my head.   We have all been threatened with grades of zero, removal from our respective programs and expulsion from university all together.  These are things all students take quite seriously and I think, for the majority of us, encourages to be academically honest.  So where am I going with this?

This past Monday I was in one of my lectures (one most of my ECMP classmates would have also attended) getting lectured about how to write essays.  Our presenter was going on and reading examples from a hand out of photocopied works.  The only way you might know where they came from would be because it was included in the photocopy.  We then moved onto the next handout he had prepared for us.   In this handout he gave us a brief background on some strategies we should try to use for our papers.  The handout continues to give three extensive examples of some of these from pieces of literature.  There was no sign of any sort of the origin of these works, although he did mention they came from a collection of works he had.

Our last handout included basic APA rules and formatting guidelines.  This wasn’t really interesting until the first paragraph ended with:

“All three [direct quotation, paraphrase, and summary] forms of reference require you to name your source.  Not to do so is plagiarism.  Plagiarism implies that you have originated all the ideas in your text yourself.” (Source intentionally withheld.)

I hope I’m not the only one who sees a problem with this. Wikipedia also defines plagiarism as  “the adoption or reproduction of ideas or words or statements of another person without due acknowledgment.”   These two definitions are essentially the same.

Is it me or is plagiarism not being clearly displayed in the first two handouts?!  After looking closer, there are at least 11 accounts of blatant plagiarism!
Image from Flickr (click for original)

Does plagiarism only apply to students?  Why are students being punished for simply paraphrasing incorrectly when someone with their Phd can do much worse without any consequences?

There is something clearly wrong here and it made me realize something; I have very rarely noticed handouts or slides that were properly acknowledged since I’ve started university.  I know that professors are very well educated but I’m quite sure that they don’t come up with everything they teach all by themselves.  Certainly, most of the content is their own thoughts or ideas, but it cannot be entirely if they’re teaching from a text book.

Has anyone else noticed this?  Now don’t get me wrong, I know some professors do acknowledge sources as they should and I know some may even mention them when they go over them.  But what about the ones who don’t?

Why should students be expected to cite perfectly (even if there is one little slip up there is usually consequences) when some of their professors don’t even put forth an effort?  Are professors held accountable for their actions like students are?  Do they get fired for such incidents like students get expelled?

I apologize for the rant, I just find it frustrating that standards aren’t consistent for everyone (or maybe I’m wrong and they are).

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Comments 15
  1. Your observations are correct and your questions excellent. I wonder how you’ll do two things:

    1. Strive to always walk the walk that you will encourage your students to
    walk. Your actions are powerful teachers, as you have observed.

    2. Ask the same questions of the professor distributing the handouts that you ask in this post.

    I wish you luck with both. Do the right thing in spite of poor examples from others.

  2. A very interesting tension!

    To me, the issue you reference seems to stem from the traditional role of “teacher as expert,” where the teacher/professor’s function was to share their expertise — acquired over years of study and experience — with their students. Ask me to attribute from whom I learned the lyrics to ‘Oh, Canada,’ for example, and I’d be hard-pressed to do so, given that it’s a part of my accumulated life-experience. The same could be said for a lot of the base knowledge that I use on a daily basis with my students. (When I think about this traditional role of “teacher” for too long, I always arrive back at the Anne-of-Green-Gables ‘go away to become and Expert and then return home and teach the new children’ model. In the older model, much of what we would teach would have been internalized, attribution lost.

    (I’m focusing on the teaching role of Uni profs at this point — thinking that perhaps with students-as-audience, the need to cite when teaching has been less important, “professing” part of the territory. With peers-as-audience, however, writing research papers and the like would see citing sources and attributions as a natural component.

    Fast forward to this day and age, however, and our role evolves to reflect something more than simply re-sharing that which we would have accumulated over years of experience. Facilitating and supporting learning can put the educator into a different position with regards to the content — and hence the importance of citing and referencing would seem to hold a more important necessity in teaching, too.

    I think your identified tension has considerable merit. Not only must we model a new way of thinking with regards to our “expertise,” but we should also model our ongoing learning for our students. Change the learning dynamic for them, and also change the teaching dynamic for us.

    Thanks for this!

  3. I know this reeks of hypocrisy to you, and it is probably a clear example of a violation of copyright. But may I suggest you turn this into a positive opportunity and bring it up (probably in office hours first) as something everyone can benefit from? I know there are power/authority issues involved, but if you’re willing to bring it up in public, maybe you could also bring it up in private with the prof?

    I work with a lot of professors who are new to teaching, and there are a lot of them who don’t see the problems or even know when they’re violating the rules they are talking about. You have every right to feel what you’re feeling, but I would rather approach this from a helpful stance, rather than be indignant. I wouldn’t be too quick to judge. It’s amazing how hypocrisy can sneak up on you when you least expect it, and your profs may be really good people doing the best they can, without realizing what the problem may be.

  4. I think you’re absolutely right. Whenever possible, I cite sources of material I use when I teach, but I know I’m in the minority.

    As a teacher, I am trying to set a good example not only for my students but also for my colleagues by attributing my sources or using Creative Commons licensing on my own materials.

  5. I should let the faculty defend themselves. I think your point is well taken; however, there might be a tacit understanding that the material presented to you in class can be sourced on request. Much as you might be asked to source some assertion of your own in class discussion.

    Plagiarism relates to publication. Your professors are bound by the same strictures on their own publications that they are asking you to practice. Teaching notes and materials might be in a grey zone here. That said, I recall my best professors (and my father, a professor) always scribbled a citation somewhere on the handouts they gave students. I think verbal citations during lectures are also essential. Don’t stress it too much.

  6. You’ve touched on one of the things which most threatens traditional academics and traditional teachers, the notion of “cognitive authority.”

    In the “old way” a professor/teacher was “right” simply because they held the position of professor or teacher. Just as books were “right” if they held the imprint of certain publishers. Students were not “inherently right” so they had to prove all of their sources – as exactly as was conceivable, and in a form precisely familiar to the teacher (the source of APA/MLA/etc citation systems). When roles switched – when professors were talking to more senior professors – in academic articles – then they had to prove sources (a prof of mine once said “the more famous you are the fewer citations are in your article” – and this is almost always true).

    In other words, the entire citation system developed as a system of power – and as part of the academic “hazing” system. It was only peripherally about knowledge or plagiarism – why is why your presenter felt sure he could ignore it when speaking to “mere students.”

    In today’s world, of course, your rank and your publishing house has far less to do with how people assess your knowledge. In social media your “cognitive authority” is based in the materials you bring to the table right now and your ability to link people to proof of the relevance of your research. So, citation has become essential for everyone. It should look different – I believe in “live links” – hypertext links to the source – and don’t care about citation format (is there anything more antiquated in this moment in time than traditional page numbers for online material?), and if your faculty is not practicing what it is preaching, I’d argue that they don’t consider it important at all.

    So bring this up. Demand a conversation. A university is supposed to be a learning community. And in a community the same rules need apply to all.

    1. Sorry I didn’t mention that in this case it was a guest lecturer presenting how to write effectively.

      Bud- I agree, teachers do need to “walk the walk” and set a good example of how things should be done! I think from now on I will start asking professors about where the information came from if I see a problem with it. Thank you!

      Andrew- You raise a good point when it comes to the lyrics of “Oh Canada”. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I guess there are some things you acquire over your life, like you say, that you can’t specifically attribute to a source. I wish students as an audience would be treated as peers are, more on a equal level (this is the case sometimes but not all of the time). I strongly agree that a new model of thinking must be initiated. Sources should be shared so students can look them up if they’d like. I think it also gives more credibility when information from other sources is gathered together (maybe that’s just my opinion). Thanks for the great response!

      Richard- Hypocrite was exactly what I was thinking when I realized this initially. I think bringing it up to my professor regarding this guest lecturer will be a good idea. I was skeptical to even write this blog at first, afraid that I could possibly get in trouble or punished for pointing out a flaw like this, but after all these response I don’t think there should be any problems. And I agree, these are good people doing the best they can. I have no problem with this man as an individual. I will address the issue and hopefully some progress can be made and both parties will benefit in the end. Thanks for the insight!

      Cathy- Thank you for being that minority, I hope you can set a trend! I hope most teachers follow and that this practice is promoted for teachers-to-be like myself! Thanks!

      Alan- I didn’t consider the option that the sources could be provided if I asked for them. That is something I did not consider, largely because I wasn’t aware that could be done. I don’t think too many students are aware of this either. I have also found that my best professors weren’t afraid to cite (in some form or another). I’ll try not to stress it too much, I just had to get my rant out there! Thanks!

      Ira- I hate that teachers/profs are “right” because of their status. I had some teachers in the past who, if challenged, simply dismissed you for being wrong or maybe even stupid (that’s how they make you feel). I don’t like being a “mere student”. As a student we’re trying to attain the knowledge that our presenter is sharing, and that is difficult if you’re being talked down to. I wouldn’t care how it was cited, just as long as some acknowledgement of source was provided. Largely why this got to me is summed up with “practicing what you preach”. I will bring this up and demand some sort of answer! Thank you! (I’m also going to read through those links you provided as well!)

      After I click the post button on here I am going to send an email to my prof telling him of my frustrations and asking the question “why is this allowed?”. Thanks for all the comments that gave me the confidence to do this!

  7. Kyle,

    Clearly, you’ve opened the door to a valuable conversation — and perhaps you’ve just now positioned yourself with your foot bracing the door open so that folks can continue to step through.

    Perhaps your prof could be invited to comment — often our personal perceptions evolve as we engage with a wider audience — something which rarely happens, as you say, when “you’re dismissed … for being a mere student.”


  8. Andrew, I hope that more folks will notice this and teachers will begin to give credit when it’s due. I hope students who will be teachers around the time I am will honor the academic honesty policies! In my email to my professor I gave him the link to help see where I was coming from.

    I hope that some sort of change can come from this!

  9. Your post makes me smile. I experienced the same sort of two facedness throughout my education. Those few exceptions were master teachers whom I greatly respected for it.
    There IS something wrong with this picture. I as the difficult student I was (and disruptive teacher I have become) offered to tell each offender of their error. This certainly did nothing for my grades. I would not recommend that approach.

  10. Hey Kyle,
    You raise a ton of great questions here. I know when I was teaching High school i used resources from a variety of sources…friends, websites, textbooks…and when i had time even my own brain, ha ha. Whenever students would ask me where i came up with assignments i would tell them the truth, but I never went out of my to say, “i got this from this website or textbook.” Except if it was a really cool assignment. If you’ll remember when we did I-search papers i talked about my friends from ED Jessica and Ryan and how they gave me their notes for the Isearch assignment. I think in high school kids dont care to much where the assignment came from but more in terms of how the teacher presents it…hopefully with enthusiasm and passion…and i found the assignments that i presented to students with the most passion were ones that i created cause they were my own ideas. I know in the Jschool at uofr the profs are great in terms of giving credit where credit is due. As university students we are constantly told not to plagarize, and i believe that’s the right thing to do. hopefully PHD candidates and profs do the same.

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