Plagiarism in the academy?

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a story this morning about Glen Poshard, the President of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (heads up -- it's a registered user story, only).

The SIU group Alumni and Faculty Against Corruption are accusing Poshard of plagiarizing his 1984 dissertation. SIU's Daily Egyptian has more on this.

The Chonicle article explains that

There are several examples in the dissertation of what might be called classic plagiarism: Passages are lifted verbatim, or near verbatim, with no citation given. In one instance, a 68-word passage from another source is used without quotation marks or citation. The two passages are identical except for a single word change: Mr. Poshard has substituted "a" for "another."

In another example, an 80-word section, also lacking quotation marks or citation, is taken from another source with only a few minor changes -- such as switching a verb from "has been" to "was."

In addition, there are numerous examples in which Mr. Poshard appears to disregard the accepted rules of crediting someone else's work. While he may cite a particular source, he often fails to place quotation marks around passages he uses verbatim. For instance, Mr. Poshard writes that "It has become almost axiomatic to say that the welfare of the world rests significantly with the utilization of the potential of the gifted youth to solve social, economic, ecological, political, and human problems."

He cites the source but does not indicate that the passage is copied nearly word for word.

According to The Daily Egyptian (which got the documents from a source close to the AFAC who insisted upon anonymity),

Poshard said his dissertation committee had approved his work.

"They approved the style," he said. "How could they have missed it?"

Poshard said his method of citing, which he said allowed for omitting quotes when information is cited in a footnote, could help explain several examples where he used long, verbatim passages without quotation marks.

"No one on my committee said that when you reference and cite something correctly that you have to go up and put quotes around it," he said.

This sounds like plagiarism to me. The Daily Egyptian interviewed a number of experts on the topic, and they all seem to agree that this doesn't look good.

I've never been a big fan of Glen Poshard (he ran for governor of Illinois while I was in college there), but to be fair, it's important to mention some of the ongoing controversy at SIU that might be encouraging this sort of digging for information. From The Chronicle:

The allegations are the latest in a series of accusations of plagiarism against top officials at Southern Illinois. Last year Mr. Poshard asked the chancellor of the university's Carbondale campus, Walter V. Wendler, to step down after revelations that portions of a strategic plan Mr. Wendler put together came from an earlier strategic plan he helped write for Texas A&M University at College Station (The Chronicle, November 9, 2006).

Mr. Wendler's copying was brought to light by a group of professors and students close to Chris Dussold, an assistant professor of finance at Southern Illinois at Edwardsville who was fired in 2004 for copying his two-page teaching statement (The Chronicle, February 10, 2006). After his dismissal, Mr. Dussold and a group of supporters set out to uncover examples of plagiarism at the university in order to prove that he had been treated unfairly. Mr. Dussold has filed a lawsuit against the university for wrongful termination.

I don't know if Poshard did it. We'll have to wait and see -- and I understand that the administration of SIU distrusts anything that the AFAC does (Poshard describes one of the members of the AFAC as a terrorist). But it doesn't look good. The misuse of quotations is a serious problem, and a serious, serious violation of academic integrity. The explanation that "my committee passed me" doesn't do much except make everyone in the situation look bad.

Anyway ... the lesson is ... I'm going to go back to my dissertation again and make sure that I've properly cited everything. I know I've done it. All the talk of plagiarism in the academy has made me incredibly paranoid about making mistakes, so I'm going to go back and double-check my double-checking. I hope other people will be as careful in their citations.

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