Friday, February 22, 2008

Disciplinary Action

Many of you are probably aware of the big news from Columbia University this week. Madonna Constantine was accused of multiple cases of flagrant plagiarism earlier this week by Columbia. This received national attention, in part, because it was on Constantine's door that a noose was found in the fall. This all led to today's news:

Columbia University’s Teachers College will not dismiss Madonna G. Constantine, the professor it charged with plagiarizing numerous works by another professor and two former students.

The college said on Wednesday that it had penalized her, but declined to discuss how. But on Thursday, Marcia Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the college, said the action stopped short of Dr. Constantine’s firing. “She is still a tenured professor at Teachers College,” Ms. Horowitz said. “She will remain on staff.”

In one case Constantine had lifted 20 pages, near verbatim, from one of her doctoral students. This brings me to an article in today's Daily D. Apparently SAPAs (Sexual Abuse Peer Advisor) are pushing for the COS review committee not to amend its standard for the proof necessary to determine guilt. The committee is determining whether the judicial body should change the current standard of "preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The SAPAs are most exercised about a change that would allow the accused to question the accuser.

It will be impossible to find the perfect balance between protecting the innocently accused and punishing the truly guilty. Surely, however, that balance is somewhere in between Columbia's lenience and Dartmouth's relish in prosecution.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Though the TC prof will probably retain her post, saying that she's tenured and will remain on staff is not saying she's immune. Tenure just means she can't be fired summarily. Columbia could and should institute its standard process for determining whether it may revoke tenure and fire her.

John Bruce said...

Clear-cut cause for revoking tenure, at least as far as recent cases have gone, is felony conviction (though exactly what felony could make a difference), insubordination, or abandonment of position (i.e., you take off for Tahiti in the middle of the term, and not for research).

Two recent cases, Michael Bellesiles and Ward Churchill, involved scholarly fraud that went beyond plagiarism, and they were tough to make stick. As far as I know, Doris Kearns Goodwin, who clearly plagiarized in a book on the Kennedys, never left the Harvard Board of Overseers, even though the point was make that a student would have been expelled for plagiarism (maybe). Journalists, on the other hand, are routinely dismissed for simple plagiarism.

Discipline at most colleges and universities for student plagiarism is pretty lax. TAs are typically caught in the middle. If a plagiarism policy that flunked students out for n instances of plagiarism were enforced, there'd be a national scandal. Universities don't want that.

Savvy faculty looks the other way, and I'm sure this is the case at Dartmouth, too.

Anonymous said...

Well John, then you clearly don't know what you are talking about. The COS enforcement on plagiarism is anything but lax. Students have been Parkhursted for such things as forgetting to attach a bibliography and sending the bibliography to the prof. immediately after the prof blitzed them about its absence. There have been many cases like these, and these cases are in large part why reforming the COS has become such an issue.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 12:08. Dartmouth most definitely DOES NOT look the other way when it comes to student plagarism. I had a friend get suspended for citing the wrong page (from the correct source, however) in the footnote of a paper.

I will admit that some faculty are more lenient than the above example, but those are few and far between at Dartmouth.

John Bruce said...

I'd be interested to see numbers and dates, or even specific cases, if they're available on the web. In the matter of the student who "forgot" to attach a bibliography, this sounds like there's more to that story, and that might well go to some type of misbehavior that went beyond simple plagiarism. Ordinary student plagiarism is so common that I can't imagine an individual school that goes against the flow.

What about programs like turnitin.com? Does Dartmouth subscribe to that or a similar product? The fact is that it's not practical for a prof to Google phrases in every student paper, which is the only effective way to catch ordinary plagiarism. If Dartmouth doesn't have some automated way of screening for it as a normal matter of course, then it's not dealing with the problem realistically.

John Bruce said...

askDartmouth says, "Dartmouth has no official policy about use of these services, although some faculty and students use turnitin.com in specific courses."

I'd be interested to know which (if any) specific courses use the product. It seems to me that unless it's a standard, then there's a lot of incentive not to use it, since students can simply avoid the courses where it's used.

Like running in the special olympics.. said...

John, you graduated in 1960something. can you please enlighten us as to why you feel the need to spend so much time bickering on the internet with 19 and 20 year olds?

John Bruce said...

Call it research. I've been known to comment in print on the quality of Dartmouth's education -- where do you think I get my ideas?

By the way, there was an article in the Alumni Mag a few years ago on the "honor system" (I don't know if they still call it that, or if it's gone by the board.) At that time, it said that the number of disicplinary cases for plagiarism was in the low single-digits each year. When you look at national estimates for plagiarism -- in the 40 to 60 percent range for freshman comp courses, for example -- that it should be so low at Dartmouth suggests that faculty is in fact looking the other way. Remember that freshman writing courses get marginal and contingent faculty, precisely the ones who aren't going to rock the boat.

Anonymous said...

John, faculty everywhere are looking the other way if "national estimates for plagiarism -- in the 40 to 60 percent range for freshman comp course" -- are correct.

Keep in mind that "freshman comp" courses at Dartmouth don't use TAs or others who are liable to miss plagiarism because the grading is divided between them. The professor teaches the class, not some inexperienced grad student, and the professor usually grades the writing.

John Bruce said...

10:10, maybe you need a comp refresher yourself -- I've been saying over and over that comp instructors everywhere look the other way on plagiarism.

There are good reasons for this. Dartlog staff posted just a week or two ago that comp courses get the "dregs" of the faculty. These are people who are variously in punishment assignments, people whose courses can't make enrollment, or temporary instructors. None of them is able to carry the disciplinary appeals that would result from trying to make a plagiarism case.

Administrations routinely side with students on such appeals, and faculty, not terribly motivated anyhow, doesn't see the point of trying to make the charges stick.

Anonymous said...

So your point is not that Dartmouth faculty in particular look the other way, but that all freshman comp faculty do?

John Bruce said...

Well, the syllogistic logic that used to be taught in freshman comp classes would suggest that. . . all freshman comp faculty have an incentive to ignore plagiarism. Dartmouth has freshman comp faculty. Thus. . .

Anonymous said...

If only John Bruce would use syllogistic logic more often! His typical argument reads like this:

Mr. X is a rich trustee. Rich trustees are jerks who don't have to work hard. Therefore Dartmouth's admissions office failed.

Substitute anything you like for the first to sentences. The conclusion is that the admissions office abdicated all responsibility the moment after it let him in.

Anonymous said...

We can't conclude that Dartmouth's faculty is looking the other way to any significant degree unless we assume that today's actual incidence of plagiarism at Dartmouth mirrors national estimates.

John must also be aware that faculty use extrajudicial sanctions, including lower grades, for smaller incidents of plagiarism that are not worth pursuing through the disciplinary system (from the point of view of all, including the institution and the faculty member).