15.2.10

Short term memory loss?

One of the twitterers I follow is the NYTPicker. Yesterday there was this doozy:
BREAKING: In Editor's Note, NYT reveals repeated acts of plagiarism by business reporter Zachery Kouwe. http://bit.ly/cH7Er8
As a teacher and a librarian and a writer, plagiarism always catches my eye. So I clicked on the link and learned this about Mr. Kouwe
According to Kouwe's biography on the NYT website, he got a B.A. in economics at Hamilton College, followed by a master's degree in journalism at the University of Colorado. He is originally from Tampa, Florida
Wha??? Hamilton College (my alma mater)? Turns out he's a member of the Class of 2000, so relatively recently graduated. One of the things that Hamilton prides itself on is the Honor Code So much so, in fact, that Eugene Tobin, president of the College from 1993-2003 was forced to resign over plagiarism:
Third, there's the case of the Central Connecticut State faculty who voted for their president to remain in office after it had been discovered that he had copied 50% of a newspaper opinion piece. If their actions seem outrageous to you, consider that in 2002, historian Eugene Tobin resigned the presidency of Hamilton College in New York after having plagiarized part of his convocation address from Amazon.com reader reviews of books. And even as the chair of the Board of Trustees accepted his resignation, a university spokesman said, "I think people were both surprised and concerned. . . . But most people who know President Tobin recognize him as a person of high integrity and recognize this was an unintentional error" (Margulies). Copying from Amazon.com reader reviews and representing them as your own reading of books is unintentional? That's ridiculous. But the issue does cloud when we read the statements made by students and faculty at a pro-Tobin rally after his resignation. According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Anthropology Professor Bonnie Urciuoli made a "passionate speech" in which she declared,
"I want to make a distinction between appropriating phrases that sound pretty and appropriating information. . . . Plagiarism is when you take someone else's information and pass it off as yours in something published, or in a class paper. It is not what happened here.

"I don't give a damn if people think that I don't understand what the honor of Hamilton College is all about," Urciuoli continued, to prolonged cheers and thunderous applause. "When you have someone who's willing to knock themselves out, morning, noon and night, day after day ... and you understand what the communicative parts of his job consist of, you can see it in a context that you wouldn't have otherwise." (Le)

(Howard) (for an insider's view, there's this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education).

Perhaps Mr. Kouwe thinks that what he was doing was not plagiarism? Perhaps his defense is that he was really following Helene Hegemann's lead by "mixing it up" ... "rejecting copyright"

Sorry, not buying it. I no longer subscribe to the Times , declining standards being one of the main reasons; that doesn't mean I'm not surprised that this level of deceit is on-going, or that I don't think that the paper could make a comeback. A good start would be reinstating rigorous fact-checking, which now needs to include scouring the web for "borrowed" phrases. Any guesses on how likely that is to happen?

The impact that Kouwe and Hegemann will have on my students is as yet unknown. MPOW has been discussing instituting an Honor Code for a couple of years, and (most unfortunately) I've helped teachers determine whether a paper has been plagiarized. This is going to cloud the issue for students: if we say that there are serious consequences, but in the real world they se that not being the case, what message does that send? What message do we send when we're so radically divergent from what they see "out there"? I can only hope that we, as a society, reject unacknowledged "mash-ups" or outright plagiarism, and that we can teach our students the value of adhering to a code of honor, official or not.

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