5.0797 Rs: Computer Distribution; Plagiarism (2/113)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Sat, 28 Mar 1992 18:07:17 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0797. Saturday, 28 Mar 1992.

(1) Date: Fri, 27 Mar 1992 09:34 EST (51 lines)
Subject: Re: 5.0784 Criteria for Computer Distribution

(2) Date: Thu, 26 Mar 92 15:11:32 CST (62 lines)
From: (Dennis Baron) <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: plagiarism

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 1992 09:34 EST
Subject: Re: 5.0784 Criteria for Computer Distribution

We started a program of computer competency at Ball State in 1984 that
had as its goal a computer on each faculty member's desk and a ratio
of labe computers to students of 1:14. Eight years later, we have
very nearly achieved the first goal and have pretty much concluded
that 1:20, where we have been for about two years, is more in keeping
with good facilities planning. Of course, as any faculty member will
tell you who places heavier demands on a machine than word processing
and e-mail, the ratio means little if the right kinds of machines
aren't in the right places.

We began assigning computers to faculty first on the basis of who was
a curricular advisor. Since they had to have access to our mainframe
based advising system and student data base, they needed, and got, the
first pc's we brought in, AT&T6300's (of lamented memory). After that
we assigned machines by priorities set by deans and department chairs,
which sometimes meant that senior faculty got doorstops, but not too
often. More recently, the computer has become a negotiating tool
with new faculty, with the result that in a fair number of cases new
faculty have rather better systems than senior faculty, sometimes for
good reason.

We are on a three-year planning cycle in computing funding:

Year 1--distributed computing, campus networking, server upgrades
Year 2--graphics and scientific workstations
Year 3--microcomputers and local area networking

We are currently in Year 1 of the second time through the cycle. The
cycle does not mean that only one area gets funded each year but
rather that planning emphasis is place on that area for that year.
What I hear from deans and department chairs is that for the next
micro year they would like to look more closely at upgrading faculty
systems. We still have a lot of folks using 8086 and 8088's even
though we haven't bought one in the last four years.

|* Herbert Stahlke *|
|* Professor of English *|
|* Associate Director *|
|* University Computing Services *|
|* Ball State University *|
|* Muncie, IN 47306 *|
|* 317-285-1843 *|
|* Bitnet: 00hfstahlke@bsuvax1 *|
|* Internet: 00hfstahlke@leo.bsuvc.bsu.edu *|

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------74----
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 92 15:11:32 CST
From: (Dennis Baron) <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: plagiarism

As long as Bernie brought it up, why don't we discuss what is
plagiarism? It is something I deal with all the time as a writing
program director, but it is something I feel very uncomfortable
defining. The problems I have been wrestling with this year are
the following (much of which has been prompted by Thos. Mallon's
excellent book, _Stolen Words_, and by the many accounts over
the past 2-3 years in the Chronicle of Higher Education).

1. There is a disparity between how we treat students and professional
writers who plagiarize. Students are more severely punished for
plagiarism than their professors or other professional writers are.
Student plagiarism is treated as a crime, professional plagiarism
as an embarrassment. In cases where faculty actually lose their jobs
it is usually that the professor is not fired but voluntarily resigns,
with no admission of guilt, possibly taking along a year's pay,
possibly moving to a better job with no record of the (alleged) crime.
A student is expelled, and courts are reluctant to interfere with
such internal workings of the university. Whose career is ruined?

2. There is a sense that plagiarism is permitted all around us. Public
figures (mostly politicians) have their words scripted by anonymous
writers. Best-sellers are often ghosted by explicit or hidden co-
authors. In administration, memos and reports are silently
incorporated into other memos and reports all the way up the line. In
some cases collaboration is the norm, individual ownership of text the
exception. Should we then be surprised that students have trouble
negotiating the difference between originality and copying, which also
has a cultural spin? According to Mallon, Alex Haley plagiarized part
of _Roots_. His publishers reached an undisclosed settlement with the
author of the original material. Yet when Haley died recently, the
reputation of _Roots_ and its (purported) author appeared untouched
by scandal. The writer who admitted plagiarizing from Martin Amis's
first novel left fiction (temporarily?) to become head writer for
L.A. Law (there must be irony in this). The professor who quit after
his plagiarism was discuvered during tenure review went on to a career
at NEH, monitoring the rest of us! (These cases are all in Mallon).

3. Perhaps the most celebrated case in point is Martin Luther King's
plagiarized dissertation (discussed in detail in last June's _Journal
of American History_). Some people are outraged to learn of it. Others
shrug it off, concluding it is insignificant in the context of King's
overall achievement. Still others feel the very mention of it is
racist. One line of argument suggests that ministers are expected
to use other people's words as the (unattributed) subjects of their
sermons, that African American rhetoric in particular encourages
borrowing, and so what King did was perfectly normal.

It seems to me not just the definition, but the ethics of plagiarism
turns out to be more complex than we thought. Any comments? What should
we do? (In case you were wondering, I do come down hard on student
plagiarists, and I think I should continue to do so--no waffle there.)

Dennis Baron debaron@uiuc.edu
Dept. of English office: 217-244-0568
University of Illinois messages: 217-333-2392
608 S. Wright St fax: 217-333-4321
Urbana IL 61801