5.0828 Final Words on Plagiarism (3/165)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 15 Apr 1992 18:08:59 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0828. Wednesday, 15 Apr 1992.

(1) Date: 05 Apr 92 22:36:30 EDT (113 lines)
From: Eric J Cadora <70373.2576@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: David Schaps' letter in 5.0806 Rs: More on Plagiarism

(2) Date: Mon, 6 Apr 92 10:28+0000 (24 lines)
Subject: Plagiarism

(3) Date: Mon, 6 Apr 1992 16:00:22 -0400 (28 lines)
From: "David A. Hoekema" <hoekema@ravel.udel.edu>
Subject: Plagiarism

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 05 Apr 92 22:36:30 EDT
From: Eric J Cadora <70373.2576@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: David Schaps' letter in 5.0806 Rs: More on Plagiarism (3/161)

I recently read David Schaps' commentary on "dubious cases" of
plagiarism (See 5.0806 Rs: More on Plagiarism (3/161)). I was
fascinated and confused (if not a bit disturbed) by the conclusions he
reached concerning an anectodal example of such "dubious cases" of
plagiarism in which two of his students wrote the same essay on an
Let me recount my confusion, and maybe Professor Schaps can
clarify his account. So as to avoid any accusations of plagiarism of
Professor Schaps' letter, I will to the best of my ability enclose in
quotations all of his text that I use in illustrating my confusion.

On one of his exams, Professor Schaps presented an essay
question to his students that was "loosely worded to allow a broad
range of answers". In response to the essay question, two of his
students (an Arab and a Georgian) wrote, word for word, exactly the
same essay (although both had misspelled words differently). The
Professor was confused; but, after speaking with both students
separately, the matter became clear and he found that "the Arab student
had (on [the Professor's] recommendation to all [his] students)
prepared himself well on what he had judged to be a major subject of
the course, [then] written (in advance of the test) an essay on the
subject, and then memorized his own essay". The Professor goes on to
write that "the Georgian had borrowed the Arab's notes, and he, too,
memorized them. Then both of them wrote them on the test, word for
misspelled word".
Since both students memorized answers and because "comparing
notes is a legitimate form of study", the Professor felt obliged to
give both students the "80 that the answer deserved". But, asserts the
Professor, he decided that in the future he would add to his exams "a
notice that the answers must respond to the question asked, and that
[he] will no longer give a passing mark to 'pre-fab' answers". After
all, the Professor reasons, "although memorization is one way of
study, I try to test the student's ability to think for himself as

In fact, the originality of the Arab's answer is cast in doubt
by the Professor because he felt obliged to put "notices" on future
exams which would prevent the morally "dismaying" act of passing off
"'pre-fab'", "memorized" answers as authentic acts of independent
thinking. If "comparing notes is a legitimate form of study", and the
Arab "had prepared himself well" and "written" "an essay on the
subject" and then "memorized his own essay", "what difference does it
make whether" the "Georgian had borrowed the Arab's notes" or not! The
Arab had written an "essay" in preparation for the exam, while the
Georgian had simply memorized and recounted what the Arab had himself
Professor Schaps' confusion is evinced in his failure to
recognize the difference between "notes" and an "essay", a distinction
he makes himself. A "note" for Professor Schaps has a quasi-factual
status, a status which is accorded immunity to the accusation of
plagiarism for the very reason that it is morally open to an act of
"memorization". But an "essay" is "proof" of one's "ability to think
for himself".
The professor diminishes the value of the Arab's original essay
when he says that "the Georgian had borrowed the Arab's notes, and he,
too, memorized them". But the Georgian had done much more than simply
borrow notes; he had memorized an original essay that the Arab had
written, and simply recounted it on the exam. Why does Professor Schaps
conflate the Arab's "essay" into "notes" that the Georgian borrowed and
then fail to recognize the difference between the Arab's original essay
and the Georgian's memorization of it?

For Professor Schaps, spelling errors were a sign. They marked
a deeper mistake than was immediately recognizable, so he "handed in
[his] grade-sheet with no 'mark' for these two students", waiting until
they "came to [him] (individually)" so that he could better
discern their differences, "and the matter was cleared up quickly".
"Spelling errors" of a sort abound in Professor Schaps' text. As I
noted, the Professor confuses "essay" with "notes"; in a sense, he
misspells essay as notes. A different ambiguity, or if you will,
mispelling, occurs when the Professor notes that he had "two students,
one an Arab and one a recent immigrant from Georgia". Why not an Arab
and a Slav? Who is this Arab? Is he a Saudi Arabian, Bahraini, Iraqi,
Egyptian? Unlikely. Is he perchance, Palestinian? Why is Professor
Schaps specific about the national origins of the "immigrant", a
Georgian, while so general and effacing about the "Arab". If political
contingencies prevent the Professor from seeing the national origin of
the "Arab" as Palestinian, and forces him to "misspell" Palestinian as
Arab (an error in discerning differences), is this "misspelling" the
root of the more superficial error of mistaking an essay for notes?

The Professor gives us a clue to an answer when he defends his
decision to give "the Georgian the same 80 [the same score he gave the
Arab]". He asks "what difference did it make whether he [the Georgian]
had learned the information directly from my [the Professor's] lectures
or indirectly from the Arab's notes"? The Professor reduces the Arab's
original essay to notes which come "directly" from the Professor's
lecture, and which are simply "learned" "indirectly" by the Georgian.
In this way, the Professor claims as his own, the Arab's
original essay, insofar as he effaces the Arab's original work and
implies that it is simply a transmission of his own lectures: the
Professor says that the Georgian gets the same thing "indirectly" from
the Arab that he would otherwise get "directly" from the Professor. Is
the Professor saying that the original and "well prepared" essay of the
Arab is of no more value than the Georgian's memorization of it, and
that the Arab's original essay contributes nothing original to the
subject other than simply transmitting the Professor's lectures? Is
this a sort of unintentional plagiarism on the part of the Professor,

Eric Cadora
Brooklyn, NY

P.S. -- Since I am no expert in Islamic studies, I would ask
that the Professor please cite the sources for his assertion that
"Islamic scholarship is based heavily on memorization". Thank you.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------44----
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 92 10:28+0000
Subject: Plagiarism

I'm sympathetic on the whole to Irvine Hexham's definition, but I think he
goes too far. Plagiarism isn't theft; it's a misleading claim to
ownership, and is thus more like fencing (selling stolen goods as if you
had a legitimate title to them). Thus his 2 and 3, since ownership is
acknowleged, aren't plagiarism, though they may be formal offences against
Rules of some kind (it's rather Amerocentric to assume that MLA, Chicago
etc. are universally recognised as arbiters of correct practice,
incidentally). The kind oborrowing summed up as pinching other people's
footnotes _can_ be plagiarism, and no doubt usually is when mistakes are
transmitted from one footnote to another. But what of the case, not
infrequent in my experience, when you read X, who cites passage Y in a
footnote in such a way as to make you realise that it's relevant to your
concerns (which are not X's)? What Hexham calls self-plagiarism also seems
to me to be a questionable definition. There must surely be a legal and
moral distinction between claiming other people's property as mine and
claiming that my old property is a new creation. What this amounts to is
that there are a number of possible offences against the canon of good
conduct; it's not helpful to call them _all_ plagiarism.

Timothy Reuter MGH Munich
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------37----
Date: Mon, 6 Apr 1992 16:00:22 -0400
From: "David A. Hoekema" <hoekema@ravel.udel.edu>
Subject: Plagiarism

A small but diverting sidelight on the perplexing issue of
plagiarism--which is more difficult both to define and to
prevent than commonly assumed, as Bernard Van't Hull has argued:
In preparing a forthcoming study of campus discipline (_Campus
Rules and Moral Community: In place of _In Loco Parentis__,
forthcoming in a series of volumes on academic ethics from
Rowman and Littlefield) I obtained student conduct codes from
about 30 colleges across the country. One contained a very
detailed, four-page account of plagiarism, illustrated by a
passage from a secondary work on Locke's _Second Treatise_,
followed by helpful examples of wholesale borrowing, borrowing
of key phrases, rephrasing major ideas, and so forth. The advice
was detailed and helpful; there was no attribution, but it had a
familiar ring. Sure enough: more browsing turned up precisely the
same essay on plagiarism, all four pages reproduced verbatim, in two
other college handbooks, in both of which it was duly credited to a
published rhetoric handbook. (To find out which university it
was that plagiarized its plagiarism policy you'll have to buy the
book, or wait until nearer press time.)
--David Hoekema <hoekema@brahms.udel.edu>
Executive Director, American Philosophical Association
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Delaware || Phone: 302 831-1112
Newark, DE 19716 || FAX: 302 831-8690