Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Postmodern Grade Inflation: Plagiarism

Grade Inflation in Higher Ed, Part III
By Nicholas Stix
May 30, 2001
Toogood Reports

Plagiarism might not seem like a method of grade inflation, but it has developed into one, as so many professors and administrators have turned a blind eye to pervasive plagiarism, as to implicitly encourage it. Instructors give plagiarists high grades for fraudulent work, while giving honest students — whom they are ultimately punishing for their honesty — lower grades.

This spring, plagiarism became a story for all the wrong reasons when a “scandal” erupted at the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia has an honor code, which all students must sign, and which calls for violators to be expelled, or to lose already awarded degrees. Some sixty students stand in danger of receiving academia’s version of the death penalty.

The University of Virginia case was initially reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch; the New York Times and other media organizations eventually followed in the Times-Dispatch’s footsteps. Some critics have implied that the case is evidence that honor codes do not work, while implying that schools with no honor code, and where no scandal appears on the media’s map, are oases of academic virtue.

The scandal was uncovered when a student complained to her physics professor, Louis A. Bloomfield, about her grade for the Fall 2000 semester. She claimed that many students who had gotten higher grades did so through handing in plagiarized term papers.

Extraordinarily, Bloomfield actually DID something! Developing a computer program for matching phrases of six words or more between different papers, he found that some sixty of his 1,800 students over the previous five semesters had handed in the SAME paper; overall, 122 students were found to have plagiarized their work.

Ninety-nine out of one hundred professors in Louis Bloomfield’s situation would have passed the buck. And few of those 99 will be fans of Bloomfield’s.

Jere Crook is another professor who did the right thing. Poor sod. In 1997, while teaching at Catholic Fordham University in The Bronx, Crook caught a student engaging in plagiarism, and flunked her. Crook showed his superiors, through examples of the student’s typical work, and the vastly superior work she had suddenly handed in, that she had cheated. His bosses, however, proved downright hostile to standards of truth and morality — and to Jere Crook’s insistence on them. When the student complained, Fordham “flunked” Crook instead. (Since Crook was an adjunct professor, Fordham simply refused to renew his contract.) The student received no punishment.

As Jere Crook told me in 1998, “The dean was very annoyed at me about my protestations. He said, ‘You put me in a very difficult position.’ This was the same dean who had circulated an announcement that he wanted the faculty to be especially vigilant about student cheating.”

I am sorry to report, that in the universities of the Church of St. Peter, too, it is a brave, new world.

When I taught college, I soon learned the need to avoid becoming a “Crook.” In my second semester, I received a batch of brilliant papers on Plato’s Republic from community college students, including one masterpiece that was better argued and more beautifully written than the labor of love I had produced on the same topic for a Ph.D. seminar. Since I knew that confronting the plagiarists would result in my pony-tailed, radical feminist, the-student-is-always-right, male boss stabbing me in the back, I quietly knocked a full letter grade off of the semester grade of the “author” of each perfect paper.

Thereafter, I had students write ALL drafts in class. After correcting and grading their drafts, I sent them home to type corrected versions, which they would hand in along with their classroom drafts. I would then check to see that they had incorporated my corrections. I gave each student a half-grade bonus for completing the corrected version.

Granted, that strategy cost my students precious classroom time, but based on reports from the “postmodern” classroom predominating under many of my colleagues, it was time well spent.

There is a certain poetic justice to plagiarism becoming pervasive on today’s campus. For today’s reigning set of academic dogmas, known variously as “postmodernism” and as “multiculturalism,” deny the virtue of academic honesty. The postmodern dispensation, most closely identified with French “philosopher,” Jacques Derrida, says “There is no author!” as well as denying distinctions between right and wrong, and truth and falsity.

Multiculturalism, on the other hand, denies the existence, or at least the moral value of the individual; is opposed to private property (e.g., authorship); accordingly, promotes “group projects,” in which all get credit for the work of one or of a few; and makes standards of morality and truth dependent on one’s membership in a privileged group. For instance, if one is a member of an officially “oppressed” (aka “underrepresented,” “underserved,” etc.) group, such as blacks, women, Hispanics, homosexuals, or the handicapped, one is under no obligation to follow the rules of the “oppressor” culture.

The plagiarism case of Martin Luther King, which dates back to the 1980s, shows just how depraved academic culture has been for some time.

In the mid-1980s, academics discovered that Martin Luther King had been, since childhood, a compulsive plagiarist, and had only gotten WORSE with age. The most notorious case of King’s plagiarism was his 1955 Boston University doctoral dissertation.

As Theodore Pappas shows in his book, Plagiarism and the Culture War, King stole one-third of his dissertation, word for word, from other writers, primarily his classmate, Jack Stewart Boozer’s, 1952 dissertation on the same topic.

That King didn’t even try to cover his tracks, shows that already in 1955, something was very rotten in white academia. (Would negro professors at an historically black university have looked the other way, in a case of such gross plagiarism? I doubt it.)

Leading academics’ response to King’s plagiarism, was to dissemble, lie, and when all else failed, come up with a pathetic, multicultural rationalization.
From 1987-1990, “historian” Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project, deliberately misled journalists. Boston University President Jon Westling lied, insisting in 1990 that “not a single instance of plagiarism of any sort has been identified.”

When, despite the help of friendly mainstream journalists, the story could no longer be suppressed, Keith Miller, a white composition instructor at Arizona State University, cooked up a theory of “voice merging.” According to Miller, blacks CANNOT commit plagiarism, because the black oral tradition does not recognize intellectual property rights. Miller wasn’t bothered by inconvenient facts, such that King had taken courses on plagiarism and intellectual honesty, and that for a man who was indifferent about intellectual property, King exhibited a downright Prussian thoroughness, when it came to copyrighting the works he had authored, as well as those he had stolen from other men.

While Jacques Derrida & Co. are too irony-deficient to appreciate that, according to their own arguments, they may no longer lay claim to the authorship or ownership of their “own” writings — if you doubt me, just try plagiarizing them — their moral nihilism has taken its toll on academic culture, which is morally on shaky ground in the best of times.

Grade fraud’s most powerful support, however, inheres in a regime of intimidation directed against the adjunct professors who at most Asphalt League campuses comprise the majority of the faculty, a regime that makes fighting fraud a matter of fighting City Hall.

Next column: Fighting City Hall.

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