Friday, November 14, 2008

Professor who punished plagiarists fired over FERPA

In a piece titled Vigilante Justice on Plagiarism, InsideHigherEd recounts the story of Loye Young of Texas A&M International University whose game plan of "outing" student plagiarists on the net got Young fired because of provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law known widely as the Buckley Amendment or FERPA, which generally bars the release of educational records about students without their permission.

The InsideHigherEd story is pretty detailed, but IPBiz notes the following:

#1. Young gave plagiarizing students an F for the course and he reported them to university officials. In 1965, Joe Biden, now Vice-President elect of the United States, got an F in a legal writing course for plagiarizing five pages of a law review article, and was reported to Syracuse Law School officials. Biden later re-took the course. In the election of 2008, Biden's plagiarism was basically a non-issue.

#2. The President of a different school in the University of Texas system, Dr. Blandina Cardenas, has been accused of plagiarism in her own Ph.D. thesis, which plagiarism was more significant than that of Allison Routman, who was expelled from Semester at Sea for copying portions of three sentences from Wikipedia. If anyone here was a victim of vigilante justice, it was Allison Routman.

InsideHigherEd wrote:

Young says that FERPA is being used to cover up the real reason the university wanted him out: that it was facing an instructor unwilling to stay quiet about students’ academic dishonesty. “People here are told that students should be babied and that we need to keep ‘em in to get enrollment and state funding,” he said. “Well, I want students — when they complete my course — to actually know something, and they can’t if they plagiarize everything.”

That his actions distressed many at the university as much as the plagiarism, he said, shows the extent of the problem. “This beehive needed whacking,” he said.

There was mention of an underlying due process issue:

Several faculty members, speaking privately because they didn’t want to anger administrators, said that they were taken aback by the way the university appeared to be viewing plagiarism as an issue requiring more due process for students, not more support for professors. For the university to follow the dismissal of an adjunct with this reminder, they said, left them feeling that they couldn’t bring plagiarism charges. Further, many said that they believed it was a professor’s right to award an F to a plagiarizer and that this should not require an honors council review.

Due process under the 14th amendment may be of some concern for a state school, but it is not an issue for a private school.

InsideHigherEd also wrote:

Pablo Arenaz, provost at the university, said he was distressed that some faculty members are concerned about the university’s commitment to academic integrity. Asked whether a professor has the right to award an F to someone caught copying, Arenaz said that was “up to interpretation.” He said it was important that everyone respect students’ due process rights when plagiarism is suspected.

See also

Poaching Poshard, Batman; another university president accused of a plagiarized Ph.D. thesis!

***UPDATE. Nov. 17

The Daily Texan noted:

Young, who also operates a computer business in Laredo, was terminated for violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that prohibits the release of students’ educational records without consent. But he said he does not believe he infringed on anyone’s privacy.
“You have to hold them accountable,” he said. “If you don’t, you hold a grave danger of having an illiterate society.”
Renita Coleman, a UT assistant professor who taught a journalism course on ethics in the spring, said there are better ways to handle plagiarism.
“I don’t think that it serves anybody well to publicly humiliate them,” she said. “It doesn’t teach anybody that it’s wrong.”
Coleman said each university has specific guidelines for dealing with cheating, and situational factors should be taken into account. She said she has dealt with repentant plagiarists who weren’t punished severely since they said they learned a lesson.
“Admitting your mistake and making an effort to fix it goes a long way,” she said. “Motivations matter.”

The text "motivations matter" evokes the "inadvertent plagiarism" defense of Glenn Poshard at SIU.

Newsobserver wrote:

But his firing has caused a furor on campus, where faculty members say the university is showing more support for dishonest students than for a professor enforcing the rules.


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