Monday, September 27, 2010

"intent" in plagiarism at UVa

LBE wrote the following to the Cavalier about a past discussion in which the element of "intent" is to be added to the definition of plagiarism at the University of Virginia:

For the sake of history, here is some discussion from September 2009:

Although Sam Leven spends much time saying intent IS an element of an Honor Offense, his conclusion on intent is: “Because the Intent Clause is ambiguous in many ways, however, adding intent to the definition of plagiarism would solve multiple problems.” The CURRENT UVa definition of plagiarism does NOT include an element of intent. In an upcoming paper on academic plagiarism, researchers survey definitions of plagiarism at universities on four continents, and find that NONE include intent as an element of plagiarism. In dealing with the PUNISHMENT phase AFTER plagiarism is found, intent IS a factor. Because UVa chooses to have only one punishment (expulsion) for an Honor Code violation, UVa would tinker with the definition of the “crime.” Apart from the general silliness of this approach against a background where other universities have a fairly uniform definition of plagiarism, the proposed UVa change would foster the concept of “inadvertent plagiarism” as exemplified in the Poshard matter at SIU.


One "Bob" wrote:

Oh, I might add both of you (Mr. Ebert and Mr. Leven) should take a minute to actually think about what the other is saying before you fight each other. Both of you made yourselves look like idiots in last year’s discussion as you were actually arguing the same thing, yet because you chose different words, thought you were disagreeing and attacked each other.

Mr. Leven – To the average person, who hasn’t spent years involved in the Honor System like you did, an “Honor Offense” is the Act itself, not the three components. So, when you say “intent” is a component of the Honor Offense, to someone not familiar with our system, it sounds ridiculous. To them, the “Honor Offense” is the Act, and Intent and Triviality are just what determines how the offense is punished, if it is punished at all. That’s why Mr. Ebert went nuts when you kept saying intent is an element, since he’s not familiar with how our system works, so to him, what you were saying literally sounded nuts.

Mr. Ebert – You have to understand that Mr. Leven spend six years in the Honor System here, and is used to only talking with people who understand its terminology. The Honor Code here, by its OWN definitions, not by Mr. Leven’s choice, actually defines an “Honor Offense” as “An act of lying, cheating or stealing, done with dishonest intent, which is non-trivial.” In other words, in the Honor System’s own terminology, the act itself, the requisite intent, and the requisite non-triviality, are all ELEMENTS of an “Honor Offense,” and when any one of these things is lacking, by Honor’s terminology, it is not an “Honor Offense.” This is why Mr. Leven kept saying intent is an element, not because he viewed intent as part of the act, but rather because the System itself defines an Honor Offense as more than just the act. This may not be intuitive to you, but that’s how the wording works here, so for someone who’s been involved for so long, that usage of the terminology becomes obvious, and is why you two kept yelling past each other last year.

There, in sum, you two actually agree, now stop fighting and sounding like idiots to the rest of us.

If Bob's version is correct, it might seem a bit redundant to add the element of intent to the "crime" of plagiarism, which is a species of the genus of "Honor Offense."

There is only one punishment for a finding of an Honor Offense, expulsion, as poor Allison Routman found out in being put ashore in Greece from Semester at Sea, run by UVa. The ruckus at UVa, post-Routman, has been to find a way to deal with the Draconian punishment without messing too much with the Honor Offense system itself. Although Bob writes -- the point of the re-definition was not to change how plagiarism is defined, per se, but rather how it is punished once it is found. -- Sam Levens has a far better grasp of the problem UVa has. Bob, and others, try to point the finger at out-of-control professors (The problem people have with the Routman case is that the process followed to convict her was so different than the process used on grounds at UVA, and it allowed a jury of biased professors, instead of unbiased students, to decide her fate. )

The "one punishment fits all" approach of the Honor Code is the problem, and changing the definition of plagiarism to one not followed anywhere else is not a good remedy. Bob's dissembling doesn't change that reality.


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