Friday, May 06, 2005

Is Student Plagiarism Worse than Faculty Plagiarism?

I ran across two posts on plagiarism by Professor Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner on their Becker-Posner Blog. If you are not an economist you might not recognize their names. Suffice it to say that Becker is a Nobel prize winner and that Posner is his match in intellectual debate. These two titans of thought have some disagreements when it comes to plagiarism.

Becker makes a point that we've made here before: Technology has made it easier to plagiarize. Surprisingly, he disputes our contention that technology has also made it easier to detect plagiarism. He argues that plagiarism is harder to detect and so should be punished more severely than in the past. We here at Socrates Tech, leaders in teaching with technology that we are, are well acquainted with all the high-tech tools that exist to detect plagiarism. We would argue that detection is easier. If you grant that point, then Becker's conclusion that the plagiarists of today should be punished more severely than in the past falls apart.

The Becker-Posner debate distinguishes between faculty and student plagiarism. Becker's take is that faculty should be punished more severely (fired!) for plagiarizing, but Posner's view seems to be that professors should get off more lightly. Posner justifies his argument on the basis of the contention that less harm is done by faculty plagiarism than by student plagiarism.

I have problems with both men's arguments. The idea that a faculty member should have his or her livelihood taken away for a single instance of plagiarism seems unduly harsh. The line between the legitimate use of sources and plagiarism of those sources is sometimes blurred. A significant loss of income would seem to be sufficient punishment. As for Posner's argument, the problem is that by treating faculty plagiarism differently from student plagiarism, we encourage it.


Blogger Dr. Tammy said...

I heard of an instructor "let go" at one of the universities where I also teach. It wasn't publicized, but I was asked to take the course over & when asked what happened to the instructor, was told that plagarism was the problem. I was taken back to say the least. I guess this happens in online teaching more than one is aware.

2:39 PM  
Blogger nadia said...

Any form of plagiarism no matter by whom, should be treated the same. If we let either side off we are giving and setting excuses for those in the future who do not want to learn from their own knowledge and potential.

7:57 PM  

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