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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: UA plagiarism cheats students

    You know how we get those syllabi at the start of each year, and the professor has to go through each item on the list and talk about it? And how there’s always that part about “academic integrity” that inevitably condemns plagiarism and other forms of cheating and provides a link to the Code of Academic Integrity? What’s the first item listed under “prohibited conduct” in the code?

    “Cheating, fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty and plagiarism,” the code says.

    And what are some of the sanctions listed for any violation of the Student Code of Conduct? Expulsion. Suspension. Degree Revocation.


    In light of the recent news of assistant professor Susannah Dickinson’s plagiarism of former student Nick Johnson’s graduate thesis, it seems we have a double standard at hand.

    As excellently illustrated in Max Rodriguez’s article in the Daily Wildcat last week, there’s an enormity of bureaucratic red tape present when filing a formal complaint against a faculty member. Johnson filed his complaint against Dickinson on April 25, 2013. He first received notice of the committee’s decision on Aug. 28.

    Meanwhile, back in the land of the Code of Academic Integrity, when a student is accused of plagiarism, the faculty member making the accusation must meet with the student within 15 academic days, or no more than 30 with a granted extension.

    30 days. 30 days maximum, but with the plagiarizing shoe on the other foot, Johnson had to wait upwards of 16 months.

    Oh, and about Dickinson’s punishment? Despite the university’s investigation finding her guilty of taking roughly 20 percent of her article word-for-word from Johnson’s thesis without proper attribution or crediting, all that Dickinson received was a series of plagiarism workshops, a notification to her publisher and a formal admonishment that will reside in her personnel file. See translation: a slap on the wrist.

    I don’t know Professor Dickinson, I don’t presume to know her and I don’t truly know if she did in fact do what the ad hoc committee has found her guilty of doing.

    However, if this kind of plagiarism had been done by a student, there would have been hell to pay. I know a professor who opens each year with the tale of how she got an international student at her last college  literally deported because he plagiarized.

    Students get zeroes on papers, they fail classes and — lest we forget — the Code of Academic Integrity says the university can expel them for this kind of violation.

    Additionally, plagiarism, like Dickinson’s, is not only immoral — it’s illegal. See the UA’s Fair Use Checklist, which details potential exceptions to the need to gain a copyright holder’s permission for using information, and which would make Dickinson’s plagiarism intellectual theft and a violation of the Copyright Act of 1976.  

    What kind of message is the UA administration sending by allowing Professor Dickinson to continue teaching in the School of Architecture? What kind of message is it sending when it deters a student every step of the way for trying to take credit for his own work? Whose side is it on here?

    A university should be an institution that protects its faculty, but not at the expense of its students. This holds true especially for a university that likes to remind people that it’s ranked 19th in research and development expenditures among public colleges by the National Science Foundation, a dubious honor if that research remains unprotected and if the processes around investigating violations stay murky. This is an institution of higher learning. There is an unwritten agreement between pupils and professors that both are committed to students’ education above all else. Dickinson and, even moreso, the university have broken that agreement. They have betrayed the students of the University of Arizona.

    “Faculty members shall foster an expectation of academic integrity,” the code says.

    Yeah. Sure.


    Paul Thomson is an acting and Africana studies senior. Follow him on Twitter.

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