Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Case of Plagiarism in Southern Illinois

This is from Plagiarism in Colleges in USA, a page by Donald B. Sandler. The similarities between the two cases of "citation infraction" by doctoral candidates, M. Jamil Hanifi and Glenn (or Glendal) Poshard, are striking but the difference in the fate of the two dissertation submitters is glaring. I wonder if the faculty panel who produced the report on Glenn Poshard's dissertation could read this without blushing.

M. Jamil Hanifi plagiarized material from a book and an essay in his doctoral dissertation at Southern Illinois University in 1969. Hanifi later published "his" dissertation in a book, of which "three of the nine substantive chapters ... were plagiarized." The author of the essay discovered the plagiarism in 1976, the author of the book discovered the plagiarism in 1977. Southern Illinois University learned of the plagiarism in 1981. At that time, Hanifi was a professor of anthropology at Northern Illinois University, who was being considered as a new chairman of the department. Tersely summarizing a long recital in the court's opinion, Hanifi was given the choice of resigning or being fired, Hanifi chose to resign. Hanifi then filed litigation that alleged that his resignation had been coerced. Hanifi v. Board of Regents, 1994 WL 871887 (Ill.Ct.Cl. 1994).

The court said the following regarding plagiarism:
John LaTourette, the current president of Northern Illinois University, who was the vice-president and provost of that university in 1981, acknowledged that plagiarism is "probably the most serious charge against a faculty member that one could imagine." The president of the university in 1981, William Monat, similarly acknowledged that plagiarism is "probably one of the greatest offenses that can occur in the academic community." Mr. Hanifi, himself, has written to others and admitted during his testimony that plagiarism involves "a complete lapse in professional judgment, moral sense and respect for academic ethics," "a most serious violation with dishonor, shame and guilt," "unethical conduct," "dishonorable and unprofessional conduct," and "dishonorable act and reprehensible and condemnable," "a violation of basic scholarly activity and serious misconduct," "a despicable act and a serious mistake." Mr. Hanifi acknowledged that the plagiarism is not erasable.
Id. at *2.

The court concluded that Hanifi had failed to prove that his resignation had been coerced. Note the court's final sentence about the bad character of a plagiarist:
From a thorough review of the evidence in this case, we find that the Claimant has failed to prove that his resignation was involuntary, coerced or the product of duress. The testimony of Claimant and Respondent's witnesses is at loggerheads. To believe Claimant's testimony as to coercion, duress and involuntariness, we would have to disbelieve numerous other witnesses and find some grand conspiracy among the top officials at Northern Illinois University to injure Claimant, which would include mass perjury. Claimant has presented no compelling evidence to corroborate his testimony and therefore in light of the credible testimony disputing his claim, we find his testimony incredible. Frankly, we do not believe this admitted plagiarizer when he claims his will was overcome and he did not know what he was doing.
Id. at *6.

At the risk of being boring let me repeat the words of Mr Hanifi, as reported by Sandler:

"a complete lapse in professional judgment, moral sense and respect for academic ethics," "a most serious violation with dishonor, shame and guilt," "unethical conduct," "dishonorable and unprofessional conduct," and "dishonorable act and reprehensible and condemnable," "a violation of basic scholarly activity and serious misconduct," "a despicable act and a serious mistake."

Compare these words with President Poshard's.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Latest on Southern Illinois Plagiarism case

Inside Higher Ed reports that Southern Illinois University (SIU) president Glenn Poshard has been cleared of deliberate plagiarism. It seems that a panel appointed by the university found that the president did not intentionally plagiarise his doctoral dissertation awarded by SIU in 1984.

The seven-person committee of senior faculty, whose report on Poshard was unveiled Thursday, recommended that the university take no action against the president. It calls for the dissertation to be withdrawn from the university library and be replaced with a corrected copy prepared by Poshard, and for the president to write a statement that expands on why his errors occurred and speaks more broadly about the “culture of integrity” at the university. (The panel noted that allegations of Poshard plagiarizing his master’s thesis follow the same pattern as those in the dissertation, so it chose to focus on the latter.)

Still, the report is far from a ringing endorsement of Poshard’s past work. The committee notes that there are many cases in the dissertation in which “the words of others are present in a continuous flow with Student Poshard’s own words, so that readers cannot distinguish between those sources.” Given the modern-day definition of plagiarism at Southern Illinois’s Graduate School as “representing the work of another as one’s own work,” the report says the allegations against Poshard would be “sufficiently supported,” were it not for the historical context of the case.

But that context is vital, the report notes. At the time when Poshard was a graduate student at Southern Illinois, the graduate school’s student handbook lacked a definition of plagiarism. The panel found that Poshard had used an “informal style” of citing sources that was commonly embraced by other graduate students. Faculty members advising him on the dissertation approved the style then, and no one asked him to clarify anything at the time of submission, the report finds.

The mistakes were most likely products of “carelessness” and fall into the category of “inadvertent plagiarism,” according to the committee.

Poshard has denied the allegations of intentional wrongdoing but left open the possibility that he made accidental errors. During a meeting with the faculty panel, the president said his dissertation committee had no qualms with his style of citation, which often included scant inclusion of quotation marks.

“Even though the Review Committee says these mistakes were unintentional and inadvertent, they are my mistakes. And I take full responsibility for them,” he said at a news conference Thursday. “They are not the fault of my committee, my department, my college or my university.” He added that “whether one wants to argue whether what I did constitutes plagiarism depends on how you feel about me.”

The main points that emerge from the panels findings would seem to be that:

  • a large part of Poshard's literature review consisted of bits of other people's writings some of which were cited but not quoted and some of which were neither quoted nor cited
  • but, while corrections should be made, Poshard is excused because it was common for graduate students at SIU to use an "informal style" of citation (does that mean anything other than copying?) with the approval of their instructors and supervisors, because the graduate student handbook did not have a definition of plagiarism and because his dissertation committee did not find anything wrong with his citation style.

I hope that what follows is an accurate summary of the committee's findings. Poshard committed technical errors but was not seriously at fault because graduate students at SIU routinely constructed dissertations by copying pieces from other works.

I hope that somebody will examine a sample of dissertations from the Southern Illinois Education Faculty and find out whether the faculty has in fact been condoning mass plagiarism over the years.

It also might be an idea to take a close look at the dissertations and see whether SIU also had an "informal style of data collection".

This report is a remarkable document. If taken seriously it ought to make graduates of SIU over the last two and a half decades unemployable and call its accreditation into question.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Leiden Rankings

The Centre for Science and Technology Studies at the University of Leiden has developed a ranking system based on bibliometrics, that is the quantity of academic publication. The Centre has presented results for the largest 100 European (including Israel) universities.

The rankings use a multiple- indicator approach, using several methods of presenting the same data. The Centre explains:

The latter point is very important: on the basis of the same data and the same technical and methodological starting points, different types of impact-indicators can be constructed, for instance one focusing entirely on impact, and another in which also scale (size of the institution) is taken in to account. Rankings based on these different indicators are not the same, although they originate from exactly the same data. Moreover, rankings are strongly influenced by the size-threshold used to define the set of universities for which the ranking is calculated. This is very clearly illustrated by comparison of the top-100 versus the top-50 European universities.

The Centre provides four different Rankings. The top ten in the yellow list, number of publications, is as follows.

1. Cambridge
2. University College London
3. Oxford
4. Imperial College London
5. Munich
6. Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris 6)
7. Milan
8. Utrecht
9. Catholic University Leuven (Flemish)
10. Manchester

The green ranking is
by "size-independent, field-normalized average impact "

1. Oxford

2. Cambridge

3. ETH Zurich

4. Lausanne

5. Geneva

6. Edinburgh

7. University College London

8. Erasmus Rotterdam

9. Imperial College London

10. Basel

The blue ranking is by citations per publication

1. Lausanne
2. Geneva
3. Oxford
4. Basel
5. Karolinska Institute Sweden
6. Erasmus Rotterdam
7. University College London
8. Cambridge
9. Edinburgh
10. Zurich

The orange r
anking is by "size-independent, field-normalized average impact "

1. Cambridge

2. Oxford

3. University College London

4. Imperial college London

5. Utrecht

6. Helsinki

7. ETH Zurich

8. Catholic University of Leuven (Flemish)

9. Munich

10. Karolinska

See the Centre's web site for an explanation of the technical terminology.

What is interesting about these rankings is that continental European universities are closing in on Oxford, Cambridge and the London colleges and when it comes to the citation of academic publications are beginning to move ahead.

As a measure of current research performance these rankings are superior to Shanghai Jiao Tong which counts long-dead Nobel prize winners.