Thursday, December 4, 2008

Separate and Unequal: The Bosses and the People

[Blog entry revised after clarification from the Office of the President. My criticism of the double standards still stands. Note that there are two draft plagiarism documents, as discussed below, and we also have a draft sexual harassment policy under consideration]

When President Glenn Poshard was under attack for plagiarism, I was one of those who supported his presidency, regardless of the plagiarism.

However, the policy draft to protect the "Office of the President" from charges of plagiarism is outrageous. It sets a double standard for the President's Office. What is good for the President ought to be good for the rest of us, including protection from "frivolous or malicious" accusations.

There is a double standard within the draft plagiarism policy (read on to "frivolous or malicious" charges).

More important, there is a double standard between the plagiarism policy and the draft harassment code.


1. Intent does not matter:

"The fact that someone did not intend to sexually harass another individual is not a defense. . . In most cases, it is the characteristics of the behavior and how that behavior is perceived by the victim that determines whether sexual harassment has occurred."
[Harassment is in the eye of the beholder]
2. Context is enough to convict the accused:

The context -- "pattern of conduct," circumstances, a set of instances-- are proof of harassment.

[Circumstantial evidence is proof of guilt]
3. False, but not frivolous reports are punishable: "False reports" made in "bad faith" are subject to punishment. Frivolous or malicious accusations of sexual harassment are not covered.


There is a
general policy for "Faculty, Staff, and Students" that takes steps to mix justice with mercy -- the mercy and consideration of intent, context, etc. that is lacking in the draft harassment policy.

A second draft applies to the President's Office. The section on punishing those making "frivolous or malicious" accusations is something that critics (myself included) have called for in the sexual harassment code -- but it appears only to defend the Office of the President. That double standard is what set the Daily Egyptian off in its editorial today.

1. Intent is all that matters

"Intentional Plagiarism: Conscious and deliberate plagiarizing of a source or sources.

Unintentional Plagiarism: Plagiarism that is due to carelessness, a misremembering . . . , a misreading of context . . . , or an inadequate understanding of the citation requirements. . . .

Developmental Plagiarism (in written communication, called patchwriting): An unintended plagiarism that is caused by the plagiarist’s effort to produce work that mimics that of a particular community while she or he is not adequately familiar with the ways of expression of that community. This kind of plagiarism can be seen as the product of an intermediate stage in the plagiarist’s development from being an outsider to being an insider....

[This clause is embarrassing to a doctoral granting institution. If we pass a dissertation that is flawed and in the "developmental" stage, what does that say about SIU? "Developmental" smacks of special education, not fully developed, immature]
An act of plagiarism can either be intentional or unintentional....

2. Context excuses the charge:
In providing an appropriate response to any accusation of plagiarism, then, the following factors should be taken into account.

a. Context: that is, whether the context was institutionalized or competitive....
[Here we enter "what is the meaning of 'is' territory]
b. Intent: that is, whether the plagiarist intended to plagiarize in order to fraudulently advance his or her status within the academy....
[Apparently, it is o.k. if you planned on a career outside the academy? Is plagiarism determined by a person's career choice?]
c. Seriousness of the offense: that is, how substantial and significant the plagiarism was.

d. Engagement with the source material: that is, whether the plagiarist adapted the source material with a recognizable intent to integrate the content honestly within his or her own work or mindlessly adopted the source material without a recognizable intent to integrate it.
[When does the plagiarist get a "do-over?"]
e. Extenuating circumstances: that is, whether there exist circumstances that mitigate punishment for the offense....

". . . [T]hose allegations that are deemed to be of substance shall be handled in accordance with the following procedures:"

"An individual who has a good faith belief that plagiarism may have been committed by a member of the Office of the President shall report the allegation to the Office of the President."

[Must the individual identify themselves? Or will plagiarism committees consider third-party, redacted complaints, as with the sexual harassment code?]
3. Frivolous reports punishable to the full extent of university "law" and civil action (think twice, sucker):

"11. Frivolous or Malicious Charges:

It shall be a violation of this policy to allege, file or raise frivolous or malicious claims against members of the Office of the President or the Chancellors of the SIUC or SIUE campuses. If a violation of this section is committed, the University may initiate any and all appropriate action, including but not limited to disciplinary action against an employee or civil action against a member of the public."
I sincerely wish the President's Office had quit while it was ahead. SIU has enough trouble without "protesting too much" an unpleasant past incident. One can attempt to rewrite history but in cases like this it is better to move on. Let's hope this draft policy remains in the "In" box gathering dust.


In tomorrow's DE (5 December 2008), the plagiarism expert who consulted on the Poshard case said that frivolous or malicious accusations ought to be punished. Agreed. So why is that same standard not applied in the case of sexual harassment? To be called a "harasser" is certainly as "weighted" as being accused of plagiarizing!


Leland said...

Later today I'll read the proposed plagiarism policy in more detail, but here are a few "book cover" thoughts so far.
I'm not familiar with the sexual harassment policy debate, but the idea that an administration can insulate itself from plagiarism reeks of arrogance. What is the scope of protection granted by this policy? Does it grant protection if an outside party, particularly the source of the alleged plagiarism pursues legal action?
I too supported President Poshard in the early months of his administration. My chief concern, and I heard the same from others, was if he would be able to make the transition from legislator to leader.
Real leaders take the heat for mistakes, legislators tend to hide behind policy.
With each incident, President Poshard hurts his legacy and the reputation of SIU.

Anonymous said...

It's OK to make frivolous or malicious accusations against faculty, staff, or students but not against members of the President's Office? I think they call this lese majeste.

SalukiDad said...

Oh SIU, my SIU. I think the place now needs an arbitration body for most of these matters -- as long as the unions sign on (a big "if").