June 2, 2010

A CULTURE OF PLAGIARISM

Setiono Sugiharto
The Jakarta Post
Publication Date: 18-02-2010
A recent report on plagiarism implicating a professor from a private university in Indonesia has set a bad precedent for the integrity of academic honesty.
Alleged to have published a plagiarised article in this paper, this senior scholar apologised to the readers, saying that his ignorance was to blame for not citing the name of the author, to whom he must have acknowledged in his article (Kompas, February11).
In fact, such intellectual fraud is only one of many cases of academic infringements that have plagued academia in Indonesia. In 1999, a junior lecturer from a university in Bandung was accused of copying an American linguist’s ideas in his article, which he had published in this newspaper. Still in the same year, a doctorate candidate from a prestigious state university allegedly plagiarised his student’s thesis.
With an avalanche of plagiarism cases here, we have unwittingly nurtured a culture of plagiarism. In fact, the habit of copying one’s intellectual property is deeply rooted in our education. A simple case is a teacher who is fond of asking the students to provide answers of an exam in line with the materials provided to be memorised.
A number of studies on plagiarism have suggested that plagiarism is culturally rooted, and that understanding plagiarism under the framework of culture can provide useful insights into how it is perceived differently by different cultures.
Originally from the Latin word for 'kidnapping', plagiarism is quite hard to define precisely. In its broadest sense, plagiarism is defined as a conscious attempt to duplicate someone’s intellectual work without proper acknowledgement of the original sources.
In his classical book, The Logic and Rhetoric of Exposition, Harold C. Martin likens a plagiarist to a bank embezzler or a manufacturer who mislabels his product. Plagiarism, however, is not always restricted to the stealing of written ideas or information. Duplicating such works of arts such as musical compositions, plays, paintings, and other visual images without acknowledging or attributing the original source is also a form of plagiarism.
It is useful to distinguish between two types of plagiarism often committed within academic circles. The first is known as “verbatim, word-for-word, or cutting and pasting plagiarism”. This form of plagiarism is often committed by novice or inexperienced student writers and the plagiarised works can be conspicuously compared to the original because the former bears a great resemblance to the latter in terms of content, style, structural patterns and diction.
The second is “rewording or paraphrased plagiarism”. In this type, the plagiarised works have undergone modifications in terms of writing style. Proving whether a scholarly work is indeed a product of rewording plagiarism is no easy feat. This is because a plagiarist may have skillfully and eloquently modified the original works by restating and abbreviating others’ ideas using their own personal style.
Irrespective of its type, plagiarism is intellectual fraud that can impair ones’ (be they professors or students) academic career. It is indeed an intellectual sin for a professor to have committed plagiarism. As an academic staff with the highest academic rank, a professor is supposedly knowledgeable about the conventions of writing in scholarly works such as refereed journals and other forms of publications.
The professorship granted to an academic staff is strictly conditioned by the amount of research they have done and the number of scholarly publications in referenced journals. Thus, it seems antithetical to say that a professor is ignorant of academic writing conventions (i.e. citing and quoting properly, synthesising, summarising, and paraphrasing) and unwittingly copies one’s scholarly works without proper acknowledgment.
Unlike a student who is an outsider or stranger to the academic community - a specific community with a set of conventions to comply with - a professor is an established member of the community who is presumed to be knowledgeable about the conventions in the academic community.
Thus, plagiarism committed by a professor can never be condoned. For one thing, as an established member of the academic community, a professor has a sound understanding of what constitutes plagiarism and what its consequences are. He may have learned that flouting the conventions set up by his community is a gross violation and a serious offense to his academic career. He is also aware that an academic caught red-handed plagiarising can be suspended or even expelled from their institutions.
For another, a professor is a moral epitome to be emulated. He has the privilege of supervising doctorial candidates. As such, he must stand at the forefront of the promotion of the universal aim of higher education, which is the perseverance of intellectual honesty.
(The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta and the chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.)

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