Sunday, September 16, 2007

Foul or fair...

The papers have been swamped this week by a tsunami of stories about cheating covering all walks of life. There are few occasions where a connection can be found between my first love, F1, and education. My American audience will probably be familiar with the coach of the Patriots being nailed for furtively videotaping the opposing coach to steal the signals; the story was even on the front page. The fine of $500,000 to him may seem substantial, but it pales completely into insignificance when set beside the colossal $100 million assessed McLaren in F1 for having, and apparently using, confidential documents obtained from arch rival Ferrari via a disgruntled Ferrari employee. The Tribune's editorial page also had a strongly worded piece on the plagiarism seemingly committed by the SIU president Poshard - a story that has been floating around for a few weeks now - written by a bold SIU faculty member. He better check the locks on his office door Monday. Even in our lowly Courier, student rag at COD, there is a piece on plagiarism by students.

The discussion of these various incidents reveals how, to borrow a piece of NPR terminology, nuanced the business of plagiarism, cheating, whatever you want to call it, is. In the sports examples, which, by the way, are getting a lot more exposure than the academic one (surprise), defenders and apologists for the guilty parties say that getting an edge has always been part of the game (implication: there's nothing wrong with cheating). They add with a shrug that the actions didn't really make any difference; in other words what's all the fuss about? During the broadcasts over the weekend from Spa, the level of McLaren sympathy was simply astonishing. Perhaps not so surprising given the level of anti-Ferrari sentiment in the Anglo-philic racing world.

Of the Poshard business, his defenders say that it was all along time ago and is now irrelevant - it was just a thesis after all. A thesis, mind you, that was considered to be an essential piece of his qualifications for the job in the first place. Poshard himself says variously that he was busy at the time and that the format didn't require quotations. So I'm wondering how he would respond to a student using just those kinds of lame arguments to defend the copying of an assignment prior to punting said student out of the institution for violating the code of academic integrity. As we mere mortals labour to impress upon our charges the need for integrity in the process, is it any wonder, given the examples in the big world outside, that our labours are considerably in vain? Consider how the dreadful Mitch Albom has flourished despite blatantly faking a report on a basketball event. There was even talk of inviting him to the college for the lecture series. I would have opened a vein.

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