February 23, 2008

Stocks for the plagiarist?

Margaret Soltan argues for public punishment of plagiarists, most recently in the case of Madonna Constantine of Teachers College (Columbia University):

UD sees no reason to keep the nature of the sanction private, and many good reasons to make sanctions public. These people should serve as examples to other professors tempted to plagiarize.

I'm not sure Constantine is avoiding public scrutiny, especially with the New York Times article yesterday on the case. Nor do I think her public comments are doing anything other than undermining whatever case could be made. I suppose one could say that anyone disciplined on any job for serious misconduct should have the details spread on the table like a crime blotter, but there's a reason why we term one a criminal arrest and the other a civil matter.

There are a few problems in making all disciplinary matters public. First, doing so would raise the stakes tremendously inside an institution and eliminate all incentive for faculty who have screwed up from either owning up to mistakes or going away without a fight. Second, making all sanctions public would penalize the first institution that does so by making all their faculty misdeeds an open book; who would go first? Third, it would reinforce the double standard that already exists with K-12 teachers, who are often assumed to be more moral than the general population instead of held to a reasonable standard of competence and decent behavior.

Besides, didn't we do away with putting criminals in stocks a long time ago? So why we should do it with plagiarists and not convicted criminals seems an odd proposition to me.

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Posted in Higher education on February 23, 2008 10:36 PM |