The onus of plagiarism is on the individuals

By Ben Lim Chiow Ang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-23 07:59
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Plagiarism is a dirty word in academic circles and generates quite a lot of discussion on campuses

There have been many documented incidents of plagiarized research papers published in the academic journals by professors of acclaimed universities, doctoral candidates plagiarizing research findings in their dissertations and postgraduates passing off other people's theses as their own. Undergraduates have been caught copying other people's theses verbatim, in their entirety and college students plagiarized their coursework reports.

Many social commentators are blaming problems such as a superficial evaluation system where professor promotion is based on having a minimum number of published works, lax supervision by faculty who turned a blind eye to plagiarized works, the rigid demand of writing a thesis in undergraduate programs and lack of knowledgeable superiors who can sift through and identify the plagiarized works of their peers.

It would be naive to believe plagiarism would be nipped in the bud if the above problems were resolved.

We have to understand the fact that plagiarism is an academic misconduct committed by an individual and not an organizational problem. This is not to imply that universities and colleges can shirk from their responsibilities if their professors or students plagiarize.

On the contrary, the university must set strict academic ethical standards and offer guideline for their professors. In the same vein, institutions of higher learning and colleges should implement an academic code of conduct for their students.

But, at the end of the day, the ultimate decision on whether to abide by ethical principles really rests with the individual.

Any professor or student worth his or her salt know full well that a well-researched and written thesis is a laborious work involving endless hours, which at times seem like an eternity.

It is an overwhelming task for students writing their first research paper as well as professors writing for their tenth, or even hundredth time.

The complete dissertation involves a critical review of various academic literatures leading to a research hypothesis, deciding on the appropriate methodologies when it comes to research and data collection, the actual data collection work, analysis of data to see if the research hypothesis holds up and discussing the empirical findings with a sound conclusion and recommendation.

Unfortunately, in our quest for instant success, honesty has been thrown out of the windows. Professors and students alike take short cuts and blatantly copied other authors' work, partly or wholesale. Old-fashioned integrity is a virtue of a bygone era.

I believe it is time to go back to the drawing board for all the stakeholders in the academic circle. The right values of academic integrity must be embedded in the culture of our universities and colleges. The heads of schools must fulfill their commitment to the principled values of academic honesty.

Individuals at all levels from the deans right down to the students must learn to assume responsibilities for their own action and not simply point a finger at the existing imperfect educational system. The onus is on individuals to uphold the values of fair play in academic work.

It will be a really sad day for China academia when it dawns on us that our first reaction is one of skepticism when confronted with a research thesis.

Let's work together to restore the credibility to academia.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/23/2010)