Saturday, January 13, 2007

Where Goes Media Professionalism?

The other day we had a staff meeting to go over some of the papers together in order to reach a uniform grading standard across all the TF's. We deleted students' names from their cover page to make their ID anonymous, and then we passed the papers around in the room for each one to look at and then to come up with a grade. Then, discussion.

When one of the papers came under the spotlight, 2 of the 6 people immediately felt that the paper is plagiarized. Not that the person was suspected of plagiarizing from an online source or a published article/book, but that the person may have recycled another term-paper for this one. One of them suggested calling the student in and confronting the person directly. The other person seconded, saying that this paper draws too many outside sources uncovered in class that this is suspected of a term paper from another course that deals with a very similar topic.

The TF who is the section leader of the student, however, spoke up and suggested that it's best to first find out if the student had in fact enrolled in the other course mentioned. If it is indicated that the student has never taken the course before, then he/she naturally is proven innocent.

"But the person could still easily borrow a friend's term-paper and turn it in as his/her own," one of the 2 people who earlier argued for a finding of plagiarism disagreed.

"In the case of plagiarism, we should confront only when we are pretty confident that this is going to make a case ... But even so, I think it's best to call the student in and confront straightforwardly," the remaining one who also suspected a case of plagiarism added.

I was utterly frustrated by then.

"Guys, hold on a sec ... What if this person just has this amazing interest in the topic? Come on, I myself went out of the way to do a ton of reading on this topic even when I was 15. I mean, couldn't that be the case for this student?" I finally opened my mouth.

The discussion then took the tangent of talking about the student's background and the possibility of this person taking a strong personal interest in the topic. The conclusion - though by no means conclusive - was that yes, given this person's background, that possibility is valid.

However, the other 2 still insisted that if there is a case of plagiarism, we should not let the person go. At the end of meeting, one of the two people - by sheer fact of being in a position of higher authority - made an executive decision to call the student in for a talk.

"Alright, but can you guys make sure to at least look up the past registrar's record and see if the student actually took the other course?" The TF in charge of the student finally said. I sense a little frustration in the tone of voice.

Now - what is my point?

My point is - besides the fact that from this incident I realized that I'm naturally a very trusting person and terrible at suspecting people's ill will or malicious intentions - here in the U.S., PLAGIARISM IS TAKEN SERIOUSLY. By plagiarism, one means not only just the copying of passages or paragraphs or phrases of another person's work. Even PARAPHRASING falls into the same category of plagiarism as long as no citation or acknowledgement is given.

However, in Taiwan or in most of the East Asian countries (at least in my limited understanding), plagiarism - either in academia or mainstream media - still seems like nothing but a distant bell ringing far far away from, possibly, this place called "the Western tradition."

The other day, a piece of my original writing was massively used in a 3rd party's personal blog space without any notification or request for my consent of publication. Worse than that, there was no quotations whatsoever given except a little "PPS" (note: "PPS" not "PS" even) that spells that the particular entry takes "consideration" or "reference" to the original piece of writing that I composed.

Actually, the person didn't even say it was from an original piece of writing. "A record written by so-and-so," the person stated.

A "consideration" or "reference"? "A record"? You call something that's 90% close to the original (including not only the content but also the style of writing, the tone of voice, and even the particular choice of words) a mere "reference"? Come on! Even "paraphrasing" would be too far-fetched.

Btw, this was the blog space managed by a very senior media professional in TW.

I decided to say nothing and let the matter go.

However, the situation saddens me.

Now, today I realized that my original piece of writing, later on published by a mainstream newspaper, was treated with incorrect professional editing. There was a huge mistake concerning a part of an important dialogue that I discussed in my writing. By erroneously indicating the "comment" of an audience member that day as, instead, the "answer" of the lecturer, the entire context changed and the credibility of the lecturer eroded.

I literally went face-down, with my forehead sitting against the desk surface in front of me for a good 15 seconds. Thank goodness I didn't start banging my head against it.

In any educational institutes in the U.S., a case of plagiarism usually results in an academic probation if not expulsion from school. In fact, that is a stern, heavy message that I've learned since American School back in Taipei. Teachers take this policy seriously, and students dare not trespass the rule recklessly.

Even starting from my ESL class in 9th grade, I have been told the golden rule of - edit, edit, and edit some more. There are reasons for having 1st draft, 2nd draft, and final draft. There is also solid validity for why one needs a 100-pg MLA handbook if not a water-downed version of it FOR FREE from the library.

Someone just told me today that in their Communications Dept., anyone who messes up a date or mis-spells an URL address would receive an automatic "F" for the paper. A standard of professionalism that the senior professors proudly behold.

Don't complain to me and say that these are meticulously harsh and unreasonable standards for students to keep up with. When you make it clear to the students that you mean every word that is said when you say, "plagiarism = bye-bye to your school/degree," trust me, they don't go there unless they are truly desperate. And when you start penalizing them for seemingly careless spelling or quotation mistakes for incredibly important passages, oh ... they learn fast.

And then, when they graduate and go off to become professionals - they won't bother to go there.

梅ちゃん at 2:43:00 PM



at 1/13/07, 11:48 PM Anonymous Ferdinand said...

Suddenly I wonder if I've plaigerized... :) Wow, that sucks. Was the paper that got illicitly used the one that you'd recently written and were very proud about? The one most recently published?

If so... Hrmm...

I guess there's quite a gap in policy, eh? But, how do people police translational work? If a guy translates your piece overseas without ascribing you credit, how likely is that to be caught? Without serious threat of being found, I think that probably encourages this kindov behaviour.

Hmmm... That sucks.

at 1/15/07, 1:08 PM Anonymous johnjihoonchang said...

growing up in the west (or at least in the US), i tend to take plagarism very seriously too. i might use copious amounts of another's work, but i will also take the pains to cite every source. i think part of it comes from the fact that i would hate it if someone took a piece of my original writing, used it and claimed it as their own work. i find such behavior despicable.


Post a Comment