Upside down

Six college students commit plagiarism, which is defined as literary theft, but guess who ends up getting fired?

Texas A&M International University in Laredo fired a professor for publishing the names of students accused of plagiarism.

In his syllabus, professor Loye Young wrote that he would “promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating or stealing.” After he discovered six students had plagiarized on an essay, Young posted their names on his blog, resulting in his firing last week.

“It’s really the only way to teach the students that it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Young, a former adjunct professor of management information systems, said he believes he made the right move. He said trials are public for a reason, and plagiarism should be treated the same way. He added that exposing cheaters is an effective deterrent.

“They were told the consequences in the syllabus,” he said. “They didn’t believe it.”

The six students received F’s and were reported to the school, but their grades may not stand because of Young’s blog post, according to

Young, who also operates a computer business in Laredo, was terminated for violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that prohibits the release of students’ educational records without consent. But he said he does not believe he infringed on anyone’s privacy.

“You have to hold them accountable,” he said. “If you don’t, you hold a grave danger of having an illiterate society.”

I don’t know about a illiterate society, but you end up condoning thievery. Personally I take a dim view of plagiarists because I’ve seen my literary work stolen by others. I don’t appreciate people taking credit for my work, when it takes me hundreds of hours to crank out a story or even over a thousand. One online story of mine that numbered over 100,000 words, had me spending the late winter of 2007 and most of the spring getting it written and ready for publication. If I tallied all the time spent working on my tale, I’d estimate it to be in the 400-600 hours range.

The University’s actions are predictable in light of Young not being tenured and Federal law that protects student records. As a writer and blogger, I’m angry the real rule breakers in this affair are getting off with little punishment(Their F grades are under review) other than the humiliation they received from Professor Young.

Renita Coleman, a UT assistant professor who taught a journalism course on ethics in the spring, said there are better ways to handle plagiarism.

“I don’t think that it serves anybody well to publicly humiliate them,” she said. “It doesn’t teach anybody that it’s wrong.”

Coleman said each university has specific guidelines for dealing with cheating, and situational factors should be taken into account. She said she has dealt with repentant plagiarists who weren’t punished severely since they said they learned a lesson.

“Admitting your mistake and making an effort to fix it goes a long way,” she said. “Motivations matter.”

I disagree with Professor Coleman. Humiliation or the fear of it, are great ways to motivate people. Humiliation is used every day in criminal justice and effectively. Wouldn’t it have the same effect in academia?

Hat tip- Professor Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy. Insider Higher Ed is also writing on this news.

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