WASHINGTON (AP) — The downfall of Harvard’s president has elevated the threat of unearthing plagiarism, a cardinal sin in academia, as a possible new weapon in conservative attacks on higher education.
Claudine Gay’s resignation Tuesday followed weeks of mounting accusations that she lifted language from other scholars in her doctoral dissertation and journal articles. The allegations surfaced amid backlash over her congressional testimony about antisemitism on campus.
In high school, I had a Literature teacher who made us do a book report which included the bio of the author, the historic time frame when the book was written, any background on why he/she wrote it and then analyzing the book itself plus our conclusions. It was to be 30% of our total grade and we had 6 months to write it. She gave us a long class on quotations including how to keep track of them and to religiously notate them. When she finished that particular class, she looked at us and said “Some of you will be tempted to plagiarize somebody, please don’t. I read a lot and I have better sources than you.”
My paper was about Orwell’s 1984 (What a surprise, huh?) and I sweated bullets trying to get any material in Spanish. The teacher was generous and shared some of her stuff, but dumped a bunch of other material in English which forced me to live with a frigging English/Spanish dictionary while working on the report. I also got and gave help to bookworm buddies when we did our research in libraries: If we bumped on a book or periodical about a book we knew somebody else was working on, we would write it down and pass it along. Dude date was about a month and a half before school year’s end, we turned it in, and we eventually forgot about it as kids do.
The last Lit class was dubbed Massacre Day. The teacher arrived with the stack of reports and a somber demeaning. She divided the works in three sub-stacks and proceeded to call the individuals one by one to come pick up their report while announcing the grade. The big stack was mostly C’s and some D’s caused by what she said was lousy/lazy work (She was a great teacher but a heartless scorer, we knew that already.) Then came the “medium” pile and she starts to call some of the “best and brightest” of the class and announcing their collective grades: Big fat F for plagiarizing material.
At this time, I realized I had not been called and neither most of my bookworm friends. Ther was about seven of us left and she call the whole lot to stand in front of the class. I was sick to my stomach wondering how bad I fucked up to be called up and what was lower than an F. All of the guys in front but one had scored A’s and one guy B because of misspellings (I did forget to mention, we had to turn in out paper typed, and typewriters did not come with spellcheckers.)
Her last words for us were about the dangers of plagiarism. It was intellectual theft, and you would be treated as an intellectual criminal and a dishonest human being. That day ws probably one of my best memories of high school and a teaching moment I never forgot.
Now I am sad to see her proud standard that she branded in our spirits is nothing more than a small impediment in today’s academia.