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Plagiarism in Academia

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All Language Alliance, Inc. provides academic document translation services that are often needed to detect plagiarism in academia cases. Academic integrity remains an important issue at universities across the nation. While issues surrounding academic honesty typically involve concerns with students at the college level, even the most respected universities grapple with allegations of plagiarism against faculty members from time to time. As is evident from the case discussed below, plagiarism in academia may be difficult to detect without a professional foreign language translations service.

In Newman v. Burgin, 930 F.2d 955 (1991), the plaintiff, a tenured assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts (“University”), brought a civil rights action after she was formally censured and disqualified from serving as an administrator or as an academic board member at the University for five years. The University claimed she had engaged in “seriously negligent scholarship” amounting to “objective plagiarism.” The subject of the dispute involved a 13 page article that Professor Newman wrote discussing a poem by a 17th century Croatian poet. After one of Professor Newman’s colleagues suspected that she might have copied portion of the article from a book written by a German author in 1952, the University investigated.

Another professor translated the relevant portions of the book from German into English and found many similar passages between the book and Professor Newman’s article. The University also had two scholars of the Slavic language at other universities review the article for plagiarism. Professor Newman contended that the similarities did not constitute plagiarism for several reasons and pointed out that she had actually cited to the German book three times in her article’s footnotes. A hearing was held, at which Professor Newman was allowed to present evidence, call witnesses, and present colleagues who supported her. Professor Newman argued, among other things, that the similarities between her article and the German book simply reflected “general knowledge” among scholars about the poem which did not required attribution. She also claimed that she essentially paraphrased her Master’s thesis from Harvard University in her article and that her thesis had been found to be adequate by a well-known scholar in the field. After the hearing, the investigatory committee concluded that Professor Newman had no “conscious intent to deceive” but found her scholarship to be “negligent” and an “objective instance of plagiarism.”

After the University censured her, Professor Newman filed a lawsuit alleging violations of her right to due process. The University filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Professor Newman then filed an appeal, but the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. In its ruling, the First Circuit held that the undisputed facts showed that the University had, in fact, provided her with all of the “process” that was due. Specifically, the court held that the University gave Professor Newman the opportunity to defend herself against the claims of plagiarism by seeing the evidence against her, calling witnesses, challenging the decision makers for bias, and reviewing the tentative recommendations before they became final. In fact, the court found that Professor Newman had been given an “impressive array of due process safeguards.”

The court also rejected Professor Newman’s argument that it was unreasonable for the University to find that she had plagiarized when it was undisputed that she did not intend to deceive. While some academic sources define plagiarism as an “intent to deceive,” other sources, such as the one that University’s committee used, say that “to plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written or thought of something that you have in fact borrowed from another.” MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations 4 (New York, Modern Language Ass’n 1977.) Accordingly, the court held that the University did not deprive Professor Newman of her liberty or property without due process of law.

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