The professor who plagiarized from students

If you tried to compile a list of university students who’ve been accused of plagiarism, you’d probably run out of paper. Computers and the internet have made it easy to copy and paste another person’s work. And when you have three research papers due tomorrow, the temptation is great, especially when you’ve set foot in the library only once the entire semester and that was to check out the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Yeah, students plagiarize all the time (not that it’s acceptable). But you rarely hear about a professor plagiarizing, perhaps because they’re really good at it. I’ve certainly never heard of a professor plagiarizing from his or her students. Until now, that is.

February 21, 2008 — The black Columbia University professor who
last fall found a hangman’s noose pinned to her office door plagiarized
the work of another faculty member and two students, according to a
school investigation released yesterday.

The plagiarism probe
was already under way last year when a 4-foot twine noose was
discovered on the door of psychology and education professor Madonna
Constantine’s office, officials at the university’s Teachers College
said.

They said they disciplined Constantine for stealing other people’s work for articles she published in academic journals.

They cited two dozen instances of plagiarism over the past five years
that were substantiated in an 18-month investigation by a Manhattan law
firm.

Teachers College spokesman Joe Levine would not say how
Constantine was punished, but college officials said her position is
secure. [Link]

Her position is secure? That’s amazing. What’s a professor to do to get fired? If two dozen instances of plagiarism aren’t enough, perhaps she needs to try something else, such as lying on her CV.

In a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg News Service yesterday, Constantine said she was the victim of a racist conspiracy.

The school accused her of plagiarism because of the "structural racism
that pervades this institution," she charged. "As one of only two
tenured black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to
conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted." [Link]

I’m confused. Is she talking about the noose or the plagiarism charges? If she’s talking about the noose, then yes, it appears that she’s the "victim of a racist conspiracy" and "been specifically and systematically targeted." But if she’s talking about the plagiarism charges, well, perhaps she needs to copy and paste a better defense.

At Teachers College earlier
this week, a memo that circulated among faculty members about the
plagiarism probe thanked a former professor, Christine Yeh, and two
former students – Tracy Juliao and Karen Cort – for cooperating.

Juliao, now a health psychologist in Detroit, said she was "shocked"
when, as a Columbia student, she saw an article published by
Constantine that contained "direct phrases" from her own 2004
dissertation.

"It was unbelievable to me to see my own work
published by someone else who I had essentially trusted," she said.
"You go in as a student thinking you should be able to trust your
faculty." [Link]

Yeah, you never expect your professor to steal from you. It must be a strange feeling, sort of like getting money in the mail from a televangelist or running into a thin person at Old Country Buffet.

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If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

Comments

  1. Quite a story! It almost feels like a JK Rowling scripted Dementor’s kiss in reverse gear.
    Plagiarism has become a matter of subjective discretion. In many dissertations, especially when they are technical or business related, it is always convenient to end them by citing sources from where the data / facts or the entire paragraph has been taken. By doing so, you keep the sceptics (read consultants and lawyers who pull the strings of content) away from their Blackberrys to dash off emails asking for “sources”; and the presentation looks much stronger at the end of the day!

  2. Nice story!
    Atleast somewhere in the world plagiarism is dealt with seriously. In India plagiarism is like a fundamental right. Copying assignments and submitting someone else’s work on your own name is common. Its also not unusual for university teachers “developing” their own books by copying text from a few foreign authors.

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