Monday, August 04, 2008

Syllabus Plagiarism (cont)

The Chronicle has an op-ed on syllabus plagiarism that cites my blog post on the topic. I should say that I think the piece oversimplifies my position (i.e. I find value in seeing teaching as a collective enterprise in addition to an individual one) and find it odd to ascribe an opinion to me without asking. The author, Jennifer Sinor, has faced having her syllabus copied verbatim by another professor. I concede that some syllabi may be more original than others and remain sympathetic to the author's concerns, but I am unswayed to the main point. 

And the straw man of postmodernism is unhelpful: I don't think that nothing is original, but syllabi often are hybrid affairs. The grant proposal comparison is apt: while one shouldn't copy a proposal, who writes one without another as a close template?

That said, there are some insightful claims in the piece: where one stands on the position may correlate to the teaching-research mix of one's position. 

6 comments:

Andrew said...

I know this isn't the main issue of your post, but what do you think about "official news" outlets citing blogs without contacting the authors? It seems strange to quote you and never even contact you for comment.

Even though you are properly credited, it's an issue that has come up for me recently. What if you didn't want your blog post "officially reported" by a news outlet??

Chris Cagle said...

The way I look at it, I'm putting my words out there in a public forum. I don't have a problem with a news outlet citing my blog as it would a book or another magazine, etc.

I hope your experience with the press was not an unpleasant one?

As for the ethics of contacting the author, I think it behooves a writer to do so if the blog's words/ideas are potentially unclear or contentious or if the piece is profiling the blogger. Beyond that, I say they treat everything as public record.

MInd you, sometimes relying on blogs is just lazy journalism.

As for Sinor's article, she did write that odd speculative phrase "Cagle might ask me." My email address is readily available: why not find out what I'd ask?

Anonymous said...

My two cents:
1) This is probably not an issue to be resolved by legal means (i.e. I don't think there's a case of intellectual property theft/plagiarism at stake for all the reasons stated in the article and elsewhere)

2) But it seems like a breach of professional ethics. Reusing a piece of writing verbatim and de facto claiming it as your own is not an acceptable educational practice. (Especially for someone teaching writing!) The offending party should be reprimanded by the institution, or at least warned that his acts are at odds with the general ethical practices required by the profession.

btw, for what it's worth... I know the Chronicle author cited you (among others) in the lengthy article, but seems to me this may not really be about you or your blog... There really is a more concrete issue here.

Andrew said...

But really laziness is the most "concrete" issue here. Sinor's colleague didn't claim the syllabus as his own, he "cited" Sinor on the first day of class. Just as Sinor cited her sources--even speculating on what they *might* say--without actually contacting any of them.

Anyway, it's just an op-ed and it doesn't really matter, but it seems to me that Sinor's piece is just laziness in a different forum (which happens to be the Chronicle of Higher Education).

Andrew said...

And by the btw, it was not my experience with the press that was unpleasant. A friend of mine had his message board post (a small message board of 50 or 60 users) about an incident quoted at length by a news outlet, including republication of photographs he took, without being contacted.

He basically handed them the story, doing all the work, and this "reporter" didn't even contact him to ask whether or how this message board user wanted to be represented.

So I think there is a more direct connection between syllabus plagiarism and Google-search journalism, when you think about it.

Anonymous said...

My syllabus is not quite a piece of my "writing". It may be unique (more unique that most!), but it's ultimately a collection of assignments, readings, and policies that I decided upon through a great number of considerations (including, in some cases, looking at someone else's syllabus!). The course itself is, after all, not about something of my invention, but about a body of knowledge that I had little or no role in discovering. So my writing is a lot more unique, and a lot more labor-intensive, than my syllabus. So the idea of plagiarizing a syllabus seems kind of like the idea of plagiarizing the way I run faculty meetings, or the organization of my bookshelves. Besides all that, I'd probably be flattered if people were ripping off my syllabus; and at any rate the syllabus is a small fraction of the work I do to prepare for a course. You can't crib my teaching by cribbing my handouts.

Sinor does have a good point, however, when she's talking about an overworked female professor having her teaching preparation used by a lazy colleague at the same institution, with whom she'll be compared for promotions, etc. The danger is that the one professor becomes the teaching prep mule for the rest, who happily go on their way to promotion and advancement without doing work they're expected and contractually obligated to do themselves. One would hope for a department where people would ask to use other people's course material, and where those from whom it's borrowed wouldn't threaten to sue, but not all departments are like that.

I hope she's quite satisfied. SBy giving her reeal name and institution, she has practically announced to the country that her colleague borrows syllabi (it would farily easy to find out who), when it's not clear she ever confronted him and talked to him about the problem.

Jeremiah J.