Archive for the 'Academic Horror Story' Category

Academic Horror Story (Duke University)

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

From Until Proven Innocent by Stuart Taylor and K. C. Johnson, about the Duke lacrosse case:

The Duke president addressed the [lacrosse] team for the first time since May a few weeks into its fall practice. . . . When Brodhead opened the floor for questions, Read Seligmann’s former roommate, Jay Jennison, spoke up. He said that all of the team had learned much from the case . . . “What have you and the administration learned?” Jennison asked Brodhead. . . . Brodhead responded, “What do you think I should have learned?”

Head of a prestigious institution of higher learning resistant to learning or at least admission of learning. Curious.

Tulane University.

Academic Horror Story (Tulane University)

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

A few weeks ago, the manager of a New Orleans art gallery told me a story that I wish had surprised me.

When he was a senior at Tulane University, he took a Political Science class about the British Political System. For his term paper he wrote about the functions of the British Cabinet. The night before the final he got a phone call. It was from the Tulane honor board: He was charged with plagiarism. He was devastated, and did badly on the final.

The next semester a hearing took place. At the hearing, he listened to a tape of his professor’s testimony. The professor recommended that he be expelled: Not only had he plagiarized, the professor said, he had flunked the final. The supposed plagiarism was that he had listed ten functions of the British Cabinet without giving a source. He had believed that this was common knowledge, such as saying the sky is blue, and thus did not need a source. He had not copied word for word — he had paraphrased his source. The honor board gave him an WF for the course — withdrawal with an F.

The charge of plagiarism is absurd. It isn’t even obvious that the student did anything wrong — he is correct that you don’t need to reference “the sky is blue.” The telling part of this story is not that an individual professor was cruel and stupid — it is that a committee of professors backed him up.

Another case — this time at Memorial University of Newfoundland — where a committee of professors did exactly the wrong thing with awful consequences for an innocent person. The current Memorial administration now defends this!

A website about how IRBs (institutional review boards) abuse their power. IRBs are university-wide committees that oversee research. They consist mostly of professors.

So you can see why I wasn’t really surprised.