Faculty Council committee creates official definition of plagiarism

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Photo Credit: Steph Sonik | Daily Texan Staff

Plagiarism: Every professor warns their students to avoid it, but until last week, UT had not officially defined what plagiarism is.

Maurie McInnis, the executive vice president and provost, charged the Research Policy Committee with officially defining plagiarism in September 2018, committee chair elect Sharon Horner said. The Faculty Council approved the page-long definition at its meeting last Monday, and it will be published in the University’s Handbook of Operating Procedures, Horner said.

“There’ve been times when complaints come forward, and they’ve had trouble adjudicating because there’s no official definition,” said Horner, a professor and associate dean for research and nursing. “Every professor has their own (definition). The (Office of the) Dean of Students lists one and so on and so forth.”

 

The official definition of plagiarism from the committee’s draft is simple: “Plagiarism occurs when a person represents another’s material as their own work without proper attribution.” It also includes six footnotes that specify what “material” and “proper attribution” mean, who is responsible for enforcing a plagiarism accusation and how the definition was created using official sources such as the Office of Research Integrity. 

“The thing that probably makes it different from other published definitions is that it’s not limited to just what you write because in our modern day, it seems that the complaints are coming out about some other ways to plagiarize somebody’s work,” Horner said. “So we wrote it a little more broadly. It’s just not limited to the written word.”

Government senior Delaney Tubbs said she thought the new definition was decent, but she would like to see clearer definitions for all academic dishonesty violations, including cheating, because different professors have different policies.

“(My friend) and I will often do reviews for tests together, so we’ll end up writing very similar things on the test because we worked on it beforehand,” Tubbs said. “We always try to check (with) our professors, like ‘Can we work on this together?’ They’ll usually say yes, but some students might not have thought to ask.”

Tubbs said she would also like a clearer distinction between intentional plagiarism and accidental plagiarism. The new definition states intentional plagiarism falls under academic dishonesty, which could result in disciplinary action. Since it is a definition and not a policy, it does not include what actions will be taken next based on what kind of plagiarism the student commits. 

“When you think about crime … it’s different when you intend to do something and if you accidentally do something,” Tubbs said. “That’s why we have manslaughter and homicide. I feel like it’s a lot worse if you paraphrase someone and don’t put an in-text citation stating where you got the paraphrase versus blatantly copying word for word what someone else wrote.”

Journalism freshman Kiara Vega said she would like the University to notify students about the change once the definition is published.

“I would like the University to send out an email saying, ‘Just to let you know, we created a new definition for plagiarism,’ because I didn’t know about this until (now),” Vega said. “The school needs one simple policy because I’m barely coming into this University, and I’m terrified of plagiarism.”