Academic Horror Story (Tulane University)

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.

One Reply to “Academic Horror Story (Tulane University)”

  1. Hey,

    I know someone with a similar case. He received a 2 year suspension for using material from a website on a 4 page paper in his last semester before graduation. I am interested to know if you know what happened to the person you wrote about (if he was able to finish college, get a job, etc). Thanks and have a good one!

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