Monday, November 25, 2013

Plagiarism: Not just storm in Tee cup

Plagiarism: Not just storm in Tee cup

Lim Teck Ghee | November 25, 2013
A serious charge of academic dishonesty has been allowed to remain unanswered since 2010 when the authorities were first notified about it.
COMMENT
The case of prominent Utusan Malaysia columnist, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, who has been accused of plagiarism should be of public concern for several reasons.
Firstly, within academia, there are few worst sins than plagiarism. The term “sin” may appear to be too strong but Ridhuan Tee who, regularly from his Utusan Malaysia pulpit, dishes out his pseudo-intellectual views on developments in the country from a supposedly Islamic perspective probably will understand better the use of this term in the context of the wrongdoing he is alleged to have committed. Or then again, perhaps he does not.
Generally, university students enrolled in any university in the world – whether reputable or not – are taught right from the start that they cannot simply lift or copy the work of others without acknowledging and citing the source. This is cardinal rule number 1 – the need to differentiate between one’s own work and that of others.
The rule is rigorously enforced not only to encourage the student to engage in fresh and original work that stems from his own thought processes but also to protect the intellectual property rights of others whose works, ideas or words have been borrowed.
In the case of the allegation made against Ridhuan, apparently he has copied not only entire paragraphs but also the grammatical errors which appeared in the original blog article.
According to the initial report on the allegation, UTM lecturer Dr Airil Yasreen Mohd Yassin claimed that Ridhuan’s individual assignment for the Grade DS51 Efficiency Level Assessment (PTK4) coursework conducted from May to June 2010, contained paragraphs he had written in his blog in 2009.
Punishment for plagiarism
The penalty for plagiarism is always severe so as to punish the offender and to discourage others from engaging in it. If the work is an essay or a project paper and the plagiarism is proven, this below is an example – according to a handbook for its freshman composition course that all undergraduates are required to take – of the penalty imposed by Harvard University.
Harvard policy requires instructors to report all suspected cases to the dean of the college, and most such cases are ultimately adjudicated by the administrative board. If the majority of board members believe, after considering the evidence and your own account of the events, that you misused sources, they will likely vote that you be required to withdraw from the college for at least two semesters.
Since a vote of requirement to withdraw is effective immediately, you lose all coursework you have done that semester (unless it’s virtually over), along with the money you have paid for it. You must leave Harvard; any return to campus will violate the terms of your withdrawal. You must find a full-time job, stay in it for at least six months, and have your supervisor send a satisfactory report of your performance in order to be readmitted.
Finally, any letter of recommendation written for you on behalf of Harvard College – including letters to graduate schools, law schools, and medical school – will report that you were required to withdraw for academic dishonesty. If you are required to withdraw for a second time, you will not, ordinarily, be readmitted.
No action by the authorities
In response to the renewed disclosure of his alleged wrongdoing, Ridhuan Tee has accused his critics of “character assassination” and challenged them “come and face me upfront”.
This matter is not whether one side or the other has the “telur” (cojones) to confront the other and slug it out. It is one in which stakeholders, who should be concerned about the integrity of our academic system, will need to take a position so that the charge is resolved once and for all, and repetition of such instances is deterred.
There is a second cause of concern. A serious charge of academic dishonesty has been allowed to remain unanswered since 2010 when the authorities were first notified about it.
Apparently nothing has been done by the university authorities or the ministry in charge of higher education. Worse still, the alleged guilty party has been promoted rapidly in the university system.
Now what do these developments say about our university system? That plagiarism is perfectly acceptable among academics, in particular those writing in the national language in the university system?
That the National Defence University does not view plagiarism as a serious issue? Or that plagiarism is so pervasive in the university system that it is of little use in trying to fight it?
Or that if plagiarism stems from an academic who is waving the Islamic or racist battle flag that favours the present ruling party, it is somehow deemed to be acceptable?
Perhaps the authorities have conducted their investigations and have arrived at findings which have found Ridhuan not guilty of the allegation. Or perhaps Ridhuan has admitted to making an honest mistake in reproducing the excerpts and passing them off as his own words.
If so, the authorities need to come out with a statement and full explanation in the interest of transparency and accountability, as well as in ensuring justice to Ridhuan Tee.
No action from Utusan
And lastly what does it say of Utusan Malaysia, the national newspaper recently lauded by the Prime Minister for being “in the forefront of reporting in this country and shaping the mindsets of the people” as well as “being a symbol of the Malay struggle and a representation of the achievement of the Malay community”?
Any other respectable newspaper would have suspended its staff or columnist who has been accused of plagiarism and would not have permitted the errant person to continue writing until the charge has been proven to be without substance.
In the case of Ridhuan Tee who has set himself up as the champion of true Islamic values and ethical behaviour, one would have expected the paper to be concerned about abiding by journalistic ethical norms and of avoiding being seen as guilty by association.
But then perhaps the word “plagiarism” is not found in Utusan’s dictionary or there is no one else that the paper can turn to who can produce the erudite commentaries that flow from Ridhuan’s pen?
Stakeholders taking an interest in this case should not only be political parties such as MIC and the DAP.
They should also be members of the committee that screened Ridhuan Tee’s paper and promotion, and the Vice Chancellor all of whom have remained mum in the three years since this issue was first raised as well as the larger community of academics.
The public whose taxation monies are used to finance our universities need to remind the authorities that this is not just any storm in a teacup but one that reflects on how serious we are about upholding international standards.

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