All Posts Tagged With: "Carson Jerema"
Plagiarism matters more in the academy, and for good reason.
In the wake of the latest plagiarism scandal, there has been more talk to the effect that plagiarism is perhaps not such a big deal after all. People in other fields besides academia are not so uptight about using the work of others, after all, so isn’t plagiarism just another ivory tower formality? Yet another nothing about which academics make so much ado? Is it, in Stanley Fish’s memorable phrase, merely “an insider’s obsession”?
Well, yes and no. Is plagiarism particularly a problem in academics? Yes. Does that make it less important? No. The reason that plagiarism has been and should be taken seriously in universities is not that it is an outrageous impurity or a vicious betrayal of trust, but rather that it undermines the purpose of higher education at a basic level. In this sense, we may call it an ethical, if not a moral violation.
A contrast might make things clearer. When a politician goes in front of a crowd and delivers a speech, she delivers it as her own, using the first person, referring to personal experiences and so on. Indeed, every surface indication is that the politician’s words are her own. Except, of course, that usually they are not. They are probably the words of a team of speech writers who, remain, for the most part, anonymous. So why is it okay for a Premier or Prime Minister or President to take credit for someone else’s work when ordinary students have to sweat it out to credit every single source?
The answer is that the political speech and the student essay have different purposes. In the case of the political oration, the aim is to set out ideas or positions that the candidate or leader is prepared to stand by. It really doesn’t matter exactly who wrote what because what is said is a characterization of positions already assented to by the speechmaker and given as a matter of public record. Even if Governor Firebrand didn’t write her speech to the Twolumps Club, she is still responsible for its content; she can’t turn around and say, well yes, I said that, but someone else wrote it.
A student essay has a different function. The purpose of the essay is to test the student’s mastery of particular skills in a particular discipline. The essay serves as evidence that the student in question is capable of conducting certain kinds of research, synthesizing important information, making a persuasive case, and so on. In a political speech, it is what is actually said that counts; the process is irrelevant. But in a student paper, it is almost the reverse: the particular arguments and conclusions matter little. What counts is whether the student is capable of formulating those arguments in the first place. If the paper is lifted from someone else, it doesn’t demonstrate what it’s supposed to be demonstrating. The armed forces have an annual fitness test; do you think they would allow you to let someone else come in to do your pushups for you? Would they be swayed by the argument that many jobs in life are delegated? No, because the purpose is to test something about you. Students plagiarize largely because they, in fact, can’t do the work genuinely, and so professors must be careful to catch plagiarists if they can. To do otherwise is to certify that graduates are capable of doing things they may well not be. So your doctor misdiagnoses you, your lawyer lands you in jail, and your kids don’t understand grammar because their English teacher is a moron who cheated his way through his degree.
The ethics of taking credit in any field, to be sure, depend heavily on circumstances. A recording artist who pretends to have written a song he didn’t write may be denying a fellow songwriter of well-deserved royalties and may be in serious legal trouble. An executive who takes credit for the collective contributions of her team may be only ungenerous.
A student who copies and pastes his essay from Wikipedia, is trying to get away with something. That’s why we call it cheating.
Olympics visitors cause eviction of 200 UBC frat members
More than 200 students at the University of British Columbia are being forced out of their rooms by their own fraternities — which have decided to cash in by renting out to 2010 Games visitors.
In particular, the admission that frat members had no choice:
At Psi Upsilon, 30 fraternity members who pay $730 for monthly room and board have been ordered to leave their rooms. All possessions must be removed before the rooms are rented out.
Psi Upsilon house manager Aaron Thomson refused to say how much the group is making from its rentals.
He told The Vancouver Province the money would go toward a scholarship fund, to pay for repairs and maintenance work, and to top up the fraternity’s contingency fund.
“We have this great opportunity where we can fix the house and get all this money,” Mr. Thomson said on Wednesday. “It is, of course, difficult for most people to have to leave for a month.”
Thomson said frat members didn’t have a choice in the matter and no vote was held, but he said the majority favoured the plan.
If, indeed, the money will be used to improve frat houses, and directed towards scholarships, wouldn’t it be appropriate to put the case directly to members? Rather than evicting them without cause, why not try and convince them that it is in the best interest of the fraternity for tenants to leave for a month? According to Psi Upsilon’s website, house vacancies occur in September, and that if you want to live there, you have to wait for someone else to leave. Is there a rider in the lease that the agreement becomes during the Olympic? So much for Greek “brotherhood.”
Maybe someone a little closer to the action can tell us whether this is as outrageous as it seems.
UPDATE: As Justin Mcelroy has pointed out, not all fraternities have acted as outrageously as this Can West story has suggested. In fact, many frats consulted directly with members and ensured they were sufficiently aware of plans to rent out frat houses during the Olympics.
That still leaves the question as to whether Psi Upsilon, the frat featured in the Can West story consulted with their members or not. The Psi Upsilon house manager does say that no vote was held and that members did not have a choice.
Justifying the university means justifying what universities do, not what we want them to do
Over at University Affairs, deputy editor Léo Charbonneau, recently asked his readers for their thoughts about protecting universities against the possibility of massive cuts to higher education. He asks, “What’s the best line of argument to protect universities from the cuts to come?”
Charbonneau poses the question after reviewing an article by Paul Wells written for the alumni mag at Wells’ alma mater (see here, page 46). Wells, one of the few national columnists who thinks higher education is worth talking about, admonishes the idea that university administrators should take a pragmatic approach to protecting their funding.
Administrators like to emphasize the economic impact of higher education. Universities are special, they argue. Not only do they contribute to economic activity in the here and now (like every other large employer) but they make our workforce more productive, and contribute to job creation across the entire economy, and in the long term, in ways that no other sector can. Give them more money and we will get more economic growth as a result. ( The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada made this very argument in its pre-budget submission to parliament’s finance committee).
Such a line of argument would be great for universities if it were true, or, if it is true, if it could be proven. Unfortunately this is not really the case. As Wells writes:
The problem with that line of argument is that in a really nasty economic environment, governments on a tight budget will take that as a cue to go hunting for anything a university does that doesn’t, demonstrably, simplistically, generate the ideas that drive a new economy. Whatever they find that looks like a ‘frill’ by that definition will be in danger of getting cut. And frankly, most of what goes on at a university is hard to justify as part of a job-creation mill.
Charbonneau takes issue not with Wells’ analysis, but with Wells’ conclusions that universities “need to go back to basics and talk more … about the intrinsic value of knowledge, scholarship, beauty, contention, and an environment that urges scholars toward ambition and accomplishment.” Charbonneau finds Wells misguided, and says he doubts “whether it’s the type of argument that our current governments will buy into.”
Though Charbonneau does not come right out and say it, it seems obvious that he sides with the view that universities should adopt a pragmatic approach and tell governments what they think governments want to hear.
It should be obvious that Wells is correct on this question.
Of course current governments are not going to buy into the argument that universities are justified by their core activities of teaching and learning. No one ever bothers to make the case to them. Instead universities act ashamed that they investigate the origins of the universe, or competing views on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and emphasize what are in actuality only incidental outcomes of higher education.
The logic of academia is internal, meaning its impact on the rest of society cannot be predicted or planned. And, if we start trying to plan it, then what made academia unique withers away. Taking the pragmatic approach does not convince governments to value higher education, it concedes the terms of debate to those who think intellectual pursuits are all about direct economic outcomes. What happens when people start looking for this return?
A more appropriate way to view universities might be something similar to how we view public spending on the arts. As a certain prairie based education writer put it earlier this week:
[T]he public is not stupid, and universities should not be so sheepish about what they do. If universities announced that they were no longer going to study ancient history, or the origins of the universe, or Shakespeare, then the public would likely be distressed.
After all, we support public funding for the arts because of the intrinsic good they are thought to confer on the community. Why not teaching and learning? Like the arts, higher education is a luxury of wealthy societies to be appreciated, not as a means to solve all our problems or to be debased on utilitarian grounds.
If schools want to justify themselves, or demonstrate their relevance, they have to show us what it is that they uniquely do.
To be sure, such reasoning puts schools at risk of being dismissed as frivolous, but it doesn’t have to. Higher education advocates should learn to own the debate and not be afraid to talk about what they actually do.
Finance committee sticks to economic role of universities–research “must be commercialized”
Unsurprisingly, those hoping for the federal government to take a robust role in higher education will have to wait. At least that is the view of the Standing Committee on Finance, which filed its pre-budget report yesterday. The report contains a litany of recommendations, including a few of direct interest to students and universities, that may or may not pop up in next year’s budget.
Though the committee met with several “witnesses,” or gaggles of interest groups, there doesn’t appear to be much connection between what the committee was told and what it recommended.
On education, the primary concern of witnesses were measures that would require the federal government to intervene deeply into provincial jurisdiction, and coordinate higher education policy from Ottawa. Chief among these measures would be a “Post-Secondary Education Act.”
Modeled on the Canada Health Act, a PSE Act would require that the Canada Social Transfer be divided between social services and post-secondary education. Stipulations would be put in place to make the funding contingent on the provinces actually spending the money on education, rather than on roads and other items. Presently, the only requirement placed on provinces with respect to the CST is that eligibility for services, like social assistance, not be tied to residence. They are free to make residence a requirement when concerning admission to university, however. While the federal government announced such a change in 2007, it was all but forgotten a year later.
After reviewing witness submissions, the committee instead recommended:
The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, explore the development of a national strategy to promote greater emphasis on Canadian education services exports.
So while the committee did recommend the government explore a “national strategy” of sorts, and though universities may welcome it, it is not the type of strategy witnesses advocated. Why even bother calling for submissions from Canadians?
As for student aid, the committee advocates a new refundable tax credit be created to encourage graduates to relocate to regions having difficulty recruiting workers:
[It is recommended that] the federal government create a refundable tax credit for new graduates. The proposed tax credit should be available to those who move to designated regions and engage in employment in their field of study.
The question that comes to mind is, wouldn’t this duplicate policies already in place? Sasaktchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick–who all have trouble attracting workers–already provide tax credits (or rebates) to graduates who live and work in the province, no matter where they went to school. And generous ones at that.
Why increasing participation rates might not lead to economic growth
If there is one thing that higher education advocates agree on is that without an ever increasing infusion of public money, Canada is destined to become some backwards failed state. The notion that increasing participation rates will confer untold riches is so widely accepted that the 2009 edition of the Millennium Scholarship Foundation’s The Price of Knowledge stated, “that it seems unnecessary to review it again.”
That’s right, reviewing evidence to support a conclusion is “unnecessary.” The trouble with the argument that participation rates need to rise to ensure a sound economic future is that such analysis often ignores the individual characteristics of people who pursue education. Take one of the the latest sops to the education-equals-growth-thesis, coming from the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance in a report titled Ontario’s Knowledge Economy: The Economic Impact of Post Secondary Education. Among other things, the report recommends that Ontario focus on “increasing participation” in higher education.
Nowhere does OUSA consider the individual characteristics of students, or, the question of whether people who pursue an education possess certain traits like intelligence and motivation that would compel them to be productive citizens regardless of what bits of paper they have acquired. Instead the report makes the same tired old claims:
Higher education has been described variously as the “silver bullet”, “keystone” or a “gateway”, but more than anything else, it is simply the only way to ensure a bright future for the people of Ontario.
In 2004, TD Bank Group published a report demonstrating that a university or college diploma would lead to a 12-28% return on investment for the student. The report further showed that a university educated worker’s weekly earnings are on average sixty-one percent higher than their counterparts with only a high school education. The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation (CMSF) recently completed a thorough investigation of the benefits of higher education and found that, over 40 years, a bachelor’s degree holder in Ontario will earn $769,720 more than someone with only a high school education
The conclusions drawn from analysts such as Roger Martin or James Milway of the Ontario Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, is that the larger rate of return enjoyed by university graduates is because higher education simply makes workers more productive. Consequently, we can measure the economic impact of education simply by looking at wages. To reap these rewards, we just have to buck up and send everyone to university or college.
This of course requires we ignore anything we might learn from the supply and demand of labour. The fact that pipefitters earn more than biology graduates might mean that pipefitters are more productive. But, it seems much more credible to suggest that pipefitters have a specialized skill that is in short supply. Or as it was put in the 2007 Maclean’s rankings issue: “Our society has a bias against working with your hands, and increasingly pushes everyone to go to university, looking down on those who choose other routes.”
The stats are in: the tuition debate is officially over
The dream of a province-wide student strike in Quebec has yet again been reheated. Social science students at the University of Quebec at Montreal have been out of class since Monday because of the effrontery of the university — which has the worst credit rating of any Canadian university — to choose paying down its debt over closing its doors.
But, one has to wonder what effect this politically motivated truancy will have, given that at least two other student associations at UQAM voted to reject taking similar action. Not to mention the fact that the longevity of this so-called strike will not be determined by whether or not concessions are made but on whether or not UQAM social science students want to head back to class. They will vote on it again next week.
Back in November, calls for a student strike was dividing the Association for Solidarity Among Students Unions and other “moderate” groups that wanted to have a protest instead — a distinction that makes no sense, and is highly dubious.
As I wrote at the time:
Clearly, choosing to borrow union nomenclature and “going on strike” is meant to give a sense of political weight, a sense of radicalism, and a sense that students who “strike” are somehow more committed to the cause than those who simply “protest.” And that is dishonest. It is also the source of some of the divisions among Quebec student associations.
The ASSE has criticized the Federation of Quebec University Students(FEUQ), a moderate student lobby group, for stalling strike efforts. But, it is the FEUQ that has taken the more genuine approach as they bucked the temptation to call their protest, to take place one week after the ASSE event, a “strike.”
And the distinction still persists: as UQAM students strike, students from across the province converged on Quebec City for a Day of Action to continue their protest of a whopping $100 fee increase. (The increase incidentally still doesn’t dent the difference between what Quebec residents pay and what out-of-province students pay, which is more than double.)
In any event, one has to wonder how long tuition politics in its present form will hold out, with various student leaders, be they from the ASSE, the Canadian Federation of Students, or the Students Society of McGill University, screaming blue murder at even the whiff of a tuition increase.
Casual observers will recall last February when the CFS organized a national Day of Action, to call for the freezing or reduction of tuition fees. The central argument of the CFS and other groups is that the cost of tuition creates an up-front barrier to higher education for students from poorer backgrounds, and that to alleviate any remaining class divisions, tuition must be lowered if not eradicated.
Several political commentators rightfully cried foul after the Day of Action, aided by the release of a statistics Canada report that concluded that the factors that play a role in a student’s decision to go to university are usually in place by the age of 15. And what are these factors? Well, they include above all socialization: the students upbringing, whether their parents went to school, the neighbourhood they grew up in, and academic performance. But, this was nothing new, Statistics Canada reports have been coming to similar conclusions for years (see here and here for instance).
University participation rates are complex, though the anti-tuition lobby would have us believe that demand for a university education can be reduced to the buying and selling of any widget in the marketplace. That as cost decreases, demand increases.
However, unless we are willing to conclude that Statistics Canada is rigging its analysis to fit some depraved “anti-student” agenda, then this debate should be over, and the protesters in Quebec (the ones complaining about a $100 fee increase) should go home.
In a sense, lowering tuition only helps those who go regardless of the cost, which is overwhelmingly students who grew up in homes that are academically inclined.
No doubt that at some point, the cost of tuition does become prohibitive, but not only have we not reached that point, we don’t even know what it is. And besides, the vast majority of policy makers and policy analysts support the position that, if cost is too high for some students, then either the university or the state should aid them, either through bursaries or access to student loans.
This is not a controversial issue, and it renders the anti-tuition argument moot, unless of course you think well-to-do students should receive the same treatment as those from less endowed backgrounds.
I addressed this a couple summers ago in the Winnipeg Free Press (sorry it is not available online):
Universities are filled with many who have been indoctrinated with the self-righteous belief that it is their mission as “intellectuals” to coddle and cajole the working class. However, when it comes to tuition policy, they are fighting for their interests alone.