Friday, October 28, 2011
Catch 22 goes to school
One of my friends is in postdoc limbo, having completed his degree and thus been thrust into academia's outer darkness. Since PiD is no longer a graduate student and faces a very discouraging job market, he is now at the tender mercies of the schools that hire part-time instructors on a term-by-term basis. To earn something approaching a living wage, he currently shuttles between his old school—a university that tosses him an occasional class or two—and a neighboring community college, which uses adjunct faculty for many of its classes. The two institutions don't cooperate in any formal way, so it's up to PiD to juggle the offers and cobble together a schedule that doesn't require him to break any laws of physics to meet his classes.
Fortunately, PiD has found enough similarities between the course offerings at the two colleges so that he can adapt materials he uses at one school for use at the other. In particular, boilerplate text concerning student conduct was borrowed from his university syllabus and incorporated into his community college syllabus. It had been battled-tested at the Big U, so it seemed suitable for Medium Community College. PiD had every reason to assume that all was well because MCC requires its instructors to submit their syllabi for review and approval before the start of each semester. The BU language passed muster with the MCC administrators, so clear sailing was to be expected.
As I'm sure you can well imagine, PiD's education was about to move into a new and more surrealistic phase.
He called me recently to share a conundrum. It seemed an unfortunate but typical college situation: He had clear and unmistakable evidence that a student had committed plagiarism. PiD had found the original source material and the student's surreptitious use of it was extensive and blatant. He reported it to the department chair:
“I have a clear case of plagiarism by one of my students and I need to initiate MCC's academic discipline process.”
The chair was characteristically helpful.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean the student will flunk the class, per the language in my syllabus regarding plagiarism, and I need to refer him to the college's disciplinary process.”
“Um, well, I don't think we have a formal process.”
“So what do I do then? My syllabus says plagiarism is a flunking offense and that the student can appeal by means of the college's disciplinary process. The evidence I have is unambiguous, but I presume we have a way for the student to state his side of things and get due process.”
“Okay. Well, you have to do what's in your syllabus.”
“Yes, of course. So how do I do that?”
“You should check with the academic dean.”
“Okay. Good. Does he enforce academic discipline?”
The chair seemed to think that might be the case. PiD contacted the dean.
“Yes, I agree with the chair. You have to follow your syllabus. We approved it and you need to follow it,” said the very helpful dean.
“Yeah. How exactly do I do that?”
“You know, I'm new here and just learning the ropes, so I don't want to depart from MCC's established practices. I need to refer you back to your department chair.”
The last I heard, PiD was preparing a carefully constructed message to the cheater that his plagiarism had been discovered and that (a) his case had been brought to the attention of the department chair “in accordance with the provisions of the course syllabus” and (b) he would receive a failing grade in the class “in accordance with the provisions of the course syllabus.” If the student is bold enough to object, he can try his own luck with the chair. (That sounds like a “process,” doesn't it? Close enough!) Maybe she'll send him to the dean!
Oh, oh. Good luck, PiD! The dean ain't got your back!