GLOBAL: Plagiarism dilemmas in university management

Universities face constant scrutiny about their plagiarism management strategies, policies and procedures. A resounding theme, usually media inspired, is that plagiarism is rife, unstoppable and university processes are ineffectual in its wake. This has been referred to as a 'moral panic' approach and suggests plagiarism will thwart all efforts to reclaim academic integrity in higher education. However, revisiting the origins of plagiarism and exploring its legal evolution reveals that legal discourse is the foundation for many plagiarism management policies and processes around the world. Interestingly, criminal justice aims are also reflected in university plagiarism management strategies.

Paper in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management

Although universities strive for deterrence of plagiarism in a variety of ways, the media most often calls for retribution through increasingly tougher penalties. A primary aim of the justice system, sustainable reform, is not often reported in the media or visible in university policies or processes. Using critical discourse analysis, this paper examines the disjunction between media calls for increased retribution in the wake of moral panic and institutional responses to plagiarism. I argue that many universities have not yet moved to sustainable reform in plagiarism management.

The paper examines the language of university policies and the media's reporting of plagiarism. Specifically, it investigates the discourse contained in plagiarism policies in six top universities in three countries - Australia, the United Kingdom and United States. Each of the universities is recognised internationally as a high-quality, world-ranked institution with a reputation for academic excellence. These institutions have a vested interest in maintaining international public confidence that they are seats of learning in which academic integrity is valued and upheld.

The 18 plagiarism policies were accessed through each institution's public website, including any details about plagiarism management processes and penalties. Policies were analysed using critical discourse analysis theory. Individual words used to define plagiarism, describe university approaches to managing plagiarism and the range of 'outcomes' available were tabled and compared. In addition, 164 media reports on plagiarism from the higher education sections of two Australian national newspapers, The Age and The Australian, from 2004 to 2008 were collated and the language used to describe plagiarism was analysed. The purpose was to gain understanding of the ways in which the media portrayed plagiarism and academic misconduct in tertiary institutions to the general public over a period of time, affording a broader perspective of the contextual and social domains in which plagiarism policies are seen to operate, therefore helping to understand the public perceptions of university performance in managing academic integrity issues such as plagiarism.

* Dr Wendy Sutherland-Smith is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Churchill, Australia.

"Retribution, Deterrence and Reform: The dilemmas of plagiarism management in universities" is published in the latest edition of the journal Higher Education Policy and Management, Volume 32, Number 1, published by Routledge in November 2009. It is reproduced with permission from the editor.