Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Scarlet Letter

Publicly shaming his plagiarizing students on his blog led to the dismissal of a professor.


1. The professor on his syllabus had noted that students guilty of academic dishonesty would be publicly named and shamed and be failed in the course.

2. Students who took his class knew this.

3. Six students decided to push the limits of the warning and got burnt.

Now the FERPA prohibits release of a student's academic information without the student's permission. So would the release of the names of the plagiarizing students be against the law? Does his notice in his syllabus pre-empt the law? Or does the law not apply here? After all the entire academic records of the students were not release. Only two of the six have contacted this professor. One admitted guilt but is unhappy with the grade and disputes it, while the other pleaded ignorance of the need for citations. Meanwhile the Department may reassign the failing grades.


1. Public shaming is pretty harsh. Would not just the "F" suffice? The professor's example of VP-Elect Biden is persuasive but maybe the "F" would be a suitable deterrent to the students not to indulge in academic dishonesty. Public humiliation of the sort in question now could be meted out for further such infractions. The students should be punished but a little mercy could go a long way. A face to face discussion regarding the public humiliation coupled with the "F" could be enough to scare the students from plagiarising again.

2. Under no circumstance should the failing grades be changed (as long as the charge of plagiarisation can be proved).

3. There is nobody to speak on behalf of the students. Maybe there are some mitigating factors we do not know.

4. Does the University have any due process for students accused of plagiarism?

Hat Tip: Eugene Volokh. The Professor defends his actions on his blog.

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