Just so you know, that opening line was from a famous Tom Lehrer song, “Lobachevsky” – a song about mathematician Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky. I am never forget the day…
Anyways, I cite the source above because of this.
Zachery Kouwe, a reporter for the New York Times, was caught quoting from sources without proper acknowledgment or accreditation. Among the places where he “borrowed” quotes and accreditations were the Wall Street Journal and the Reuters news service. The web blog “The NYTPicker” pointed out Kouwe’s transgressions, while a report in the New York Observer explains that Kouwe resigned from the paper, and gave a very wan excuse about being, in his own words, “stupid and careless and … thought it was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there. I think that’s what probably happened.”
See, here’s the problem I have with this. Kouwe should have known better.
He received a B.A. from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. Just like I did (class of 1985 – Dear is thy homestead, glade and glen, let’s beat up on Franklin & Marshall again).
Back about 100 years ago, Hamilton College students, who tired of having professors proctoring during tests and exams, instituted something called the Honor Code. In exchange for teachers letting students have the opportunity to study and take tests without any oppressive monitoring, students would self-police themselves against cheating or plagiarism or the like. If a teacher discovered that a student may have borrowed quotes or text from another source without any citing or acknowledgment of that source, that student would be judged by an Honor Court of his peers; proof of cheating or plagiarism would be grounds for class failure or expulsion.
As a student in the early 1980’s, I saw notices of Honor Court judgments posted in the college postal center; notices in which classmates were caught submitting materials with whole paragraphs borrowed from other texts, or materials used from other sources without proper citing or accreditation. These students thought they could get past things on a free pass, only to find out that within a week they were passed out of school.
In 2002, Eugene Tobin voluntarily admitted that he had plagiarized various quotations as part of an on-campus speech. He left the campus shortly thereafter.
I should note that Eugene Tobin, at the time, was the president of the college. The Honor Code is not limited to students.
Somewhere along his time at Hamilton College, Mr. Kouwe would have signed a piece of paper acknowledging his responsibilities toward the Honor Code. Now granted, when I was a student at Hamilton, we didn’t have quickie research materials like Wikipedia or the blogosphere. We didn’t have access to a dedicated internet. Heck, some fortunate students on campus had their own telephone modems, at a state-of-the-art 100 baud transfer speed.
But that didn’t mean there wasn’t temptation available. The college library had a complete set of the encyclopedia-based “Masterplots” series, in which great novels and texts were trimmed to summary form. And you could still pick up a copy of Cliff’s Notes at any bookstore. There’s even an apocryphal story about a student at Hamilton who thought he could get something past his professors by not only copying the material, but by removing the reference material from the library so that it could not be checked against his thesis. Of course, that didn’t mean that the professor didn’t have a copy of that same reference material in his office.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m blameless.
Yes, I’m ashamed to say, I did plagiarize once in my writing career.
It was in the third grade. I wrote a small poem for the school newspaper called “The First Christmas.” I think it began with the words “The first Christmas had no winter snow / The first Christmas had no mistletoe…” Of course, it never dawned on me that it was wrong to copy the song lyrics from a recent animated Christmas television special.
But that was in the third grade. I was eight years old, but I learned from my mistake to never let that happen in my printed work ever again. And no matter how stellar or how pitiful my term papers were at Hamilton College, whatever I put down on paper was my own idea, or I sourced and listed references when it wasn’t my idea. It was tough, and it was difficult, but I learned and understood – and it made me a better writer today.
And I don’t have to worry about appearing in the “corrections” section of the New York Times.