If you ever encountered (or indulged in) plagiarism while you were at
uni, chances are you were probably not the only one. See who’s been
copying who and what’s being done about it in universities across
Deakin bully gets promotion
Sealed section – 10 March
A Deakin University lecturer writes:
I would like to draw your attention as to how, in general, Australian
universities fail to hold people accountable for their actions.
A simple example: the head of a department at Deakin had a few very
strong claims of sexual harassment and bullying made against him by
various people. The university’s reaction? To “encourage” him to resign
his “head of school” position, but let him keep his professorship at
Deakin. This almost amounts to a reward – he continued to have
$100,000-plus job but no longer had the headache that came with running
Recently, this gentleman has been given a very nice high up job by
another Victorian university with a better reputation than Deakin. Had
they asked anyone who had worked with him or even vaguely knew him at
Deakin University they would have known his history and the accusations
made against him.
Unfortunately, this story is just one of many examples of the poor management at universities and its general culture.
Universities which reward duds and plagiarists
Sealed section – 11 March
An Academic writes:
The Deakin Professor mentioned yesterday is not the only academic who has been ‘rewarded’ for complaints against him.
There is a professor at Bond University who went through a period when
he was forbidden to see any female student unless another staff member
was in the room.
This professor is also an important witness is some upcoming litigation
against Bond University and, lo and behold, he has just been given a
new five year contract.
A capable and newly appointed Vice-Chancellor at Bond University does not need a mess like this.
A former tutor also has this rather alarming story:
Hi Team Crikey,
I feel sure we could all talk about universities and their problems all
day but I have a simple example from when I was lecturing at a NSW Uni
last year. After marking a couple of dozen assignments I found common
words and phrase patterns.
A quick Google advanced search found the original sources and showed
masses of plagiarism from almost all of the students. Some so blatant
that the font changed mid sentence and all of the italics and
registered trademarks symbols were retained.
As it was my first semester teaching, I approached the head of school
about the problem and was told to ignore it and not to worry as they
didn’t have the funding to pay me to check them all (a separate issue)
and it would cause to much hassle having all of the students
complaining that their cat died or grandmother was sick. Is this
setting a precedent?
Dealing with plagiarism
Another uni tutor writes:
I teach a subject at a G08 university and like the tutor you quoted in
the latest sealed section, have had big problems getting students to
take the matter of plagiarism seriously.
A couple of years ago I had well in excess of 50% of my students
plagiarise to a very significant extent. Unlike most lecturers, I
decided to tackle it head on, even though it cost me nearly a semester
of weekends. (What was that about academics having an easy
life? Only those who don’t work in academia talk about the Ivory
Tower these days.)
Part of the problem is ignorance (they simply don’t understand what
“plagiarism” means, and this is reinforced by an entrenched culture of
“borrowing” the work of others, especially in IT). For some
students, especially international students, borrowing the words of
others reflects a lack of confidence in their own ability to use
English well, rather than a desire to cheat or be lazy.
A lot of this can be overcome by staff having the right attitude and
treating it as an education problem (an apprenticeship of sorts) rather
than assuming that everyone would cheat if they had half a chance and
by god if you do we’re gonna getchya and you’re gonna be sorry…
For some, no matter what you do, they will choose the path of least
resistance (ie if they can cut and paste and get away with it, that is
what they’ll do). But this is a minority.
Because most universities ARE so poorly resourced plagiarism will go
often go unnoticed – or even if noticed, then it will go uncorrected in
the case of those doing it accidentally, and unpunished in the case of
those doing it on purpose.
When confronted about their work, most students were sheepish,
apologetic or ashamed – and when given an opportunity to resubmit did
so, and did well. A few dared to act outraged. There were a
very few Bravehearts who were so confident that no lecturer would be
bothered following up on them that they didn’t bother to re-submit.
I handballed the problem to the Executive Dean of the Faculty with a
recommendation re making them resubmit, give presentations to other
students on the folly of plagiarism etc. In stark contrast with
response the tutor in your sealed section was given, my superior dealt
with the matter in a very decisive (indeed tough) manner, and the
guilty students ended up with a big fat Zero on their transcript.
Last year I used an electronic tool for checking plagiarism – students
submitted their own work to the web site. I don’t see these tools
as the be-all and end-all, but they are useful. And although I
still did not achieve a perfect outcome, it was great for making the
issue front of mind rather than something to be dismissed easily.
The electronic plagiarism tool and the stories of the previous students
who’d been dealt with harshly ended up making it easier for me later
on. When I discussed plagiarism and the acknowledgment of
sources/ideas they paid rapt attention rather than sitting there
planning their weekend.
That is very good for a positive learning outcome! No students
got Zero, all finished their degree knowing that plagiarism was indeed
a matter to be taken seriously, and all left with the knowledge that
they knew enough to acknowledge sources appropriately. And
I didn’t lose a semester worth of weekends and late nights poring over
You’ve just gotta be happy with that…
Plagiarism at universities
Interesting to read in your whistleblower section the information about
plagiarism. I know that students are under more pressure now than in
the good old days because many of them are squeezing uni in during the
days they aren’t working. I know they also feel that paying for their
degree should guarantee them a degree, and that expecting original and
thoughtful brainwork as well is a bit hard. However, I still have a
little problem with people at university not recognising cheating when
they are doing it.
I would also like to add a little historical perspective to the debate.
It was almost 30 years ago that I did a post grad diploma at the
University of New South Wales (still referred to as Kenso Tech in those
days). The 1-year course was an absolute joke. Many lecturers had no
grasp of their subjects; the head of school turned up for 3 out of 10
lectures and gave the same lecture 3 times (it was a sales spiel for
the organisation he had worked for before joining UNSW); one lecturer
had difficulty marking essays, so would submit marks to the school
before she marked the essays, and the final marks for essays bore no
relationship to the subject marks. Another lecturer organised her
subject into group work, where 3 groups did a big presentation for
their final mark. Everybody in one group was given a pass, another
group got a credit, and the lucky last got a distinction; these marks
were randomly distributed because “you can’t give everybody the same
mark, can you?” One male lecturer gave us access to some of his records
for some research, but must have forgotten that he had written very
personal comments about all of the female students on their record
So there’s nothing new about a lot of the balls-ups happening, although
they are more systemic now. My prediction is that within 10 years we
are going to need a huge reform of the tertiary sector, much like the
reforms of Oxford and Cambridge at the beginning of the 19th century.
Universities in Australia are barely functioning in the way they
traditionally have, and in a very short period their form and purpose
has been completely altered, without real input from the taxpayer or
the university community. Currently their main purpose is to keep
unemployment figures below 10% by having hundreds of thousands of
people tied up in this insane system. The rot really began with John
Dawkins’ “reforms” and I can’t see it abating without a massive
The Central Coaster