This column will focus on educational issues affecting post-secondary students. It will address a wide range of topics. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, along with any personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about.
A McGill student, Jesse Rosenfeld, has filed a grievance with his university’s senate committee over its plagiarism policy. Why? McGill university, along with several others across Canada such as University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and University of Victoria, have adopted a policy which requires students to submit their paper to turnitin.com. This is a U.S.-based Internet organization that maintains a database of more than one million previously-submitted essays and papers. Universities pay a subscription fee for the service, in which new student papers are compared against this database for evidence of plagiarism. Rosenfeld refused to comply with this course requirement, instead submitting his paper directly to his professor, resulting in a mark of zero.
Rosenfeld’s opposition consists of two key points. First, the requirement to submit a paper for proof of plagiarism in advance effectively treats students as if they are guilty until proven innocent. This is an argument I’ve heard before, and some universities, such as University of Toronto, are allowing an opt out provision to address this, as long as students can prove the work is original. His second argument is more complex, involving ethical issues of academic freedom and copyright. Rosenfeld states that he is supposed to hand in his paper to “a private company…which the company in turn profits from. I’m indirectly helping a private company make a profit off my paper.” Turnitin.com is a business making a profit from student papers, since the greater the database of papers, the more valuable the service becomes to universities, increasing the numbers of paying subscribers.
Does this American company have the right to profit from student academic papers in this manner? Who owns the copyright for student papers and does this practice violate academic freedom? Should the problem of plagiarism be dealt with by treating every student as if guilty until proven innocent? I’m with Rosenfeld on this one.
McGill student makes new plagiarism policy subject of grievance. CanWest News Service. http://canada.com/national/story.asp?id=486DAB13-BF20-4288-9D04-CBB3446C2A75
McGill Daily News: http://www.mcgilldaily.com/view.php?aid=1582