Justice For Athabasca University

I am writing to The Voice to arouse a more adequate response from Athabasca University staff and students to the Ralph Klein essay and especially, the subsequent administrative review. I expected either staff or students to protest immediately but, since the review was concluded, nothing more has been published. This may be because both groups are too busy to properly analyse the administrative review, or, are tired of the discussion and hope that interest in the topic will disappear with the passage of time.

In any case, I decided to do an analysis of the essay and the conclusions of the review as outlined in an article appearing in the Calgary Herald on May 29/04 (“Athabasca University Clears Klein: Plagiarism Complaint Dismissed”, by Karen Kleiss of Canwest News Services, Edmonton), and another article (“Athabasca University Clears Klein of Plagiarism Charge, Calls Mistake Minor”, by Lorraine Turchansky, found at http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2004/05/28/pf-477282.html). My purpose is to make it possible for any member of staff or student to easily go on line and check my conclusions against those of the administrators who conducted the review. (While I could not find original copies of the essay, I used copies posted at http://www.cbc.ca, and at http://www.ralphsworld.blogspot.com/RKChilePaper.htm, which corresponded, except for minor typos).

I would like to strongly protest some of the opinions expressed with regard to Klein’s essay, but also AU’s Vice-President , Academic, Judith Hughes’ statement quoted at the end of the Turchansky article as follows:

We have a pretty clearly prescribed process, and when someone in the community raises a complaint about possible academic misconduct, we are required to conduct a process, and we’ve done that … We’re satisfied and comfortable that the process was applied properly, that we applied the process that we would apply to any of our students.

As a former student of AU’s predecessor ( the Alberta Correspondence School Branch), a member of the community, a graduate of the M.ED. program at the U. of C. (with thesis), and a teacher who spent much of his career teaching high-school English, I disagree!

First, it is incredible to believe that Ralph Klein did not know that he must enclose directly quoted passages in quotation marks, since, in the latter part of the essay, he quotes copiously from a course reading (Gibert) without any problem. Also, as a politician and as a journalist, he has been reading and reporting researched material for many years and should be accustomed to demanding sources and defining sources he has used. In addition, in his early political career, especially when speaking to teachers, I have often heard Klein refer to his experience as both a teacher and administrator at a secretarial school, where such mundane skills would certainly be part of the curriculum. Finally, Klein, as Minister of Communication, also could easily have subjected his effort to a sort of “peer review” by asking any of the more than 200 employees of the government communications staff he directly controls to review his work after-hours for proper attribution.

Much of the material that Klein copies directly, beginning with the fourth paragraph of his essay, is taken from (and indirectly attributed in his “Endnotes”) a web site maintained by a Marc Becker, who teaches Latin American history at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. However, the material is clearly labelled (at http://www2.truman.edu/~marc/webpages/) as the work of his students on a web site development assignment. This material was actually copied by Becker’s students (Ken Tucker, Aubrey Finch, and Maria Jose Carrasco) from another web site without proper attribution. The material copied was actually from a case study assigned by another professor at another university, in a sociology course (“Allende’s Chile, 1972 ” by John Foran, Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/42a/130.html). The point here is that these were obscure and non-authoritative sources; exactly the kind likely to be chosen by a plagiarist. Also, headings and content that did not suit Klein”s purpose were edited out, further reinforcing my view of this section as a deliberate act of plagiarism, rather than a mistake or unintentional use of material (See paragraph dealing with Kissinger’s comments about Allende).

After copying a lengthy section nearly verbatim, except for headings and section breaks, (from either the student site mentioned earlier or the source the students used at http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/42a/index-dg.html), Klein then uses three paragraphs clipped from another web site (http://www.moreorless.au.com/about.htm) and used nearly verbatim. While he does acknowledge using this site with his “Internet/End-notes” approach, this is again an obscure site, authored by Bruce Harris, an Australian with a B.A. in communications, who freely admits that he has not properly attributed sources.

This is followed by two paragraphs which may have been written by Klein, and then another paragraph with what seems to be an edited version of Allende’s last interview, copied again from the Harris site. Then, following an introductory paragraph referring to readings in CMNS 402, Klein demonstrates that he does know how to attribute sources and use quotation marks, headings and other devices (“Gibert goes on to say…”) indirectly quoting the following seven paragraphs and an editors’ note from the Gibert reading. After some material derived from personal interviews, Klein mentions the Harris site as one “notable” source but does not give the full address, and just before his conclusion, he again copies most of three paragraphs from Harris (http://www.moreorless.au.com/about.htm) and returns to using “Internet” as his only attribution.

The point in discussing the above actions is to show that Klein was editing these sources, knew that the material was not his, and knew what to do to properly credit the real authors. This is, clearly, deliberate plagiarism.

In an effort to determine how any process of review could have cleared Klein, I consulted the section of the AU calendar dealing with “Intellectual Ownership and Honesty” (http://www.athabascau.ca/studserv/inthonesty.htm#recpla). Under the heading “Recognizing Plagiarism”, three examples are cited:

1 .If you fail to indicate that material is quoted by enclosing the material in quotation marks.
2. If you do not acknowledge the source of a direct quotation within the text of the paper, in footnotes, on the Works Cited or Reference page, or if you do not identify the correct source of a quotation.
3. If you included paraphrased or summarized information (that is not generally accepted as ‘common knowledge’) and do not acknowledge its source.

At the same location, I found that there are brief exercises in academic honesty to be completed by anyone who is doubtful about handling source material, which would ensure that any student could easily become extensively familiar with what is and is not plagiarism (http://library.ups.edu/research/guides/ex1ver.htm).

In my opinion, the examination above shows that much of Ralph Klein’s essay was plagiarized according to the first and third example of AU standards, and that Klein also did not make the effort to easily familiarize himself with AU standards.

The actions of the unnamed instructor of CMNS 402 in giving this material a grade of 77 percent, apparently after clearly recognizing attribution problems, according to the Kleiss article (The Herald, May 29/04) are puzzling to me. A demand for correction of the attribution problem would have made sense. However, if this was done with Klein’s essay, it would have immediately highlighted the lack of original material written by Klein, and likely would have received a failing grade for lack of content.

Ms. Hughes is quoted as saying “…The instructor would treat opportunities like these as teachable moments…” (The Herald, K. Kleiss, May 29/04). In my experience, the “teachable moment” would only have occurred if this poorly organized cut – and – paste job , with only a few vague paragraphs actually written by Klein, had been rejected and the student required to complete the assignment properly or receive a failing grade. (This certainly would have been my reaction at the high school level, and the student concerned would have arrived at his/her first university course knowing the importance of proper attribution).

There are those who say Klein would never have tabled his essay in the legislature if he had been aware of his plagiarism. I feel it was far more likely that Klein was ignorant of how easy it is to use web search-engines to check for sources, and felt that his essay had already fooled one PhD. to achieve a 77 per cent grade, and therefore would be likely to pass with the legislature and the general public. Also, Ralph Klein has been known to do and say things before that he has not completely thought through, especially in the heat of debate. Using his rather pointless essay to illustrate anything appears to qualify as one of those occasions.

In the Turchansky article, the director of Klein’s program, Ken Collier, who actually conducted the review, is quoted below:

“In Collier’s rationale – released by the university with Klein’s permission – he said he viewed the improper citation ‘as a relatively minor error undisputed by (the) student, easily corrected, and not an on-going or repeated problem.'” (Athabasca University Clears Klein of Plagiarism Charge, Calls Mistake Minor, by Lorraine Turchansky, found at http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2004/05/28/pf-477282.html)

I was unable to locate the rest of this “rationale”, but I think I have shown above that improper citation / plagiarism was rife throughout the essay and was corrected immediately when dealing with course readings assigned by the instructor. I also find Collier’s comments inexplicable in the exonerating letter he sent to Klein:

I find that there is no academic or legal basis to sustain the claim that an academic offence has taken place. No intent to deceive or cover up use of unattributed material.nor any practices to pursue those goals are evident. (Letter to Ralph Klein from Ken Collier – May 20/04 – para. 3 – downloaded as a pdf file from the Alberta Govt. web site on Athabasca U. letterhead.)

I would definitely like to see what logic was used to come to these conclusions when mine are so opposite. Perhaps a clue comes from the paragraph immediately preceding the paragraph quoted above:

After speaking with the complainant, yourself, and others with information bearing on the complaint, I reviewed course assignments you submitted, with tutor comments written upon them. The tutor’s treatment of citation issues related to the Internet quotes was completely justified and adhered to AU policy. These were the only quotes with problems (dealing solely with placement in the text of identifying quotation marks and author names) (Letter to Ralph Klein from Ken Collier – May 20/ 04 – para.. 2)

The quoted paragraph above makes it seem as though a few misplaced punctuation marks were the extent of the problems with this essay, and this was due to innocent misunderstanding! I think any reader of this analysis who bothers to check the sources I have cited above will conclude that well over 50 per cent of the content of this essay was simply copied, pasted and edited, with and without attribution, and the remainder is of doubtful value in generating any sort of meaningful thesis statement regarding the media and the revolution in Chile.

Finally, I find it extremely difficult to believe that any student of AU would have been treated in the same way. Both Ms. Hughes and Mac McInnis, president of your student union, excuse Klein’s actions by citing the fact that this is only Klein’s fourth course (K. Kleiss, The Herald, May 29/04). However, this is a senior level course, and, in my university experience, no one was ever given this kind, tolerant, and grade-enhancing treatment, even in introductory courses. As a result, I believe that AU students and staff actually should investigate this matter fully, before the Klein essay and AU becomes a case study in plagiarism.

In fact, it is already being used in this way by:
an instructor at the U. of Lethbridge – http://classes.uleth.ca/200402/engl1900z/plag.htm
an anonymous teaching assistant – http://www.livejournal.com/users/rfmcdpei/426504.html
and an instructor at Carleton U. – http://www.carleton.ca/~dmcdowal/assign/1stessay.htm.

While Ralph Klein, Ken Collier, and Judith Hughes feel that the matter was closed with the review they conducted, I feel that the reputation of Athabasca University staff and students still needs to be “cleared”. I hope both groups will examine what I have concluded above, form their own conclusions, and take some appropriate action.

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