Friday, October 12, 2007

"Local Norms" and "'organic' attribution"

The report of the faculty panel investigating charges of plagiarism against Glenn Poshard, president of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, offers a remarkable picture of life in a Department of Higher Education. Among the revealing bits:

1. When Poshard wrote his dissertation in SIUC's Department of Higher Education in 1984, the department did not require students to follow a standard style for documentation. "The citation style," says a member of Poshard's dissertation committee, "was agreed upon by the chair and the candidate, and accepted by the remainder of the committee."

2. Poshard claims not to have used a style manual for documentation and says that he would have done so "if anyone had said to do that." The faculty panel acknowledges though that Poshard's dissertation seems to follow Turabian style (what we now know as Chicago style, found in the Chicago Manual of Style).

3. Poshard claims to have followed what the panel calls "the common practices in his department" in citing and documenting sources. And here's where things get good:

4. The faculty panel reports that in the Department of Higher Education "at least one informal style" of documentation was in use. The panel explains that this style was a matter of "Local Norms" and dubs it the "'organic' attribution/citation style." The "informal style" involved presenting other people's words verbatim without benefit of quotation marks (i.e., the little thingamajigs I've been using in these sentences).

I don't think Glenn Poshard meant to deceive anyone when he wrote his dissertation. But I do think that he was content to do his work in a department whose standards of scholarship were frightfully low.

The report is worth reading in full:

Report of Review Committee to Investigate Plagiarism (.pdf, Southern Illinois University)
And for a sample of Poshard's dissertation and its sources:
Document comparison (.pdf, Daily Egyptian, SIUC)

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