Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Politicians and Plagiarism

It is just a few weeks until school starts, and a news story involving Democratic Senator John Walsh pops up reporting that he plagiarized his Master Thesis from U.S. Army War College.
Walsh submitted his thesis, titled "The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy," to earn his Master of Strategic Studies degree in 2007, nearly two years after he returned from Iraq and about a year before he became Montana's adjutant general overseeing the state's National Guard and Department of Military Affairs. 
The paper includes a series of unattributed passages taken from the writings of other scholars.
The first page borrows heavily from a 2003 Foreign Affairs piece written by Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a 2009 book by Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer called "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror."
There are several other sections that were plagiarized throughout the paper.  The part that bothers me the most is that he is trying to use PTSD as an excuse:
Walsh told The Associated Press when he wrote the thesis, he had PTSD from his service in Iraq, was on medication and was dealing with the stress of a fellow veteran's recent suicide. 
"I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor," the senator said. "My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."
Now, before you start with any partisan statements,  remember that politicians on both sides are responsible of this crime.  Conservative politician Rand Paul has been accused of plagiarism several different times.  It is also not specific to United States politicians.  Recently, several German politicians have been found to have committed plagiarism.  Even John McCain and Barack Obama have been accused of plagiarism.

Every it seems, I deal with plagiarism in my class despite severe warnings.  Students always act surprised when I tell them that they will be redoing their paper and receiving a significant grade deduction.  They claim that they didn't do it, despite the fact that they are using words they have never heard or I show them copies of the websites that they copied.  Despite that I catch students, I know that some are able to sneak it past me.

The reason usually for plagiarism is the student put of doing the assignment until the last minute and doesn't want to do the real work.  I think that Senator John Walsh should do a PSA on why plagiarism is wrong, redo the thesis paper (by himself without any staffer being able to assist him), take a 20% grade deduction and be stripped of any honors he may have received.  

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