What follows is my contribution to a virtual roundtable discussion on intellectual dishonesty for the Jan-Feb 2008 issue of the UP Forum.

Q: How does your discipline define intellectual dishonesty?

The most obvious form of intellectual dishonesty is passing off another’s work as one’s own. At its most extreme and absurd, whether committed out of great malice or great ignorance (both of which are anathema to scholarship), and regardless of the true author’s complicity in or unawareness of the deception, intellectual dishonesty takes the form of wholesale plagiarism. In collaborations, it manifests itself in the inclusion as author of one who played no role in producing the work, or the exclusion of one who did. An equally inexcusable permutation of fraud in critical papers, the outcome of sloppy research and writing practices, is the failure to use and document one’s sources properly. One’s research and ideas exist in relation to others’; citations not only give credit where credit is due but also identify the company the author keeps and the conversation of which he or she is part. Proper incorporation of material from other sources into one’s work as well as proper acknowledgment provide readers with the fullest possible access to the conversation, and by functioning as a portal to other sources, one’s work supports and sustains the activity of pursuing knowledge.

When taken in the context of artistic endeavors such as creative writing, intellectual honesty comes with a somewhat different set of questions and terms. The impulse to create is incompatible with plagiarism, which happens when, among other things, one’s mind is turned off, and consequently, one’s imagination is untapped. Plagiarizing another’s creative work indicates the absence of the creative impulse, a clear signal that one should find another field.

In writing, the matter of intellectual honesty may also be read through the lens of originality. Certainly, originality is a tough claim for a writer to make, given the inevitability of influence and the voluminous—to say the least—amount of amazing literature already in existence, but it remains true that every plunge into the blank page is driven by the hope to come out of it with something peculiar and new, something that is not a mere copy or cover version of the literature one admires, not simply a repeat of the work one has done before. In this case, to be intellectually honest is to strive beyond echo, which, when thought of kindly, may be seen as laziness, but when subjected to tougher critique, may also be called cheating.

Q: What is your unit doing to ensure that your students understand the parameters of intellectual honesty?

The English Department is responsible for the University’s basic composition and research writing courses, which are direct and practical venues to teach students effective writing and ethical research practices. It is important, to begin with, to teach students to think, to aid them in processing information and setting it down on the page in writing. And then, it is vital to teach them to situate themselves in conversation with various sources of information; to imagine, test, and refine their ideas against the ideas of others, where they are able to hold their own voice amid other voices; to stay true to their material and not manipulate data in order to corroborate with their desired conclusions; and to perform all these tasks responsibly through conventions of acknowledgment. Intellectual honesty is something one can practice given the necessary tools, and it is the function of these courses to provide them.

It is necessary to remain vigilant in reviewing and grading critical papers produced in upper-division courses to ensure that students are researching and writing responsibly. I think every course should include a discussion of intellectual honesty in its coverage; this allows for constant reiteration of the importance of academic integrity.

While this is true or ought to be true for all classes, in creative writing classes, imagination is championed, and the most successful pieces are those that reflect a mind at work. The workshop format of creative writing classes, where student pieces are read and critiqued in class, strikes me as an effective antidote to intellectual dishonesty. The role as author one necessarily claims in class as well as the direct access to and conversation with one’s readers, I think, allow for a keener sense of one’s ownership of and responsibility for one’s work.

You can read the rest of the discussion here.

*Couldn’t resist. Misspelled (or misheard, or misunderstood) words are generally a pain, especially when you’re checking a stack of papers, but once in a while they can be hilarious. Other favorites (mostly from other public school titser friends): peer pleasure, persona ingrata, and for all intensive purposes.