Catherine A. Sanderson is a professor of Psychology at Amherst College.
The lengthy article in last week’s Student on Carleen Basler’s resignation thoroughly conveyed the range of reactions, including shock, disappointment and sadness, that students, faculty and administrators have had to learning of the apparently widespread plagiarism in Basler’s scholarly work. The reasons attributed for such mistakes, at least by some students and faculty, focused on the pressures of the Amherst (and presumably Yale) environments as well as on Basler’s personal insecurities regarding her writing. But I believe there are two essential points that were not conveyed in this article.
First, most faculty members, just like most students, at times struggle with writing. I’ve had articles I’ve slaved over for months rejected by prestigious journals, just like students have received bad grades on papers they’ve slaved over for days. The struggle with writing for many of us, perhaps even for most of us, is simply part of the (sometimes painful) writing process. And we handle this difficult struggle by recognizing that good writing (and revising) takes considerable time and accepting that receiving criticism about our writing from colleagues and editors is simply a part of this process; we never consider improperly using the writing of others.
Second, no one enjoys the consequences of having an article or book manuscript rejected, or failing to receive tenure or getting a bad grade on a paper or in a class. But the consequences of academic dishonesty are far, far greater. Basler, who was clearly a dedicated teacher, will likely no longer be able to teach at a college or university anywhere in the country. Students who commit academic dishonesty may have such acts permanently noted on their college transcript and receive a suspension from Amherst College, and thus must explain such transgressions for the rest of their lives on applications to graduate schools and for jobs. Cheating, in whatever form it takes, is a short-term choice that may seem appealing to some in a moment of panic. But it can have substantial long-term consequences. Cheating just isn’t worth it.