An Appeal for Academic Integrity

The school of cut and paste
October 26, 2010, 2:09pm
MANILA, Philippines – At the beginning of the first semester in Ateneo, all students were given a copy of the school’s 2010 Edition Code of Academic Integrity. It’s a small light-blue primer, very student-friendly, and it tackled, among other things, the finer points of plagiarism.

Over the past two weeks I’ve found myself leafing through it over and over, and not because I had term papers to submit. Rather, I feel very strongly about the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the case against Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo. Simply speaking, they accepted his defense that it was an accident and that there was no intent to plagiarize. To quote, “On occasions, judges and justices have mistakenly cited the wrong sources, failed to use quotation marks, “inadvertent” omissions are equivalent to plagiarism precisely because they are tantamount to stealing someone else’s idea. Furthermore, sloppy citation work indicates a lack of respect for another’s intellectual work and the academe as a whole.

Now these principles have been around longer than the Supreme Court, and I simply cannot accept that by the stroke of a pen, a couple of justices can just throw them out the window.

Consider Del Castillo’s case. His first argument was that he didn’t plagiarize. In other words, since he quoted highly respected legal experts, it wouldn’t have made sense to intentionally omit the citations; others would have recognized the quotes. Therefore, as the ruling says, “both Justice Del Castillo and his researcher gain nothing from the omission.” Clearly, that is true, though it doesn’t follow from the premises.

But actually, the argument is faulty. If it were true that the quotes were twisted out of context, or used in the opposite sense of what the authors intended — which is the prevailing opinion — then we have enough reason to at least doubt his intentions. It doesn’t prove that he intended to plagiarize, but it does prove that reasonable doubt exists.

The other argument is more absurd: that his computer did not have software to detect plagiarism. As Justice Sereno pointed out, it has undermined the entire principle of copyright. If that’s acceptable, then I can always tell my professor that I didn’t cite because “Microsoft Word didn’t tell me I was plagiarizing.”

This isn’t the worst part. They’ve also threatened dissenting lawyers — most of them teaching at UP — with disbarment for protesting and questioning their decision. Are they now also saying that freedom of expression is a right that lawyers must waive?

If lawyers cannot stand up for this issue — and with good reason — then we should. We should do so not only as members of the academe, but also as educated individuals who study in or graduated from these institutions. People have been stripped of titles and academic degrees because of plagiarism, whether or not they meant to do it, and Del Castillo can get away with it because he’s a judge?

The decision sends all the wrong messages. At the very least, it gives leeway for students to be sloppy with academic work. At the very worst, all our laws on intellectual property have been rendered meaningless. It also sends the message you can legitimately circumvent the law for your own purposes if you are in government. Goodbye decency, fairness and respect.

It is our responsibility to stand against the Supreme Court in this issue. If the Del Castillo ruling holds, I no longer have any reason to tell my friends to stay in this country. There truly is no hope for the future if we legitimize the draining of brains.

The author is a third year BS Management major at the Ateneo de Manila University.

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