Students should learn from professor’s flaw

Well now here’s an interesting little tid bit… A professor was forced to resign because he was found guilty of plagiarism. That’s not setting a very good example for students all over the U.S., now is it?

What’s even worse is that the 67-year-old professor in question, Shervert Frazier, is not your average, run-of-the-mill professor. He is Dr. Frazier, who is said to be one of the nation’s top psychiatrists. And the positions he was forced to resign from were as professor at Harvard Medical School and as director of McLean Hospital, one of the nation’s leading psychiatric hospitals which also is affiliated with with the university.

So the story goes, a graduate student at the University of Rochester was researching medical literature on pain when he discovered Frazier’s plagiarized passages in 20-year-old medical journals.

Now I’m just guessing, but I suppose this 28-year-old student was merrily researching along this past August when all of a sudden this feeling that he had read the same information before came across his mind. (I bet quite a few professors can relate to that feeling.)

Apparently being an honest student, Paul Scatena brought the information to the attention of Harvard officials. And Harvard’s medical school, being a bureaucratic entity like all the rest, immediately put its Faculty Conduct Committee on the case.

And what did the committee find? Following its investigation the committee, in a letter dated Nov. 23 and made public Monday, concluded that plagiarism had been committed in four papers written by Frazier and published between 1966 and 1975. The passages had been plagiarized from earlier articles in Scientific American, Clinical Neurosurgery and other publications.

What else really could Frazier ethically do but quit after the facts were out in the open?

But what happened to Dr. Frazier could happen to just about anyone, though. Dr. S. James Adelstein, dean of the academics program at the medical school, said the committee’s findings weren’t disputed by Frazier, and the plagiarism was not the result of deceptive intentions, but instead lax methods.

Frazier did what a lot of people do. As he read he copied parts of information he wanted to use, but when he went to put his notes together he must not have made sure that the direct quotes were noted differently from the paraphrased information.

All facts considered though, one is still left to wonder how someone, knowing the damaging consequences faced to credibility and reputation, could consciously allow actions like this to occur.

It is possible that Frazier, knowingly or not, fell to such pressures while striving to advance in his field. After graduating from the University of Illinois, he was faced with the delema that plagues many educators.

The fact is well known, at NIU and everywhere else—faculty are ranked and rewarded based on contributions to their fields through research, publication and earning grants for such projects.

Maybe Frazier was simply human and fell to the presures of the “publish or parish” syndrom.

Considering that the first time he worked as a professor at Harvard was in 1972, and the papers containing plagiarism were published between 1966 and 1975, it is possible that such pressures were at work. Any professor wants to secure a position and advance in his field, but the question is to what lengths is he willing to go.

As students trying to make the grade, we are faced with similar pressures, too. Copies of old term papers and test answers are abundant and easily attainable. Students know that, and so do the professors.

How ethical is it for anyone, whether they are a professor, a student or a member of any other occupation, to “steal and pass off as one’s own (the ideas or words of another)?”—Webster’s Dictionary. Think about it.