Two students accused of plagiarism and violating the University of Virginia’s honor code were expelled from a global studies program. They left their ship in Greece while their counterparts continued on the summer voyage.
One of the students, Ohio University senior Allison Routman, said she was shocked when a professor accused her of plagiarizing from an online synopsis of a movie.
“Had I thought I had done anything wrong, I, of course, would come forward,” Routman said in a telephone interview Friday from her home outside Minneapolis. “I knew the consequences would not be good.”
The University of Virginia has a single-sanction honor code, meaning students face expulsion after one violation. Students who participate in off-grounds programs that award academic credit from the school are also subject to the code.
Routman was part of Semester at Sea, a global studies program that offers shipboard coursework.
Routman said her class assignment was to watch a movie, then write a paper relating the film to shipboard or port experiences. She watched “Europa Europa” and consulted Wikipedia for the proper historic terminology. The professor alleged that she used three phrases identical to those on the online entry about the movie: “when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa,” “German speaking minority outside of Germany” and “who had been released from a concentration camp.”
“In my opinion, that was historical details, they weren’t full sentences,” said Routman, who added that there are only so many ways to say the same thing.
University officials disagreed, and the case went before a panel. Routman was found guilty of plagiarism, and her appeal was denied. Another student was convicted of plagiarism in a separate proceeding, and both had to disembark at a port outside Athens.
Routman noted that a day before the professor returned students’ papers to the class, he told them that he suspected several of them committed plagiarism. If they came forward to make a “conscientious retraction,” they wouldn’t face honor-code punishment.
About five students did so, and received zeros on their papers, but Routman didn’t come forward because she didn’t think she did anything wrong.
“No one had ever defined paraphrasing for me,” said Routman, who said she probably will have to extend her college career by a quarter because she won’t get credit for Semester at Sea. “It was one of those things I’d kind of heard; I didn’t think of what it was.”
U.Va. officials said all Semester at Sea participants get detailed training sessions and handouts on honor requirements at the beginning of the voyage. University librarians also are aboard the ship to help answer questions about documentation, according to David Gies, who served as academic dean on last summer’s voyage.
Gies doesn’t know how many students have been ejected from Semester at Sea, but said there were no honor cases last summer. He said the “conscientious retraction” provision is standard to the honor process.
U.Va.’s honor code originated in 1842, and requires students to pledge not to cheat, lie or steal, or tolerate those who do. A student committee operates the adjudication process, including defending those accused. Students who are found guilty of violating the code are expelled from the university. Those who opt to leave school without requesting a trial are deemed to have admitted guilt.
Routman’s father, Brent Routman, contacted university officials while his daughter was still on the ship to complain about the lack of due process for shipboard students, and raised concerns about a lack of a “neutral, nonvoting person to answer questions.”
“If you’re going to have a death-penalty sanction, then you’ve got to build in safeguards for kids that are lost in the shuffle,” he said. “Theoretically speaking, give her an F, a zero. But to exclude her on the voyage, and expel her, that will be on her record.”
He also said that his daughter’s case should have fallen under the honor code’s “triviality exception” — “if it’s trivial, it’s not supposed to be actionable. We’re talking about a synopsis of a movie.
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