This past weekend, Dean Philip Baker, the Dean of Medicine at the U of A was reportedly caught in the act of plagiarism; his convocation speech is allegedly stolen directly from that of another Medicine convocation speech given at an Ivy League university in the States. President Indira Samarasekera had this to say of the incident:
Over the weekend, the University of Alberta became aware of allegations of plagiarism on the part of one of our academic deans, related to a speech he had delivered to students at a post-graduation celebration. By Sunday, the University had begun the process of examining allegations of plagiarism against Philip Baker, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.
An allegation of plagiarism is not one that is made lightly – nor is it one the University of Alberta takes lightly. Our process will be thorough, fair, and proceed quickly with due diligence, under our established procedures. Academic integrity is at the heart of our institution and we will ensure that our values are upheld.
Philip Baker will now find himself in that place that as an Arts student, who wrote more pages of work and read more articles and abstracts than she knew what to do with, I feared the most: being under the police lamp, interrogated for plagiarizing.
When I spoke with my mom about this incident, I told her I’d read somewhere that several Medicine graduates at this convocation ceremony were petitioning for Baker’s resignation. My mom replied that this was ridiculous; that because the incident of “plagiarism” was outside of academia, it was not an incident meriting his resignation from the position.
I do see her point; a speech given at a graduation celebration is not the same as passing off an academic article as your own, or even a paper for that matter; you are not submitting the printed material for recognition in the form of a grade, scholarship or for publication. Thus, is this incident as serious as upholding academic integrity?
You know, I would say yes. And here’s why.
While there is no ‘formal’ recognition by copying and reciting, verbatim, someone else’s speech, you are submitting the material for educational purposes.
A Dean, particularly of a professional or post-graduate degree, is to act as a mentor. They are to set an example for their students to follow and leave their students with their own pearls of wisdom. They are essentially, when delivering a speech, educating. In this case, someone who was publically educating his students was at the same time, lying to them. He was passing off someone else’s personal anecdotes and experiences as his own; he was developing with them, a sense of community and mentorship and acting as an ambassador for the program and the students during their celebration; but at the same time, he tarnished the reputation and legitimacy of the program, administrators and distinguished faculty, because all of his words were lifted from another source; in essence, Dean Philip Baker lied to his students.
When I was in school, every class handed out and reviewed the University of Alberta’s no-tolerance policy on plagiarism. I feared somehow, somewhere being caught accidentally for theft of an idea or an incorrect citation, and in a way, it is under this pretense that the policy is designed; the rationale is to protect the integrity of course work, assignments and the institution by disallowing, under any circumstance, thieving someone else’s published work without a source. It is a policy that I am aware is enforced, investigated, and taken very seriously. And whether this blatant stealing is being submitted for a grade, or read in front of a graduating class for their own inspiration and strengthened morale, we are all still under the umbrella of an institution; this concept of plagiarism is an institution-wide policy. If enforced in the classroom, and if said-enforcement will expel and black-list students, this policy should absolutely, adamantly, vehemently apply to faculty members as well.
If I was the type of student who plagiarized and I had been required to withdraw from my university and later found out that the Dean of Medicine had essentially committed academic fraud as well, I would question the validity of my punishment and demand compensation or reconciliation for this; because of the Dean of fucking Medicine at the University of Alberta, one of the top universities and top medical schools in Canada, is allowed to plagiarize, why wasn’t I?
I have read and considered Baker’s apology; he claims to have been inspired by the speech and in some sort of ‘lapse of judgment’, and terribly regrets his complete lack of citation. However, as an academic – a long time academic – one would think years of habitually citing research, data, articles and periodicals would be more of an instinct than stealing a published speech without citing it. Baker also claims that the experiences in the speech are indeed his own; if he is stealing printed material, I question his ‘personal anecdotes’ and their validity as well.
Never have I not been proud to be a University of Alberta student; I have always maintained a strong connection with my university; I am true to my school and my roots, and haven nothing but positive experiences to share in regard to the cherished years of my undergraduate degree. However, I am incredibly embarrassed by these allegations against Baker; other universities in Canada are sure to make a laughing stock of the Faculty of Medicine at the U of A; the institution has thus been black-marked and shamed by Baker’s foolish “lapse of judgment”.
Even if you’re too “busy” to write a good speech for convocation, or you are incapable of doing so… there does exist the possibility of commissioning a ghost writer to do so on your behalf; the stealing of a published work, particularly one from a well-known Ivy League school, which was published in an incredibly famous magazine, is… unwise at best.
Personally, I would love to see Dean Philip Baker experience that crushing fear of being expelled for the dreaded university-wide no-no, plagiarism.