Best Defense

‘Plagiarism’ at the Naval War College: A response from a military professor

Most people see plagiarism as a wholly intentional act.

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By Capt. Michael Junge, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest respondent

Most people see plagiarism as a wholly intentional act. The comments on the “Morty Fied” piece here at Best Defense show a clear understanding of this limited definition. Yet at the U.S. Naval War College, we use an expansive definition of plagiarism that excludes intent.

From the faculty handbook:

1) Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s work without giving proper credit to the author or creator of the work. It is passing off as one’s own another’s words, ideas, analysis, or other products. Whether intentional or unintentional, plagiarism is a serious violation of academic integrity and will be treated as such by the command.

(a) Plagiarism includes but is not limited to the following actions:

1. The verbatim use of others’ words without citation.

2. The paraphrasing of others’ words or ideas without citation.

3. Any use of others’ work (other than facts that are widely accepted as common knowledge) found in books, journals, newspapers, websites, interviews, government documents, course materials, lecture notes, films, etc., without giving credit.

(b) Authors are expected to give full credit in their written submissions when utilizing another’s words or ideas. Such utilization, with proper attribution, is not prohibited by this code. However, a substantially borrowed but attributed paper may lack the originality expected of graduate-level work; submission of such a paper may merit a low or failing grade, but is not plagiarism.

Note the third sentence: “Whether intentional or unintentional…”

The War College has a formal process to deal with accusations of plagiarism. And a plagiarism case can take a while to work through the system. I know of a student whose recent case took over two months to get through the process. And he swore it wasn’t intentional. But again, USNWC holds to a definition of plagiarism where if you improperly cite, inadvertently don’t cite, or intentionally misrepresent someone else’s work as your own — it’s all the same thing.

The faculty handbook is also clear on that formal process. In fact, it covers about two pages (117-118). At the end, it reads:

The Academic Integrity Review Committee will thoroughly review the case, interview the student if physically present, make findings of fact, and recommend appropriate action to the President via the Provost. This action may include any or all of the following:

1. Lowering of grades on the affected work (this will be a letter grade of F and a numerical grade of between 0 and 59) or on the entire course of instruction.

2. Inclusion of remarks in fitness reports.

3. Letters to appropriate branches of the Service, agencies, offices, or governments.

4. Dismissal from NWC.

5. Referral for disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or for appropriate action under the rules governing civilian personnel.

A “zero” is an option. So is a 59. As military personnel know, the commander makes decisions and subordinates make recommendations. If we have an issue with the decision we can, and should, discuss it with the commander.

Or we can go to the blogosphere. Also an option.

In light of the facts above, there are some other issues with Morty’s post:

1. It shares unsubstantiated and poorly informed rumor. Both the provost and president are pretty approachable but clearly were not approached.

2. Morty demonstrates a limited understanding of “ethics.” Perhaps it is more ethical not just to jettison an officer over something inadvertent — if that’s what it was, since all we have is unsubstantiated rumor. The post also pushes for a zero-defect mentality, under which no transgression goes without a summary execution. Ethics is about more than just following the rules. Even if they were followed in this case.

3. Morty shows an odd understanding of the accreditation process. Not awarding the rumored offender a degree means that the accreditation is safe and sound. Especially since the decision maker, since Morty doesn’t know who it was, clearly followed internal War College guidance.

The whole article sounds more like someone didn’t get what he wanted and decided to whine rather than discuss a serious issue with the chain of command.

If someone wants to take issue with the War College, there are other places. I’m personally more concerned that we’ve had a faculty member convicted on child porn charges and another resign over sending the wrong kind of picture to the wrong person, and leadership never openly discussed the issues. I’m certain that Privacy Act concerns will be cited, yet there were news stories about each of those cases. At some point we need to address publicly known issues. That’s how transparency and trust grow.

So, in the end, I hope that the president and provost openly address Morty’s post. But I am also ashamed that a member of the faculty wrote that screed. That’s not a way to get more transparency. If anything, it will drive more people to hide more things.

Oh, and we just finished the command climate survey on Friday.

Captain Michael Junge is a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer currently serving in the Joint Military Operations Department of the U.S. Naval War College. He commanded USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) and served in amphibious assault ships, destroyers, and frigates. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Naval War College, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government. However, his cat is perfectly happy if this post gets him in trouble.

Image credit: U.S. Navy

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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