am responding to certain comments made in the article published
in ASEE Prism, November 2006, entitled “The
Burden of Plagiarism.” To begin, the author states that
I “could not be reached for comment,” however, I cannot
recall any instance when the author even attempted to reach me for
comment. Such correspondence is particularly imperative when the
article seems to finger me as the primary instigator. Needless to
say, I would have used the opportunity to correct several misstatements
and often gross exaggerations of the facts. Please make no mistake:
I did not, have not, nor ever will condone plagiarism in my work,
my students or my department. In fact, I have not been accused,
nor have I ever plagiarized in my own work.
Due to the enormous publicity of these alleged plagiarism cases, there have been and continue to be, as evidenced in this article, many misstatements about what happened. I would like to take this opportunity to inform you of the facts.
First, this article reports that there are 34 alleged theses involved. When this story first broke, news articles reported that there were 55 alleged theses (Athens News, June 1, 2006), then 40 (Columbus Dispatch, Aug. 23, 2006), 37 (Columbus Dispatch, Aug. 24, 2006) and now 34. Indeed, the numbers of alleged plagiarized theses continue to drop because the investigation is still ongoing. More to the point, based on the knowledge available to me, not one of my graduate students’ theses can be shown to have plagiarized material as defined by Ohio University at the time of their submission. Yet, Ohio University continues to propagate this false image that the investigation is complete and there has been vast plagiarism in the department. I beg to know whether this author asked the university how many students have been found guilty of plagiarism and to report his response.
Second, the article makes it seem as though the students never attributed the alleged plagiarized passages to the original source. However, all of my students charged with plagiarism included the original sources from which they copied in both their bibliography and oftentimes on the very page where the quoted passages are seen although their methods of citation may have been unclear or improper. Indeed, several of these allegedly plagiarized passages come directly from the students’ own papers and research reports that they co-authored and reproduced in their theses. At its base, while this oversight in improper citation should be corrected, there was no intention to plagiarize.
Ohio University has made numerous prior comments to the press about
how Dr. Gunasekera and others were contributing to culture of plagiarism—a
statement that echoes the sentiments of the preliminary investigation
committee report released in May (authored by a professor and university
administrator, neither of whom are familiar with the subject material).
In this article, a representative of Ohio University is quoted as
stating that “he doesn’t believe the disciplined advisers
collaborated with the students.” (Emphasis added). Such vastly
different (and allegedly inflammatory) statements by the administration
further demonstrate the lack of any real truth to these allegations.
Which brings to me to my fourth, and perhaps most salient, point: Throughout this entire ordeal, I have never been provided the opportunity to defend myself. I was never consulted by either committee, and I have never been shown copies of any of the alleged plagiarism before the press release. Nonetheless, Ohio University has decided to charge me, convict me and essentially “hang” me without any meaningful opportunity as of the writing of this editorial to defend myself. While this is unfair and wrong, even more important is the fact the claims of impropriety are propagated in the media. Mischaracterizations and false statements become readily accepted if people see them in print enough times. I urge Prism to more properly investigate the facts and seek to correct those grievous errors.
Jay Gunasekera, Ph.D., D.Sc., P.E.
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Thomas K. Grose, the writer responds:
Professor Gunasekera writes that he cannot recall any attempt on my part to reach him. That may be, but I most certainly tried to reach him. I wanted to give him an opportunity to comment on the questions raised by the controversy. Moreover, I’m never completely happy having to quote from other publications. Therefore, I made several attempts to contact him. I sent him an e-mail explaining what type of story I was writing and asking him to e-mail me back with a suggested time to call him and a contact number. I’ve been writing for Prism for many years now, and it’s been my experience that e-mail is the best and most efficient way to make initial contact with engineering professors; indeed, many will tell you that they’re more likely to more quickly respond to e-mails than voicemails. I never got a response from Gunasekera.
I also tried calling him twice. I cannot recall if I left any voicemails, but I may not have. Why? I had no reason to doubt that he hadn’t received my e-mail; I certainly never received any messages telling me that it wasn’t delivered. I thought that if he were willing to talk to me, he would answer my e-mail and schedule a phone interview.
While it would have been wonderful to talk to Gunasekera, it wouldn’t have greatly changed the article. It was never my, nor my editors’, intent to rehash the controversy in blow-by-blow detail. Our intent was the final result: a story that gave a very short synopsis of the plagiarism controversy, then broadly focused on a few of the larger questions it raised. The intent was not a story that delved into the sorts of detailed issues the professor mentions in letter. It was never intended to be a forum for a debate between him, Ohio University and the other principals involved. Nor was it intended to be an investigation of the school’s handling of the matter.