Post Classifieds

Professors plagiarism reported

By Alicia DelGallo
On December 2, 2012

UCF has implemented several new policies to curb plagiarism and cheating among its students. One recent effort is the Z designation, which places a Z on students transcripts if they are accused of academic dishonesty. But students arent the only ones getting busted.

Three federal investigations into faculty plagiarism led the university to send a mass email to faculty on Sept. 24 declaring a new plagiarism-detection program, iThenticate, mandatory.

iThenticate is similar to Turnitin.com, which is used to detect plagiarism in papers submitted by students. It has been available to faculty as an optional tool since 2010, UCF spokesman Chad Binette said, and was made mandatory this fall by M.J. Soileau, vice president for the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization.

The investigations involved plagiarism in research proposals and were launched by the National Science Foundation in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Plagiarism has been an issue for universities and funding agencies nationwide for years, Binette said. Three cases equate to 0.1 percent of the total number of proposals during that time.

The email, sent by the Office of Research and Commercialization, said the university hopes the requirement will protect it from further allegations.

All three investigations involved improper citation of someone elses work in the background section of the proposal where authors introduce previous studies and information that led to their research. They did not involve issues related to the researchers findings, Binette said.

The first was launched in 2007 when Guifang Li, Ph.D., a professor of optics and physics at UCF, submitted similar proposals to three different agencies for funding. One agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, alerted UCF to the potential plagiarism.

In the scientific world, you reference something by putting a bracket, Li said. If the written copy is the same, then I need to put a quotation mark or indent, which, obviously, I did not know I needed to do that. The NSF considers this stuff high school students should know. Of course, I never attended high school here, said Li, who was born in Jiangsu, China.

Not growing up in the country that a researcher works in isnt an excuse for not knowing plagiarism laws, said Omar Khan, a senior micro & molecular biology major.

Even if a professor had just came from overseas, Khan said. I think it is still not a valid reason to evade their responsibility of sticking to plagiarism rules since that is their job as a researcher, and they should consciously know how this may affect their career.

However, Khan doesnt think students should let these plagiarism cases affect their outlooks on faculty as a whole at UCF.

If we always let the few who may have fouled in their field or within a recognized group represent that group in its entirety, then I dont think we as people would be able to move forward in just about anything, Khan said.

If students at UCF are found guilty of plagiarism, it could lead to an F on the assignment or in the class, a Z designation attached to their transcript or, in severe or repeat offenses, suspension or expulsion from the university.

In Lis case, UCF conducted an internal investigation and decided the presence of citations, though improperly used, diminished Lis fault and did not find him guilty of research misconduct, according to the NSF report.

NSF and AFOSR disagreed with UCF and issued a finding of plagiarism. They said Li should have known the correct citation regulations due to his multiple accomplishments in research. Li is the recipient of the NSF CAREER award and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award, and is also a fellow of the Optical Society of America, deputy editor for Optics Express and an associate editor for Photonics Technology Letters.

I did slack, looking back, Li said. But there was no bad intention there. Im trying to focus on the future; certainly I wont make the same mistake again.

As a result, AFOSR prohibited Li from being a reviewer of proposals for three years and required that he take an ethics training course.

NSF debarred Li for two years after closing the case in spring 2011. He is unable to receive federal funding for research until 2013.

When you attach the word plagiarism to a scientist, what everybody thinks is you stole somebodys idea, and it can destroy somebodys career, Li said. You just dont do this lightly.

The other two investigations involved similar citation mishaps.

Swadeshmukul Santra, Ph.D., an associate professor of nanotechnology, was found guilty by NSF in March 2011 of research misconduct due to plagiarism. He had to take an ethics course and provide proof, in the form of a written certification or guarantee, that his work during the following year was plagiarism free.

Henry Daniell, Ph.D., a professor of biotechnology, was the only researcher investigated that was found not guilty by NSF. Both Daniell and Santra said graduate students were responsible for the citation errors in their work, but Santra did not provide NSF with students names. Daniell did come forward with names and all parties involved were given a letter of reprimand.

Santra and Daniell are from India, as are some of the graduate students involved with the proposals, and, like Li, both researchers believe the language barrier and international schooling may have contributed to the mistakes.

There is no real global standardization, said Daniell, one of the top-funded researchers at UCF. Its a good idea to especially train international students in this process.

In the fall of 2011, UCF instituted a training program specifically for international researchers and graduate assistants.

Research proposals often involve collaborators from the United States and abroad, Binette said. All of the collaborators must take the appropriate precautions to ensure that the contents are accurate and properly cited.

Before students become candidates for a doctoral degree at UCF, they must complete four, two-hour workshops consisting of real-world scenarios related to ethics and responsible conduct of research.

They must also complete online training through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative program, an organization that provides online research ethics education to members of the research community and is provided at no cost.

A lot of people are involved in these documents, Daniell said. They need to go through proper checking.

He thinks iThenticate could be helpful, but worries about the confidentiality of proposals after they are uploaded to the programs database, something he said was a major concern for faculty.

The email noted this concern and insisted that proposals containing original ideas, data and technology cannot be accessed by iThenticate personnel.

UCFs goal in making iThenticate mandatory is to create an environment where mistakes can be avoided and academic integrity preserved, Binette said.

All three of the researchers investigated are still working at UCF. Li is the only one who is still restricted by NSF. His debarment will be lifted in spring 2013.

Since the plagiarism hiccup, Daniell landed three major grants totaling $7 million: One from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for research on a pill-form polio vaccine, one from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and $5.5 million from the National Institutes of Health for hemophilia research in partnership with the University of Florida.

Santra has also submitted proposals, and one involving cancer-drug research was recently funded by NSF.

I think we learn from mistakes, Santra said. And this is a mistake that I was unable to catch because there were no tools available to me.

Now there are.

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