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Friday August 12th

Editorial: Terry Magnuson's plagiarism starts conversation about academic integrity

DTH Photo Illustration. UNC's former Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson resigned on March 10 after admitting to plagiarism on a grant application, but how does this latest controversy fit into a broader conversation around academic dishonesty?
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. UNC's former Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson resigned on March 10 after admitting to plagiarism on a grant application, but how does this latest controversy fit into a broader conversation around academic dishonesty?

In the latest public controversy to come out UNC over the past few years, former Vice Chancellor for Research Terry Magnuson resigned on March 10 after admitting to plagiarism on a grant application. 

Magnuson’s case magnified the ongoing issue surrounding academic integrity, not only at UNC, but academia in general – an issue that has been exasperated by nearly two years of virtual education.

Let’s admit it, most of us have not gone untouched by academic dishonesty at one point or another in our schooling career, whether that be in our K-12 experience or in higher education.

While we might be ashamed and reluctant to acknowledge any wrongdoing, studies have shown that cheating is pretty widespread in academia. Between 75 and 98 percent of college students admitted to cheating at some point in their academic careers, according to data from Best Accredited Colleges. 

And in a digital age where resources like Chegg, Course Hero, Quizlet and StackOverflow can make it easy to look up answers or get explanations for problems that we otherwise would be lost in, it can be hard to not use them.

Throughout the reign of "Zoom University," it was even more difficult for professors to monitor what their students were actually doing behind their computer screens. Short of using a lockdown browser, professors could only hope that students would stick to the honor code and not use online resources.

But taking the easy way out is just too enticing, especially for very difficult classes where heavily weighted exam or assignment grades can make or break your grade and your GPA.

And Magnuson shows this issue isn’t limited to students either.

Indeed, while many professors are reluctant to confess to any misdoings, there are numerous stories of professors who have anonymously admitted to cheating during their academic careers. 

Therefore, it can lead to some students questioning how professors and TAs can get on them for cheating when they themselves have probably done the same in the past. In Magnuson’s case, the effect is worse as he was such a high-ranking person in the administration. 

However, just as a student would be punished for academic dishonesty, Magnuson was also punished in a manner that was arguably more severe. In addition to losing his prestigious role at UNC, his reputation has been tarnished and will probably have a very difficult time finding another position in academia for a while.

This episode serves as a warning for students by reminding them that no matter how far removed we might be from college in the future – shady things from our past always have a chance to resurface. The effect of which is particularly severe for those who are looking to work in industries that tend to have a high public profile such as academia or politics.

In an ideal world, we would all avoid academic dishonesty and be the model students that our parents, school and society want us to be. But in the real world, it can be a tough ask, especially if you’re in a class where the professor is seemingly inept at teaching and face the pressure of maintaining a good GPA.

Magnuson’s departure shouldn’t be treated as just a one-off event, rather, it might signal the start of a long and difficult conversation on maintaining and enforcing academic integrity.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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