January 20, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 60  

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McGill student gets turnitin.com overturned

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

A McGill University student protesting turnitin.com, an online plagiarism-detecting service, will not be required to submit his essay after the university allowed the paper to be marked despite his professor’s original criteria.

“I think the incident of McGill has set a precedent,” said Ian Boyko, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, which played a large role in lobbying the university for Jesse Rosenfeld, the student who refused to submit his essay.

Boyko said he hopes the move by the university in Rosenfeld’s favour will send messages across Canada to students who have ethical problems turning in an essay to a private company. “Let’s hope it opens up some dialogue,” he added.

According to Boyko, the issue of plagiarism-detecting websites is symptomatic of the under-funding of post-secondary education. “If this is going to be a short cut, then I think it poses a serious problem.”

Rosenfeld could not be reached for comment.

Morton Mandelson, associate dean of academic and student affairs at McGill, said by law he could not comment on the specific case. “We conducted a trial — we don’t prohibit turnitin.com with any of our [professors].”

McGill has formed a committee to draft recommendations about a plagiarism policy for the university’s senate, Mandelson said, adding the committee is taking comments and concerns from faculty and staff. “The plan is to have appropriate guidelines by the next academic year,” he said.

“We are trying to address the whole issue of plagiarism,” stated Vivian Choy, VP-university affairs for the Students’ Society of McGill University, citing the role of the SSMU was to address concerns over the policy side of the issue.

“The SSMU opposes the mandatory use of [turnitin.com] — but I do think some choice should be a factor in all of this,” she said, noting a legal assessment of turnitin.com may allow everyone to better address the issue.

Choy pointed out the committee writing the plagiarism policy received a summary of the situation from the SSMU, which included research from faculty and students collected by the SSMU. “It’s admirable the university is tackling the issue,” she added.

“[Turnitin.com] is not something we’ve enforced on anyone — there’s been positive support for it,” said Western’s provost and VP-academic Greg Moran.

“This is a tool to help faculty prevent students from cheating,” he said. “It’s deterrent more than anything else.”

Moran explained that turnitin.com has been used at Western for the last three years, longer than any other Canadian university, although there is not a problem with plagiarism on campus. “It’s no more a problem here than it is anywhere else, and it’s difficult to detect more than ever,” he noted.



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