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                                A Personal Take on Academic Integrity

The other day there was an article in the New York Times about the computerized technology of plagiarism and cheating. As chair of the Music Department at CCNY I thought about the dangers facing the students in my care. It reminded me of a question I ask all incoming potential music majors: “Do you want to be a music student or a musician?” It is the wise student who answers the latter. The ignorant student often asks about the difference between the two goals and I explain that a music student takes a bunch of courses and hopes for the best whereas a musician is a person engaged in a daily regimen of personal growth and development. Too many students think that their immediate goal is to take and pass the requisite courses for a degree and show up at graduation so they can get a good job. They do not see education as an end in itself.  For many of these people the option of cheating and plagiarizing is occasionally attractive, especially when they are overwhelmed by the demands of job and family. In their desperation they can come up with any number of seemingly good reasons to take short cuts to course completion. When they do engage in nefarious academic activities they diminish their own self worth and dishonor themselves and their family. Ignorant of Murphy’s Law they deny the possibility of being caught, failing the assignment, and reaping the attendant shame that is sure to follow, or failing the course and losing the time, money, and sweat equity they already invested. In their blindness they often do not envision the worst-case scenario––being expelled from school. When students engage in such activities they are gambling­ with their lives and careers. What seems like an easy fix to their present dilemma could be the cause of a long series of problems and predicaments.

We live in a world where the flashing images on television lead us to believe that ethics and morality have gone the way of the dodo. The screen is littered with irresponsible people whose only motive is to be loud and to be famous. They do not have to be fair and balanced, or even right since there is no longer any responsible fourth estate to call them out when they are wrong. There no longer seems to be any penalty for ineptitude, stupidity, or malice. If the people who run our governments, businesses, and major institutions are seen as incompetent buffoons what are students to do when they enter the classroom?

School must be a place where truth and honesty are paramount, where people can count on each other as they search together for meaning and value. The teacher must be able to trust the students and visa versa. Without trust there is no meaningful communication or cooperation, and the classroom becomes a mirror of the madness that passes for reality off campus. As a teacher, what disturbs me most about cheating and plagiarism is the lost opportunity for learning. The educational process only works successfully when the teacher and student meet each other half way. The teacher attempts to transmit the data and ideas that they deem to be crucial to the understanding of their subject area, and the student attempts to comprehend and use what is being transmitted to them. The end result of this meeting of the minds should be a student who matures as a scholar and a person. It is the hope of every teacher that their students will one day become upstanding members of society––wise, fair, humane, honest, and trustworthy. These important lessons begin in school, and, if well taught, carry on throughout a lifetime of true professionalism and intellectual or creative achievement. As in sports, we must all learn to play by the rules and respect boundaries.

When you put your name on something it should serve as your hallmark. It tells the world that you made this thing and it represents your best work.  “Dr. Stephen Jablonsky fecit.”