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A Letter to the UTSA community: UTSA Honors Alliance students didn't plagiarize

April 2, 2008

From Akshay Thusu
Honor Code Chair, UTSA Honors Alliance

The Sunday, March 30 front-page story in the San Antonio Express-News, "UTSA students commit sin they're trying to halt," intended to uncover plagiarism at UTSA. It did not. Instead, the story demonstrated both tabloid journalism and a reporter's desire to make news where there is no news.

The San Antonio Express-News garnered lots of national attention for its story, and even ABC Radio's Paul Harvey said UTSA's new honor code "was plagiarized." Well, Paul Harvey got it wrong. So did The New York Times, MSNBC, the Chicago Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, National Public Radio and others, since they relied on the San Antonio newspaper. Furthermore, some media outlets including United Press International and others incorrectly stated that I was personally in charge of drafting the UTSA honor code. I hope they will broadcast or print corrections; let's see.

UTSA students did not commit a sin; a sin was committed by the Express-News when it sensationalized a story for its own gain. I question reporter Melissa Ludwig's qualifications to cover academic integrity in higher education when she blatantly demonstrates lack of journalistic integrity in a story that appeared to be hurriedly put together to garner a front-page location. It is ironic that she wanted to educate us about integrity and properly used sources, when her story lacked both.

An important source in Ludwig's story, Daniel E. Wueste, director of the Robert J. Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University, was dismayed by Ludwig's article. In response to the national media attention, Wueste wrote that Ludwig "wrongly suggests that I think the honor code at The University of Texas at San Antonio was plagiarized."

The reason UTSA's draft honor code resembles the code belonging to Brigham Young University is because it is supposed to -- they were both produced using template material provided by the Center for Academic Integrity. Wueste maintains that citations for their material are not required, and that sometimes it is best to use standardized language, particularly when it comes to rules. In a letter to the national newspaper, USA Today, Wueste defends UTSA, describing an honor code as being like a list of rules. For example, a swimming club would not be concerned if the safety rules posted at their pool were displayed at another swimming club.

According to Wueste, a national expert on the issue of academic fraud at institutions of higher education, "no one at the Center for Academic Integrity would say that the UTSA honor code was stolen." He makes it clear that the center is not in the "gotcha business," but unfortunately, it appears that the San Antonio Express-News is.

Some of the subsequent national media attention this week suggested that I was personally responsible for plagiarism -- and that I initiated it five years ago. I could not have done so, since I was a high school student in India. Ludwig's article refers to a "scary trend." The scary trend I see is the influx of tabloid journalism into mainstream media. As a result of bad reporting that became even worse in media outlets around the country, I have been the subject of disparaging e-mail messages that focus on my ethnic background. A lesson for the Express-News is that bad reporting brings out even worse behavior in its readers.

The hard-working students who are part of the UTSA Honors Alliance deserve credit for their outstanding work. At the very least, these students deserve to be the subject of fair and balanced reporting.

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Responses to the UTSA draft honor code media coverage

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