An Ohio University senior was expelled for plagiarizing three phrases from a Wikipedia article, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported today. Worse yet, the student was on a study-abroad trip in Greece when she was expelled and was told to make her own travel arrangements home.
The student, Allison Routman, said she didn’t know she had done anything wrong by copying the three phrases (not whole sentences) from the online encyclopedia for a research paper. Routman also claims the committee that ruled on her expulsion did not give her a fair chance.
Routman copied three almost anonymous phrases (“when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa,” “German speakign minority outside of Germany” and “who had just been released from a concentration camp”) from the Wikipedia article on the film Europa, Europa.
This makes me wonder where we draw the lines when it comes to plagiarism, at whole sentences, whole clauses, whole prepositional phrases? At some point, don’t we have to allow that there’s no better or meaningfully different way to write something, other than with the phrasing that’s already in the Wikipedia or in some other source?
Another wondering: How on earth did Routman think this was okay for a research paper where she was asked to cite her sources? How could she have thought this sort of copy-and-paste mentality is okay in any academic setting?
Maybe things were a bit different back when I started out in college, in those heady, pre-9/11, pre-blogosphere, pre-Wikipedia digital days, but I didn’t copy and paste from sources online. I knew it was plagiarism — and since then I’ve learned that even more subtle shades of borrowing can be considered plagiarism. Why didn’t Routman, a senior at a large university who was smart enough to be accepted into this study-abroad trip not realize that what she was doing was wrong?