From the Letters to the Editor column of the September 2004 Perspectives

Prosecuting Plagiarism

Robert L. Zangrando, September 2004

To the Editor:

Peter Charles Hoffer's two-part series on plagiarism (Perspectives, February and March 2004) is a welcome addition to members' deliberations, but he left much unsaid.

From the mid-1980s to last year, when the AHA Council discontinued the practice, the Association's Professional Division received complaints of plagiarism, investigated them, and informed both parties (accuser and alleged abuser) of its findings. We had, thereby, a vital mechanism for responding to victims' pain, for holding plagiarists to some accountability, and for warning would-be thieves of future detection. Now, all of that is gone, and we are left wholly to fend for ourselves.

Hoffer refers to a new American Historical Review policy that encourages book reviewers to identify suspect work (a public disclosure, ironically, that the AHA itself usually declined to undertake during the previous 17 years), and he assures us that Association officials will hereafter "provide wise counsel" to those seeking help (Perspectives, March 2004, page 25). Unfortunately, "wise counsel" is a poor substitute for an organization's steadfast stance, shoulder-to-shoulder with an aggrieved scholar, to investigate the extent of academic fraud and its consequences for a victim's career.

Information on plagiarism and exhortations to avoid it have their roles. What this profession needs, however, is an in-place, action agency that will deal with misconduct in defense of its victims, in unflinching support of our ethical codes, and, thereby, in service to us all.

Robert L. Zangrando
University of Akron (emeritus)