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Not To Belabor This McAdoo Plagiarism Issue But...

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...just one more follow-up point and prepare yourself it's a long one.

There was quite a flurry of responses on Twitter to Doc's excellent piece explaining why the newly discovered plagiarism in the paper at the center of Michael McAdoo's lawsuit against the NCAA and UNC is irrelevant. One such response was from someone I assumed is an NCSU fan who said I was incorrect in my assertion McAdoo's lawsuit only focused on a question of process and precedent. He said the real question was whether UNC actually cared about plagiarism. After stifling the temptation give a snotty response I decided the question itself deserved a well thought out response. So let's delve into the UNC honor code to see what it says about academic misconduct and whether the handling of McAdoo's case was in line with established sanction guidelines.

First, what does the UNC honor code consider academic misconduct.

B. Academic Dishonesty.

It shall be the responsibility of every student enrolled at the University of North Carolina to support the principles of academic integrity and to refrain from all forms of academic dishonesty including, but not limited to, the following:

1. Plagiarism in the form of deliberate or reckless representation of another’s words, thoughts, or ideas as one’s own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise.

2. Falsification, fabrication, or misrepresentation of data, other information, or citations in connection with an academic assignment, whether graded or otherwise.

3. Unauthorized assistance or unauthorized collaboration in connection with academic work, whether graded or otherwise.

4. Cheating on examinations or other academic assignments, whether graded or otherwise, including but not limited to the following:

a. Using unauthorized materials and methods (notes, books, electronic information, telephonic or other forms of electronic communication, or other sources or methods), or
b. Representing another’s work as one’s own.

5. Violating procedures pertaining to the academic process, including but not limited to the following:

a. Violating or subverting requirements governing administration of examinations or other academic assignments;
b. Compromising the security of examinations or academic assignments; or
c. Engaging in other actions that compromise the integrity of the grading or evaluation process.

6. Deliberately furnishing false information to members of the University community in connection with their efforts to prevent, investigate, or enforce University requirements regarding academic dishonesty.

7. Forging, falsifying, or misusing University documents, records, identification cards, computers, or other resources so as to violate requirements regarding academic dishonesty.

8. Violating other University policies that are designed to assure that academic work conforms to requirements relating to academic integrity.

9. Assisting or aiding another to engage in acts of academic dishonesty prohibited by Section II.B.

At UNC there is a catch-all label for any academic misconduct which is "academic dishonesty." Under that UNC lists nine different items which are considered academic dishonesty. Plagiarism is listed as the first one which may or may not be to emphasize it. For the record, McAdoo was found guilty of violating II.B.4.b or "representing another's work as one's own" creatively referred to as "cheating." Plagiarism is a different charge but both fall under "academic dishonesty" which means they are treated as the same. Since that is the case what penalties are available for the honor court to apply?

B. Available Sanctions: Individuals.

The following sanctions alone or in combination may be imposed in connection with offenses under this Instrument:

1. Academic Sanctions including but not limited to the following:

a.Failing Grade.  Receipt of a failing grade in a course, component or aspect of a course, or on an assignment.

b.Educational Assignment.  Satisfactory completion of an additional educational assignment, course, or program with or without credit.

c.Other Requirements.  Other requirements or conditions designed to assure that prior academic misconduct is remedied and does not recur in the future.

d.Implications for Academic Retention of Graduate or Professional School Students.  In the case of graduate or professional school students, the imposition of an academic sanction in the form of a failing grade in a course shall not in itself be grounds for terminating the affected student’s enrollment in the academic program in which he or she is enrolled, except when the pertinent academic authorities independently determine that such termination is warranted pursuant to pertinent academic rules and requirements.

In addition to the above sanctions there are "penalties of record" which includes probation, suspension, expulsion and a written warning. It is these penalties that are placed on the student's academic record. In short everything is on the table from failing the assignment to expulsion from UNC. It stands to reason that the honor court can and will apply any of these sanctions if they see fit. At UNC, the honor code spells out minimum penalties as well as what is considered the "usual" penalty.

D. Gravity of Offenses.

1. Usual and Minimum Sanctions. In determining the appropriate sanction to be imposed in individual cases, consideration shall be given to usual and minimum sanctions specified in this section as well. For purposes of this Instrument, “usual” sanctions are those that are to be applied in individual cases except to the extent that relevant factors listed in Section III.A. provide a compelling basis for imposition of a lesser or greater sanction in order to do justice in a particular case. “Minimum sanctions” are the least serious sanction possible in light of the gravity of the conduct in question, although a more substantial sanction may be imposed in order to do justice in a particular case.

2. Academic Dishonesty.

a.
For an initial instance of academic dishonesty,

i. The usual sanction for grade-related misconduct shall be a failing grade in the course, an aspect or component of the course, or on the assignment as recommended by the instructor, and suspension for one full academic semester or until specified conditions are met \

ii.
The minimum sanction for grade-related misconduct shall be a failing grade in the course, component or aspect of the course, or on the assignment as recommended by the instructor; probation for at least one full academic semester; an additional educational assignment or other requirements as appropriate; and a written warning that further academic misconduct will lead to more serious sanctions.

b.For a second or subsequent instance of academic dishonesty, the minimum sanction shall be suspension for at least two full academic semesters.

Any case of academic dishonesty is subject to a failing grade in the course, a component of it or the assignment based on the recommendation of the instructor. Probation is also mandated as well as other requirements and a written warning. That is the basic sanction for what McAdoo's or any student charged with "academic dishonesty." The "usual" sanction is applied except when there are factors that demand a "lesser or greater sanction in order to do justic in a particular case." According to the lawsuit documents McAdoo was given four sanctions after being found guilty of cheating. Two of the sanctions are redacted which means they either include someone's name who should not be revealed or some other FERPA protected detail. Based on the sanctions available we can assume that it is one of those. The two unredacted sanctions spelled out in the honor court's rationale are probation for the Fall, 2010 semester and a failing grade in the class. In addition to that, the honor court comments on letters written by Butch Davis and others on McAdoo's behalf. They also note McAdoo's concern that missing time might hurt his prospects of going to the NFL. To all these factors the honor court said:

The Court appreciated Mr. McAdoo's post-graduation plans, but all students face possible delays or disruptions in post-graduation plans due to a semester of suspension. Thus, the court did not find this compelling enough to deviate below the usual sanction.

Basically, McAdoo received the usual sanction and despite pleas on his behalf from the head football coach and an academic counselor plus his own concerns about his NFL prospects the honor court refused to cut him any slack. In other words McAdoo was treated the same as any other student would have and it appears in line with the spelled out sanctions found in the honor code. That bears repeating. The honor court could have reduced the penalty but instead played it by the book. Not exactly the actions of an organization looking the other way or mortgaging its credibility in the name of football.

The one caveat we could possibly explore here is whether the plagiarism in addition to the assistance on the works cited page would have caused the honor court to penalize McAdoo above the "usual" sanction. We have no way of knowing and I doubt anyone at UNC would be willing to speculate as such. The honor code does say a "second or subsequent instance of academic dishonesty" would result in a minimum of a suspension for two semesters. Would the plagiarism be considered one instance of academic dishonesty and assistance from the tutor a second? Again, this is not known and the honor code does not appear to speak to that point(though given the legalese involved in the "Instrument" I may have missed it.)

So what does all of this mean? It means the honor court acted appropriately in respect to McAdoo and did everything they would have done to a regular student. It is also clear that while the honor court weighed the advocacy of Butch Davis and others, it decided that McAdoo should not receive a lighter sanction that is usually meted out. As I said, you could argue that the added plagiarism may have created a different charge but in the end McAdoo was duly sanctioned, by the honor code, for academic dishonesty as it pertained to this specific paper. He got a failing grade, probation, suspension for the spring semester and other sanctions redacted in the lawsuit documents. Only people who are blinded by hate and shortsightedly looking at their own agenda would consider this insufficient. Oh and speaking of those people(who are mostly NC State fans) take a look at what the NC State student code of conduct says about academic dishonesty. It is more or less the same thing.

In conclusion, it is clear UNC takes academic issues seriously. While some among the NC State fan base want to hold up McAdoo's undiscovered plagiarism as a sign the honor court cannot be trusted to ferret malfeasance out, the sanctions applied to McAdoo by the prescribed guidelines dispute that. Besides, McAdoo would not be the first student to think you can cut, paste and cite his way through a paper so let's not act like he stole the Lindbergh baby or something. As for why no one caught it until now, I don't have any definitive answers. The professor probably should have but apparently didn't. Is it possible the professor did see it and decided to cut a freshman some slack? I guess and that does not make him as much a bad professor as it does someone showing grace. In any event the professor is not first to make such a mistake given how many papers they see through the course of a semester.

In terms of UNC vetting the paper more thoroughly in the appeals process, I imagine the manner in which the violation was discovered had something to do with how they viewed it. Remember, UNC found these issues by reviewing player emails and their interactions with Jennifer Wiley. When this paper was discovered, the email trail provided ample evidence of a clear honor code violation in the works cited page. In all likelihood everyone involved focused like a laser on that aspect and did not consider whether the rest of the paper might be a problem. In other words, there was a slam dunk conviction for academic dishonesty without going any further so it simply was not pressed further. From there the appeal to the NCAA depended on the honor court finding and here we are.

The bottom line is the UNC honor court did its job when it came to McAdoo. It did it again when it came to Charles Brown who was also sanctioned and did not play football for a year. The same was true for Brian Gupton and Jonathan Smith who also sat out the balance of a year based on sanctions from the honor court. There is also Shaun Draughn and Da'Norris Searcy who sat a total of four games while their academics were probed(sans the honor court) or Linwan Euwell and Ryan Houston who also missed games and were ultimately allowed to play by the honor court. Houston ended up redshirting and Euwell has since left the program. Then there was Kendric Burney who missed an additional game(his seventh) while his eligibility was sorted out with the NCAA as a result of honor court sanctions. All of these are proof UNC was taking the academic issues seriously and punishing them as needed or in the case of two players penalizing players out of a sense of caution rather than actual infractions committed.

*Steps up on soapbox*

One more thing.

Throughout this whole scandal you hear ABCers toss "The Carolina Way" around almost incessantly. They seem to be enjoying the comeuppance, if you will, they feel UNC is getting after years of hearing about how things are done the right way in Chapel Hill. Fair enough I suppose. Anyone who has ever held to any sort of value system or ideal knows the moment you deviate from those ideals there are always plenty of people mark your sins even if they don't describe to those values themselves. Hypocrisy is a charge people will run over their own mother to make. In the case of some NCSU fans, there has been a fair amount of arrogance expressed by those on the UNC side where "The Carolina Way" is concerned. So yes, this whole business is a bit of humble pie for all of us who held UNC to a higher standard. As a result they get to take their shots and enjoy it.

That being said, I do not think "The Carolina Way" has been completely lost. Like any set of ideals, "The Carolina Way" is subject to the failings of humanity and practical pressures of the real world. Sometimes people make mistakes, sometimes circumstances dictate courses of action that run counter to the very ideals we hold sacred. That's not an excuse, that's  just life. How a person or organization responds amid their own failures is important too. You can either accept your failings and wallow in them or pick yourself up and do better the next time.  Those who scream "hypocrite" and make hay at the failing of others will never be placated no matter what UNC does. The focus for those in leadership in Chapel Hill is to put the house in order and prove the critics wrong by coming out of this stronger.

*Steps down and goes to look for some Diet Mt. Dew*