No moral high ground in Ateneo’s handling of plagiarism issue: Ethics expert

By Lala Rimando,

Posted at Apr 12 2010 07:07 PM | Updated as of Apr 13 2010 08:31 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo de Manila University has not demonstrated a moral high ground in how it handled the plagiarism issue on the speech of top executive Manuel V. Pangilinan to graduating students, a business ethics expert noted.

“We expect, and need, our universities to reclaim the moral high ground. Ateneo has not demonstrated that it is willing to do this,” Andrew Crane, a business ethics professor at York University in Canada, wrote in an email.

Crane stressed how universities all over the world are “facing a crisis of confidence about the quality of their degrees.” Internet-based plagiarism and paid essay writing services have increasingly threatened the credibility of examination systems, explained the co-author of the textbook, Business Ethics: Managing Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability in the Age of Globalization.

“Ateneo should be taking this opportunity to reinforce its commitment to academic integrity, and making a stand about the importance of tackling plagiarism, not spending its efforts convincing the disgraced businessman to reconsider his desicion to resign,” Crane shared.

The Ateneo Board of Trustees, in a statement published on the school’s website, said they consider the matter of plagiarism as “very serious” and that they have “struggled with the issue and engaged in a deep reflection on its own values of honesty and integrity.”

However, citing their “Catholic moral tradition which for culpability considers...full awareness and consent (of the act of plagiarism on the part of Pangilinan), the Board unanimously decided not to accept Pangilinan’s offer to resign as their chairman.

They, however, accepted Pangilinan’s apology since they said this is “the appropriate response to this unfortunate incident.” They recognized that, by offering to resign to spare the university from criticism, Pangilinan “considered this a very serious matter that has caused him deep embarrassment and pain.

Pangilinan’s offer to resign came after he admitted that the Facebook posts, which revealed plagiarism in the March 27 speech he delivered to a graduating class, were accurate. His speech writers lifted parts from those previously delivered by US President Barack Obama, TV host Oprah Winfrey and children's author JK Rowling.

Pangilinan, a well-known top executive of some of Manila’s largest and most profitable firms engaged in telecommunications, power, toll roads, water supply, among others, has previously spoken about the importance of business ethics in his other speeches.

Plagiarism is stealing

Lifting ones ideas and passing them off as his own is not “borrowing” material, York University’s Andrew Crane said.

“Let’s put this in more black and white terms: [It’s] stealing.”

Corporate social responsibility expert Mallen Baker echoed Crane’s points. “You are talking about people that steal intellectual content and pass it off as their own in order to get better grades and to mislead people in thinking they have achieved more than they actually have,” he stressed.

“In academia, plagiarism is a serious, and growing, issue,” Baker said.

A Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity study in 2005 showed that almost 40% of U.S. students admitted to yanking whole passages from the Internet to write their papers. That’s a big jump from only 10% of those surveyed in 1999.

Aside from cutting and pasting information from various sources, other Internet-related cheating practices include “paper mills.” These are ghostwriters who hawk custom-made essays with a track record for getting high grades, explained Donald L. McCabe, founder of the Center for Academic Integrity to a Canadian weekly news magazine.- by Lala Rimando, /Newsbreak


Ateneo treats plagiarism committed by a student as a "major offense."

According to the school's Code of Discipline for Students, "committing intellectual dishonesty, which is defined as passing off someone else's work as one's own," falls under "Offenses Involving Dishonesty."

Penalties for major offenses include disciplinary probation, mandatory work, formation sessions, public reprimand, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion.

Commenting on the story, which detailed the extent of plagiarism committed in Pangilinan’s speech, reader PrincessKitana said there should be some kind of punishment imposed on the top executive.

“If plagiarism is such an issue in school, why should professionals be taken so lightly when caught? We outsiders cannot dictate on how he should be 'punished', but for sure, something should be done,” wrote PrincessKitana.

Jem Bendell, a leading global commentator on business and sustainable development, said it is important for Ateneo to take the plagiarism issue involving Pangilinan as an “opportunity.”

“Universities need to take such embarrassments as opportunities to reaffirm commitments and procedures for tackling plagiarism, all the way from students to vice chancellors,” Bendell said.

Is sorry enough?

The plagiarism issue that plagued Pangilinan’s commencement speech to Atenean students has created a lot of buzz in the blogs and social networks, and filled opinion pages.

Ateneo’s initial response, which is to deliberate Pangilinan’s resignation over a period of one week, spurred ardent critics and passionate supporters.

Ateneo’s Fr. Nebres said in his previous letter that Pangilinan’s acceptance of responsibility and immediate apology are enough. “I believe with many others that what is appropriate is the apology you have given.”

Fr. Nebres noted that Pangilinan did not have to go to the extent of offering to resign from his official duties at the Ateneo.

“I realize how profoundly embarrassed you are by this event and that you believe that resigning from official duties at the Ateneo is the principled thing for you to do. However, reflecting on the events and circumstances, I cannot quite agree.”

Mallen Baker, a United Kingdom-based corporate social responsibility strategic advisor, thought otherwise. He said everything that Pangilinan did—from taking responsibility, to apologizing, to offering to resign—is a “genuine act of leadership.”

“Pangilinan is mindful of how such controversies can mushroom, and the academia connection sends a message beyond the gravity of the offence. So it wasn’t disproportionate to offer to resign,” Baker said.

However, Baker also said accepting Pangilinan’s resignation may have a cost. “If people that make mistakes must always resign, we never get the benefit of leadership from those that have learned from their mistakes.”