Stanford, Plagiarism and Turnitin.com

From my current perch at the Washington Monthly and our College Guide blog, I’ve research and written a bit on new, high-tech anti-plagarism services like Turnitin.com.

Here’s how the service works:  students upload their academic work to the website, which then enters the paper into a an enormous database of student work and web content and , finally, flags any passages.

Simple. Efficient. Effective. Right?

Not in Stanford’s eyes — and probably for good reason.

Stanford and other top schools, like Princeton, have resisted using the anti-plagiarism service. Most fundamentally, officials at these universities claim that outsourcing anti-plagiarism duties to a private website violates both the spirit of student honor codes and student copyrights.

We pride ourselves on our Honor Code, which, in theory, fosters student integrity.  Princeton feels the same way. A Princeton spokesperson I corresponded with sums up the trust built into their system:

The University at several points in the past years has explored electronic programs that would detect plagiarism, most recently in the winter of 2006, and our position to not adopt this kind of software remains the same. We have at every point maintained that centrally adopting this kind of software sends a message to our students that is not one that we want to send. We don’t want to presume that they aren’t approaching their work honestly. We want to presume that they’re behaving with integrity.

Likewise, schools like Stanford are concerned that Turnitin makes money off students’ copyrighted academic work. (Yes, your IHUM paper is technically copyrighted!) Though the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees, as my blog post notes.

Would Stanford catch more plagiarism if it employed the online service? Would it change Stanford’s culture? Is Stanford’s culture that honest to begin with?

Subscribe to the Stanford Review