Sharing of Best Practices or Plagiarism?

How to cite this article: M. Jagadesh Kumar, “Sharing of best practices or plagiarism?”, Current Science, Vol. 102, No. 12, pp.1619-1620, 25 JUNE 2012.

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If you visit the website of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi [1], you will find the following vision and mission statements.

Vision: To contribute to India and the world through excellence in scientific and technical education and research; to serve as a valuable resource for industry and society; and remain a source of pride for all Indians.

Mission:(i) To generate new knowledge and to promote academic growth by offering state-of-the-art undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes. (ii) To identify, based on an informed perception of Indian, regional and global needs, areas of specialization upon which the institute can concentrate. (iii) To undertake collaborative projects which offer opportunities for long-term interaction with academia and industry. (iv) To develop human potential to its fullest extent so that intellectually capable and imaginatively gifted leaders can emerge in a range of professions.

For higher educational institutes, working towards achieving these goals is a sure way of reaching their pinnacle. But if another institute or university is preparing its vision statement, can it use exactly the above wording in the document without acknowledging the source and still not be charged with plagiarism?

On the website of the National Institute of Technology, Patna [2], you will find that its vision and mission statements are exactly the same as those of IIT Delhi, without any reference to the source. This raises some questions. Can we consider such copying of vision and mission statements as simply sharing of best practices? After all, if another university finds that the vision statement of IIT Delhi is suitable for it, why not use the statement as it is? How much different can you write it anyway? Can we be less lenient about it because such things are not done for any personal gratification? Since there are only limited English words available to rewrite the vision statement of IIT Delhi, is it alright for some other institute to copy it and claim it as theirs? Since the ideas expressed in the vision statement cannot be too different for each university, should we necessarily rewrite it differently just to avoid the charge of plagiarism?

Before we answer the above questions, let me bring to your notice an interesting case. The Southern Illinois University wanted to prepare a plagiarism policy after facing a plethora of incidents involving even its own university President for an alleged plagiarism in his Master’s and Ph D theses. When the draft on plagiarism policy of the Southern Illinois University was ready, it was reported in the media [3,4] that some parts of it have been lifted exactly word for word from a plagiarism policy document prepared by the Indiana University. How ironic! A plagiarism policy parts of which are plagiarised contents! The Southern Illinois University had to make suitable corrections by citing appropriate references including that of Indiana University [5] in its plagiarism policy before adopting it.

As a perfect example to emulate, the mission statement of IIT Madras [6] makes it clear that the broad outline of the statement is based on certain sources. For example, it states that ‘The Goals and Objectives were derived from the Sarkar Committee Report and embodied in the IIT Act. In addition to the Sarkar Committee report, the IIT act and the Statutes of the IITs indicate the lines along which IITs should develop’ and goes on to explain the mission statement. Is not this approach much safer than simply copying someone else’s vision and mission statements or policy statements? Is not some kind of attribution necessary when we borrow word for word the text or ideas as important as the vision statement or a policy statement from some other source? I think we need to be more circumspect about these sensitive issues.

1. http://www.iitd.ac.in/content/vision-mission-values

2. http://www.nitp.ac.in/vision_mission.htm

3. http://chronicle.com/article/2-Universities-Plagiarism/1486

4. http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-01-29-plagiarism_N.htm

5. http://www.siue.edu/policies/intro.shtml

6. http://www.iitm.ac.in/mission

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One Response to Sharing of Best Practices or Plagiarism?

  1. Rajagopalan Thiruvengadathan says:

    Plagiarism exists everywhere at different levels – copying the idea/technology in part or full is also one such example. Of course, copying the technology has lots of ramifications and legal protection through patents is always there and hence people are more careful. However, we do see some cases when one corporate sector files suits and cases against another and wins and gets financial compensation.

    In case of documentaion, here is my take.

    1. Appropriate citation is a must and should be followed in all types of documents whether it is scientific or non-scientific like administrative policy document in any form and format. If this is not followed, then it is a case of plagiarism.

    2. If someone or some agency/institute wants to follow the same research or policy, credit must be given to the original source at the outset even if it is not copied verbatim.

    Action must be initiated immediately against the concerned institute(s)/personnel asking them to adopt a course correction steps either by retraction of the documentation or through proper citations. If they do not, then legal action is the only option through speedy trials and appropriate punishments/actions.

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