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March 3, 2003 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Plagiarism is an ugly word. Ung Lee, a Princeton Graduate, has one numerous awards for his writing, under the tutelage of Joyce Carl Oates. It's just that so many of those words were not his own.
posted by plexi (44 comments total)

 
If you must write prose and poems
the words you use should be your own
don't plagiarise or take "on loans"
there's always someone, somewhere
with a big nose, who knows
and who trips you up and laughs
when you fall
posted by plexi at 8:46 AM on March 3, 2003


Whoa, and a Princeton grad no less!

I went to Princeton, and one of the most memorable aspects of studying there is that for each and every exam you take, you must write out the Princeton pledge against plagiarism, in your own handwriting, and sign it!

The honor system with a written oath, essentially.
posted by reality at 8:54 AM on March 3, 2003


*ahem*
won
posted by cinderful at 8:57 AM on March 3, 2003


reality, maybe it doesn't count if you cross your fingers. How long is the oath incidentally, is the text provided for you or do you have to memorize it and does the transcription come out of the normal exam time allotment or is a block of time provided? I'm just curious, I know I've occasionally been so engrossed in exam writing that I've skipped important things, such as corrections announced and printed on the board.
posted by substrate at 9:18 AM on March 3, 2003


You mean Plagiarism is an "UNGLEE" word!

ha ha... whooo.... heee...

whew.
posted by Stan Chin at 9:38 AM on March 3, 2003


Substrate--I can't vouch for the Princeton system, but we had the same sort of honor code system at my high school. (OK, stuffy NE prep school.) Everything handed in had to be "pledged" and signed. For little things like quizzes, etc., you just wrote the word "Pledge" and signed it, but for bigger things you had to write out: "I pledge my honor as a gentleman (or a lady) that I have neither given nor received aid on this examination/paper/etc." Teachers would always check for it, and the last 2 mins of any test was always taken up by people scribbling it out and signing it while the teacher stood over their desks. Depending a little bit on circumstances, not signing it automatically cast a pall of suspicion over you, since it was such a rote part of doing things that you couldn't reasonably plead forgetfulness after the first month or two.

The bigger question, of course, is whether or not it actually discouraged cheating, and that's very much an open question. I know that coming from a public school environment until 8th grade, cheating was dramatically more prevalent there. In prep school, it was a much more subdued practice--it definitely happened, but it happened a lot less, and it was much more discreet. Certainly, the overall difference in culture and expectations had a lot to do with it, but how much of a difference the actual pledge makes is arguable.
posted by LairBob at 9:49 AM on March 3, 2003


If you must write prose and poems
the words you use should be your own
don't plagiarise or take "on loans"
there's always someone, somewhere
with a big nose, who knows
and who trips you up and laughs
when you fall
posted by iamck at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2003


any idea what the chap's cultural background is? no-one mentions it (of course...). i ask because i was talking to a korean friend the other day, and the pressure to succeed academically seems to be huge (like weirdly, terrifyingly, scarily big), so i wondered if (given the name) he could be coming from an environment like that. otoh, maybe the pressure not to cheat is equally huge (i dunno!).

anyway, i'm guessing he feels pretty stupid right about now.

[on preview, hey plexi, someone's plagiarising you. unless....]
posted by andrew cooke at 9:51 AM on March 3, 2003


Seth Shafer, the plagiarized guy (whose original story I liked a lot), edits the very good Pig Iron Malt
(via MaudNewton)
posted by matteo at 9:59 AM on March 3, 2003


any idea what the chap's cultural background is?

Same thoughts crossed my mind too, the pressure to be a success. Reading the story and his bio, especially where he thanks everyone is what clued me to the thought.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2003


Ung Lee? Crouching Writer, Hidden Braggart?
posted by ed at 10:14 AM on March 3, 2003


substrate, I just finished up at Princeton last year (I actually wrote a thesis in the creative writing department) and the pledge is something more-or-less like, "I pledge my honor that I have no violated the Honor Code during this examination/in preparing this paper/etc." The pledge was memorized, but in my experience its particular wording was up to you, as long as the basic idea was communicated. In this case, the pledge would have been written out in the thesis -- it certainly couldn't have been forgotten, and when I handed in my thesis the rep in the English department checked to make sure it had been written and signed.

I am quite bewildered by all of this, and saddened by it, I guess. Seth Shafer's article at The Morning News basically sums up my feelings.
posted by josh at 10:15 AM on March 3, 2003


As a lecturer (read: glorified teaching assistant with Ph.D.) at Princeton, I can also attest that the honor code here has an import for undergrads that borders on superstition. (Princeton undergrads are in general a superstitious bunch: for example, there's one gate on the border of the campus, near Nassau Hall, that they will not walk through until they graduate. This is in spite of the fact that using the gate would make trips to some places in town a bit shorter. Being a grad student there, I would walk in and out of the gate with impunity, and on several occasions an undergrad mistaking me for a member of her species would actually try to stop me, heading me off and yelling "What are you doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!?")

I can think of two instances in my time here when a student has forgotten to write the honor code on a final paper or exam, and in both cases I got hysterical e-mails within about six hours after the paper was turned in ("Oh my God I just realized I forgot the honor code. Please let me know as soon as possible if there's ANYTHING AT ALL I can do to rectify this," etc.)

Moreover, they don't screw around with prosecuting plagiarism here: you can even be punished for recycling your own work for two different courses ("self-plagiarism," it's called). And in the one plagiarism case I was involved in (roommates were taking the same class, and magically turned in identical midterm papers to myself and another TA), there was a hearing before the university's Honor Court that ended up with a student being suspended for a year even though she pled guilty. Which makes the Ung Lee incident all the more surprising. I don't know how he got the nerve to do it.
posted by Prospero at 10:25 AM on March 3, 2003


substrate -

The pledge is memorized and written out at the end of the exam. Not so sure I concur with josh on the "flexibility" of the wording, but then again I studied the hard sciences, not creative writing. :)

Actually, I do remember that you were also required to report on any cheating that you observed, which did grate on me a bit.

Oh alright, here's the link to the Honor Policy.
posted by reality at 10:27 AM on March 3, 2003


Technically, Ung Lee's alleged plagiarism is not a violation of Princeton's Honor Code, because it falls outside the jurisdiction of the honor system. The Honor Code applies only to "written examinations, tests, and quizzes that take place in class." Plagiarism is, of course, a violation of academic regulations, but these are not the same. For some reason, Princeton decided to break out the rules for tests and exams into its own system. The Honor Code has its own Constitution, no less.

From a practical standpoint, the academic regulations and Honor Code are extremely similar. Students must write a pledge on both exams ("I pledge my honor that I have not violated the honor code during this examination") and papers ("This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations"). Violations are likely to earn a student some required time-off. Not sure how the Deans would/could discipline a graduate with a diploma, however. (Perhaps he/she will be denied the ubiquitous Annual Giving pleas sent regularly to alumni?)

Back in the mid-nineties there was a rumor floating around the Princeton campus about a senior who submitted a economics thesis to his professor... with its receipt still tucked away inside. Apparently the kid had purchased the paper from somebody, and the receipt dropped out when the prof started to grade it. Not sure if the story was true, but I can confirm that the accused student didn't earn a diploma until several years later.
posted by blue mustard at 10:30 AM on March 3, 2003


substrate, ha, yes, I assumed as much from your name -- when I say flexibility, I mean to suggest that no one will get away on a technicality for not writing the pledge with the exact wording; in other words, Ung could not evade punishment because of not writing the pledge or writing it incorrectly and claiming a misunderstanding (at least, as I imagine it).

In keeping with Prospero's post, another good illustration of the seriousness-cum-ridiculousness surrounding the Princeton honor code is that before arriving for freshman year, incoming students must write a small essay demonstrating their understanding of the code and the pledge. If they fail to write a convincing essay, they are then interviewed (briefly) by scarily sincere honor committee members, also undergraduates, during the registration process. It's all quite strange and indoctrinal. That said, Princeton's honor code allows for some comfortable flexibility; in many classes one takes timed take-home examinations, which one can complete at any time during a specified interval, usually of several days.

Dont' most universities have something like this anyway? I don't think this has anything to do with the honor code -- rules are rules, whatever form they take.
posted by josh at 10:40 AM on March 3, 2003


reality, josh and LairBob: thanks.

A pledge system was instituted at my university when I was in undergraduate engineering. Basically it was just an extra signature in an appropriate box on the paper. I don't think that pledging itself does anything, you need anecdotal evidence of people being dragged over the coals for cheating.

When I was in graduate school I did my best to provide the anecdotal evidence in any exams I proctored.
posted by substrate at 10:48 AM on March 3, 2003


Firstly, if you're going to plagarise something, never plagarise from the internet... my god it's so trivial to look something up in goolge it's easy to get caught.

My guess is for every guy like Ung Lee that gets caught, there are dozens more who are smart enough to use more obscure sources (small journals, unpublished papers, ghostwriters) and don't get caught. I suspect this guy wanted to get caught (like a klepto), since he didn't even change the names around.

Secondly, you have to wonder how much going to the right school, knowing the right people, having the right look, has to do with being recognized as a writer and winning awards.

Thirdly, as this letter points out, this little scandal shows that people shouldn't thumb there nose at online literary journals, as the quality there can be as good as that found in print. (see also mobylives interview with Shafer)
posted by bobo123 at 10:53 AM on March 3, 2003


The whole plagarism issue aside, here's the line in the story that caught my eye:

SUNY Stony Brook owns the copyright to "Accidents."

I've heard of universities controlling patents to the scientific developments made on campus, but how common is it for them to have the copyright on creative works by faculty or students? (Or in this case by others, but my question stands.)
posted by Inkslinger at 10:56 AM on March 3, 2003


Don't know about this particular case, but UCLA film school owns the exhibition and distribution rights to all student films. As seen here.
posted by jeremias at 11:09 AM on March 3, 2003


The plagiarism is a pathetic act. But this author is never going to amount to anything being this snotty and self-satisfied.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2003


Princeton undergrads are in general a superstitious bunch

This scares me.
posted by moonbiter at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2003


Honor systems can (at least seem to) work, and provide other benefits too. Virginia's honor system, instituted eons ago, is like Princeton's except that it includes (some) nonacademic matters, and there's one and only one punishment: permanent expulsion.

It seemed to work -- I certainly never knew anyone who admitted, even in private, to cheating on anything (but then I ran with a semi-geeky crowd). So presumably it could really work, or at least seem to, at Princeton.

It had real benefits, too. Exams were (almost always) unproctored, so if you felt like going out and taking your test on the Lawn, you could. And because bad checks were explicitly an honor code offense, your check as a student was good just about anywhere in Charlottesville or Albemarle County; even places that didn't normally take checks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 AM on March 3, 2003


When I started my Master's in Computer Science program the dean called all the new students together and we had a big long talk about plagarism. One of the things she mentioned was that a lot of the foreign students have trouble understanding that the 'no plagarism' rule applies to _everything_, even assignments and little projects. Apparently we had 2 or 3 cases of plagarism a year and many times it was out of pure ignorance of the way you're really supposed to write a paper. She did some digging and found that at a lot of universities in China especially, it's considered standard practice to just copy out the contents of a paper and submit it yourself.

Though in this case I'd guess it's simply a deliberate act of fraud.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:21 AM on March 3, 2003


bobo123,

A friend of mine summarized his knowledge and acumen in plagiarism as follows:

Find an excellent paper on the subject you're writing on, don't plagiarize from this. Obtain the papers referred to inside of the main paper and plagiarize from more obscure papers within those sub-papers.
posted by substrate at 11:25 AM on March 3, 2003


turns out it's not the only story in his thesis that was plagiarised, according to this interview.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2003


Inkslinger--I'm no expert, but my understanding is that most if not all short story contests like the one Lee entered require signing over the copyright to the work as a condition of submission. Of course, this doesn't mean much, unless you win.

The page with the contest rules states: Submission to this Prize assumes the right of Stony Brook to publish the winning story on its Web site. This in no way interferes with sale of 1st serial rights. Which I think means that if Lee were to publish his story in a collection, there'd be a note on the book's copyright page that would read something like, "Accidents is published with the permission of SUNY Stony Brook."

Not like that's going to happen, though.
posted by Prospero at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2003


Seth Shafer says, about Lee:
"His words are doubly duplicitous, for not only is he discussing the act of appropriating my story, but adding an additional layer of dishonesty; according to officials at Yale, there is no record of Mr. Lee teaching there, in any capacity."

Seems like lying comes naturally to Mr. Lee. Maybe he'll be a good fiction writer after all, once he has his own material!
posted by Karl at 11:47 AM on March 3, 2003


SUNY has so far left its page about Ung Lee's award up, but took down the story in question. Of course, there's always the Google cache for those who want to compare and contrast.

Moby Lives, a weekly column about books and writers, is featuring an interview with Shafer:

"Gabe and his editor at the paper then started doing Google searches on exact phrases from work in the thesis, which is how he discovered that my story Main Strength was involved..."

Ah, Google.
posted by pzarquon at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2003


And given the dateline on that interview, I'll copy & republish it tomorrow, then cry plagiarism in a week or so...
posted by punilux at 12:13 PM on March 3, 2003


correction: month or so...
posted by punilux at 12:15 PM on March 3, 2003


Ah, Google.

Sorry, punilux, our crack research department has determined that this sentence was used almost a year ago in Rupert Goodwins' Diary. It's not only the lead sentence, it's in bold type; you must have wanted to be caught. Please turn in your MetaFilter badge at once and wait for the MeFi Cop Squad.
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on March 3, 2003


D'oh! I mean, "Sorry, pzarquon." Good thing carelessness is a far lesser offense than plagiarism...
posted by languagehat at 12:38 PM on March 3, 2003


IIRC, you had to write out (in cursive) a statement about not cheating, etc., before they'd let you take the GRE and LSAT. It was kind of ridiculous because they specified that you must not print and must write in cursive, and most people I talked to hadn't written like that since elementary school.
posted by gyc at 1:18 PM on March 3, 2003


I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of plagiarizing any content that is on the 'net. It's so incredibly stupid, I'm not sure why anyone would attempt it. You'll be caught eventually and any credibility you had will be stripped from you. A talentless hack and stupid to boot. How could this guy have gotten into and then graduated from Princeton?
posted by gen at 1:20 PM on March 3, 2003


When can we start sampling works of text and not have it called plagiarism? We can "sample" artwork and audio works, but words are so different?

Before anyone misses the point. I'm not talking about this instance. This was wholesale theft.
posted by ?! at 1:44 PM on March 3, 2003


Q. How could this guy have gotten into and then graduated from Princeton?

A.$$$


Q.We can "sample" artwork and audio works, but words are so different?

A.There is a distinct difference in allusion and plagiarism.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:14 PM on March 3, 2003


?! -- A footnote that says something like "this paragraph verbatim from [source]" should do it.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:57 PM on March 3, 2003


The JH and Tlogmer: I apologize. I wasn't clear. I understand allusion, plagiarism, and footnoting. I'll try again.

I was wondering when, or if, we'll ever get to the time when I can take out sections of Slaughterhouse Five, locale descriptions from Crocodile on the Thames, and the characters of A Doll's House and write a "sampled novel." A small notice on the copyright page will mention the novels, but every piece won't have to be footnoted.

Imagine taking music sampling to the written extreme.
posted by ?! at 5:53 PM on March 3, 2003


When can we start sampling works of text and not have it called plagiarism?

hey, I use the same twenty-six letters that Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Milton, and Joyce did. No one's caught me yet.
posted by Vidiot at 7:48 PM on March 3, 2003


When can we start sampling works of text and not have it called plagiarism?

t s eliot gets away with it in the wasteland, but then he's white and dead and he sorta cites his sources.

as he puts it:
One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature
poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and
good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.

posted by juv3nal at 9:48 PM on March 3, 2003


as for:
I was wondering when, or if, we'll ever get to the time when I can take out sections of Slaughterhouse Five, locale descriptions from Crocodile on the Thames, and the characters of A Doll's House and write a "sampled novel." A small notice on the copyright page will mention the novels, but every piece won't have to be footnoted.

Imagine taking music sampling to the written extreme.


cut ups work kind of does this, but theres typically no attribution and (given its random nature), the "samples" aren't broken down in any structured manner.
posted by juv3nal at 9:51 PM on March 3, 2003


I was wondering when, or if, we'll ever get to the time when I can take out sections of Slaughterhouse Five, locale descriptions from Crocodile on the Thames, and the characters of A Doll's House and write a "sampled novel."

I'm sure this sort of thing has been done, off the top of my head, Crispin Glover's "Rat Catching" comes to mind, where he took a public domain novel and added pictures and ink marks and edited the text slightly. And simply using another writer's characters is quite common, ala Tom Stoppard.

But the primary reason you don't see novels made up of sampled works, with passages mixing together like a Kid Koala track, is simply that some artistic techniques don't work well when transferred to other mediums. In music loops and repetition can work but this doesn't necessarily mean this is transferrable to literature. Reading something in reverse is not terribly interesting (well maybe "Time's Arrow"). Anthony Burgess tried using musical techniques in his novel "Napoleon Symphony"... the results of which are generally regarded as a bit lacking.
posted by bobo123 at 9:56 PM on March 3, 2003


IIRC, you had to write out (in cursive) a statement about not cheating, etc., before they'd let you take the GRE and LSAT. It was kind of ridiculous because they specified that you must not print and must write in cursive, and most people I talked to hadn't written like that since elementary school.

I don't know if it has changed at some point, but I didn't have to do anything like that when I took the GRE ('96).

But I'm curious, is it really so rare to write in cursive? I pretty much do it all the time when writing for myself. Over the years it has degraded into a scrawl only I can understand so I generally print if other people will be reading it.
posted by obfusciatrist at 10:23 PM on March 3, 2003


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