The University of Miami Undergraduate Honor Council, like many similar organizations at universities around the country, annually hosts a number of events to raise awareness of the importance of academic integrity and the consequences of cheating.
While the focus of these events is to dissuade students from plagiarizing, they also encourage proper citation and discourage academic sloppiness.
Occasionally, cases are brought before academic integrity councils that involve carelessly cited references that are incorrect or incomplete rather than merely missing.
Under such circumstances, it is difficult for judiciary panels to ascertain whether an honest mistake has been made or whether a student has provided random citations in order to make a paper appear more complete.
Because of this ambiguity, an incautiously cited paper can result in a student receiving an official academic warning or probation ruling.
A recent high-profile example of the importance of correct and careful citations occurred in President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Obama made the following statement regarding the strengths to be found in America’s diversity by referencing “the promise enshrined in our Constitution, the notion that we are all created equal.”
Almost any middle-school civics student could clarify that the principle that “all men are created equal” is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Constitution.
Perhaps, Mr. Obama was referring to “equal protection of the laws,” which is guaranteed, not in the body of the Constitution, but instead in the 14th Amendment? Either way, by the standard of strict academic scrutiny, this was an ambiguous reference.
It is unfortunate that such examples are set by character models, especially by a trained attorney and former college instructor. It was, however, not the first error of its kind in a State of the Union address.
In President Clinton’s final State of the Union Address he made the following assertion in regard to a list of goals: “And we will become at last what our founders pledged us to be so long ago- ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”
Like President Obama, President Clinton did provide an attribution for the quote. Also like President Obama, however, he misattributed it, in this case to the founders (presumably, of the United States). The quote is from “The Pledge of Allegiance,” written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and modified by Congress in 1954.
Since the United States was founded in 1776, Reverend Bellamy would not qualify as a “founder.” Further complicating this misattribution is the fact that Bellamy’s beliefs (he was both a nationalist and a socialist) were antithetical to those of the founders.
All things considered, many academic judicial boards would most likely find both President Obama and President Clinton guilty of some degree of academic misconduct if such misattributions were to be found throughout their submitted class materials.
Academic integrity means more than simply not stealing someone else’s work. It also means getting the facts correct, and not randomly filling in the blanks with attributions to support whatever point you wish to make.
Stephen Bone is a 2001 graduate of the School of Business Administration at the University of Miami. As a student, he was a member of the Undergraduate Honor Council. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.