A McGill Universitystudent Thursday successfully challenged the administration’s requirement that students submit assignments to a California Web site monitoring plagiarism or risk a zero grade.
Second-year international development
student Jesse Rosenfeld had “”an ethical and political problem”” with Montreal-based McGill’s policy and refused to turn in his work, said Ian Boyko, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ottawa.
“”After some deliberation, the university realized it was on thin ice and agreed to mark his paper and not give him a zero.”” Rosenfield did not return phone calls from ITBusiness.ca.
The university student association noted several issues emerging from the incident. For one thing, many of its members are concerned the decision to run papers through the site was made without consulting an “”academic senate or university board of governors or department council,”” said Boyko.
“”But I think more in Jesse’s case, he may not be writing War and Peace, but when he writes an assignment, it’s an original piece of work. It’s his copyright, his intellectual property. And for him to have to submit that mandatorily, without being compensated, so a Web site based in California can get richer, I think he took objection to that.””
It’s also unacceptable universities are in effect taking “”shortcuts”” by reducing the number of academic staff needed to grade work, Boyko added. “”Human beings have been detecting plagiarism for years. I don’t see why that needs to all of sudden come to an end right now.””
Spokespeople for McGill University did not respond to calls for comment at press time.
The Canadian Federation of Students argued Rosenfeld’s case not only sets a precedent on McGill’s campus, but gives students of the 28 other Canadian universities and colleges participating in the program the confidence to question the appropriateness of being involved with Turnitin.com.
Rosenfeld’s reluctance to participate in the program was the first such incident in the six-year history of San Francisco-based Turnitin.com, said CEO Dr. John Barrie. The company said it has clients in more than 50 countries, receives more than 20,000 student term papers every day and has never been sued.
“”If you just look at the odds, it was bound to happen at some point,”” he added. He said McGill has indicated no interest in cancelling its subscription.
Schools pay US$0.60 per student each year for unlimited usage, but the total cost depends on the size of the full-time enrollment of the university or high school, he said.
Barrie seems unfazed by the episode at McGill. His company is on the verge of releasing a Canadian legal opinion stating it’s “”100 per cent in compliance with Canadian intellectual property and privacy laws. I have always thought that the claims by that particular student were without merit.””
Turnitin.com takes seriously the privacy rights of students and gives access to papers only to their instructors, he said.
Although disputes have arisen about who owns essays entered into the firm’s database, ownership resides with the author despite the arguments of some educational facilities, said Barrie, adding that Canadian institutions would have refused to sign up had they known they were violating national laws.
Turnitin.com’s principals likened their technology to a referee at a university football game. “”You wouldn’t say that the referee is there because the school thinks all of their athletes are out there to cheat. The referee is out there to make sure the athletes are all playing by the same set of rules and to call the foul if a foul occurs.””