Allison Santa Cruz | Plagiarism undermines the purpose of higher education but is caused by the pressures of it

The statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall on November 5, 2021. Credit: Jesse Zhang

Two students admitted to Penn — freshman Annabelle Choi and her sister, high schooler Madeline Choi — were recently accused of plagiarism in a petition. The petition is organized by For Justice in College Applications and has now received 5,786 signatures. The petition claims the siblings “have published, plagiarized and fabricated research papers with their peers over the years, writing on topics as varied as communications, neuroscience, psychology, dental science and criminal justice. “. Both siblings were accepted into Penn’s 7-year bio-dental program.

A DP article analyzed the documents and found that both sisters committed empirically provable plagiarism. In response to the DP’s request for comment, Annabelle wrote “innocent until proven guilty.” While innocence until proven guilty underpins our ideals of American justice, there is a plethora of evidence to suggest otherwise.

Universities and institutions of higher education are widely known for their emphasis on academic integrity, and Penn is no exception. In the Pennbook, a compendium of policies relating to student conduct and academic integrity, it is stated that “Since the University is a scholarly community, its fundamental purpose is the pursuit of knowledge. A commitment to the principles of academic integrity is essential to the success of this educational mission. This code of ethics should recognize not only all efforts of Penn students, but also those that apply to Penn. Notably, maintaining academic integrity is fundamental in a hyper-competitive environment, especially in admissions cycles where even the smallest details can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.

The deeply frustrating feature of this situation is that fabrication and plagiarism usually give students a significant advantage in a hyper-selective admissions process, where 94% of students applying are rejected. Most students who wish to attend Penn or schools of a similar caliber dedicate years of their lives to hopeful admission; thus, every admission place, especially those in specialized programs, is highly coveted.

Often when plagiarism occurs, it is to gain an unfair advantage. However, we would be remiss as a community to criticize those involved without contextualizing it. The current elite college admissions atmosphere is so flawed and unforgiving that students often sacrifice their sleep, sanity, and, as appears to have happened in this case, their integrity, to increase their chances of success. admission. This case accurately illustrates that the societal pressures to be so successful at such a young age are ridiculous.

Educational institutions across the country, including high schools and colleges, should do better to encourage students to be honest with each other about the work they do and the academic pressures they face. along the way. These institutions should emphasize that it is invaluable to stay true to one’s passions, rather than molding them into the model of the perfect elite student. The reality that lifelong success does not depend on attending a top university should also be known.

I hope that universities, in doing so, will prevent others from feeling compelled to break ethical codes to achieve what they perceive as so-called success in school and beyond. Contrary to what many students think, it is normal not to have conducted research with a world-renowned professor or published work in college, especially not in high school. It’s okay if people are ahead of you in certain areas because you’re still trying to understand your passions and interests. Engaging in what you are passionate about and capable of, regardless of the size of the activity, will always be better than manufacturing materials and exceeding expectations by astronomical measures. Life will always be more rewarding if it is lived in pursuit of genuine work and interests rather than stolen or fabricated.

While it’s unclear whether the research subject to the plagiarism allegations informed the Choi siblings’ admissions decision, a university with high prestige and selectivity like Penn should consider its applications carefully. in greater depth, especially with published works. Admissions committees at selective universities must recognize how systemically harmful it is to allow students who intentionally present the work of others as their own to gain admission.

Institutions of higher learning often nurture many future leaders in this country; how can we trust our future leaders if higher institutions do not check for plagiarism and falsehood when some people might have willfully pursued behaviors like plagiarism? How can we maintain trust in the supposedly holistic admissions process that appears to be unfair? And, finally, what does this say about our country as a whole, a country that is supposed to place such high value on fairness, equality and truth?

I believe that being able to attend an institution of higher learning in the United States is a great privilege, in part because most universities strongly emphasize the ideal that knowledge is the pursuit of truth: Yale’s motto is “lux et veritas,” and Harvard’s is simply “veritas,” translating to light and truth, and truth, respectively. We must all remember that these values ​​are central to the purpose of higher education: the truth about who we are, what we pursue, and what we create.

ALLISON SANTA CRUZ is a college sophomore studying communications in Jackson, Miss. His email address is [email protected]

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