Leonard Zwelling

Let’s visit academic integrity further.

This opinion piece in the Life Science column by Allysia Finley on January 8 in The Wall Street Journal uses the Claudine Gay plagiarism affair to note the increased incidence of cheating on undergraduate campuses.

She starts her column by noting that an anonymous Harvard undergraduate wrote an op-ed that Claudine Gay’s plagiarism sin would be met with far harsher punishment should she have been an undergrad. The usual punishment for behavior such as Dr. Gay’s would be suspension for an academic year. Instead, “the Corporation ‘unanimously stand in support of her.’” This is utter nonsense and Harvard’s tolerance for nonsense has been revealed to be quite high.

“The Harvard Honor Council in the 2021-2022 school year heard 100 individual cases, mostly involving plagiarism and exam cheating. Twelve percent of accused students were required to withdraw from the college.” In other words, what makes Dr. Gay better than the very students she purports to lead?

Finley goes on to note the many examples of academic misconduct reported at Harvard. Not only that, “faculty often don’t report plagiarism or cheating to administrators because the process of doing so is so laborious and students often get off with a slap on the wrist.”

She goes on to say that “this is the same reason police in Democrat-run cities don’t make arrests for crimes such as shoplifting.”

The point is that the bureaucracy has minimized “small” crimes by allowing them to go relatively unpunished.

Then there’s this. The Faculty Senate at Stanford proposed to permit the proctoring of exams at Stanford. The Undergraduate Senate objected as it “disenfranchised” them. What? How can a faculty member walking through an exam room disenfranchise anyone? Believe it or not, the Faculty Senate backed down and ordered a study of the effects of proctoring. You have got to be kidding. I never took an un-proctored exam.

She concludes with this: “much as the retreat from “broken windows” policing has produced more crime in progressive cities” (this is debatable by the way) ”colleges’ failure to enforce academic integrity standards has created an air of impunity among students that is leading to more bad behavior, including harassment of Jewish students. Is it any surprise so many students graduate lacking a moral compass?”

Now let’s remember that these undergraduate students are the very people a few years later who become MD Anderson fellows and faculty. In my own experience I have seen misconduct among this cohort. They are entitled, thinking they are owed promotions in three years, and are the very people so quick to accuse others of unprofessional conduct. I also suspect that they are the prime supporters of President Pisters and his “One MD Anderson” nonsense that downgrades faculty to employees and is a drive to mediocrity, a regression to the mean.

Here’s a thought. How about upping the quality of the MD Anderson science and worrying less about its quantity? How about putting each submitted manuscript and grant through free software to check for plagiarism? How about being meticulous about the use of electron and confocal microscopic images in publications to make sure there are no manipulations? And lastly, how about proposing research that actually matters?

I understand there is a concern that some insurance companies won’t pay for the use of conventional FDA-approved agents in clinical trials. Of course not. They never did. Sponsors pay for trial drugs and if the trial is institutionally-sponsored the institution ought to bear the freight. I wonder how many such trials really ask important questions compared to the cutting-edge trials sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies?

The Claudine Gay affair has brought to the forefront the issue of research integrity. Good. It’s one of my favorite topics. Let’s renew our commitment to good and even great science and let’s make sure we do it, report it, and attest the work of others properly. A good new year’s resolution.

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