Ex-prof’s defense for plagiarism case doesn’t work
Case name: Alexander v. Biola University, No. B219432 (Cal. App. Ct. 06/29/10).
Ruling: The Court of Appeal of California affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment for Biola University in George Alexander’s claims of discrimination and retaliation.
What it means: When a faculty handbook contains an expressed definition of plagiarism it provides a clear standard for a university community, including those educated outside of the United States under different standards.
Summary: Alexander, a former tenured associate professor at Biola University, filed suit alleging that he was fired because of his race, ethnicity or national origin. He also claimed that he was fired in retaliation for complaining about what he perceived to be discriminatory treatment of an Indian graduate student.
In 2001, Biola promoted Alexander to associate professor and granted his tenure application. In early 2006, Alexander became aware of what he believed to be discriminatory treatment of an Indian graduate student.
The student was required to retake his comprehensive exams even though, according to Alexander, he received a passing grade from at least one grader. As a general rule, students who received one passing grade were not required to retake the comprehensive tests. In March 2006, Alexander complained about this to university officials.
In September 2006, Alexander applied for a promotion to full professor. In support of his application, he submitted samples of his published academic work. After reviewing his application, university officials discovered that some of his publications contained passages that were identical to those in prior works by other authors.
In November 2006, the university denied Alexander’s application for promotion and terminated his employment. Plagiarism in Alexander’s published works was the stated reason for his termination.
After the trial court granted summary judgment to the university, Alexander appealed.
The appeals panel affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The court concluded that Alexander did not introduce evidence supporting a rational inference that intentional discrimination was the true cause of his employer’s actions.
The court held that Alexander’s plagiarism, in violation of the academic honesty policy in the university’s Faculty Handbook, was sufficient evidence of a legitimate basis for terminating him.
The court rejected Alexander’s argument that the academic honesty policy in the handbook acknowledged cross-cultural variation in the definition of plagiarism.
He claimed that he used the citation style that he was taught in India under which it was sufficient to list the sources in the bibliography, while quotation marks and in-text citations of sources were not necessary.
The panel reasoned that the handbook provided a precise definition of “plagiarism.” Under that definition, Alexander committed plagiarism because the evidence demonstrated that his published work included page after page of verbatim text of prior works by other authors without quotation marks, footnotes, or any other indication that the words were not his own.