Endangerment of the Authentic Word

Endangerment of the Authentic Word

Pamela Fletcher, Director, 200px

In November 2011, publisher Little, Brown & Company recalled 6,500 copies of Assassin of Secrets after discovering that poet Quentin Rowan, a/k/a Q. R. Markham, had plagiarized passages from many spy novels. Mr. Duns, a writer of spy novels, did a Google search, finding that Rowan had plagiarized at least 13 novels. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Duns stated, "He didn't even bother to rework anything. It must be the worst case of plagiarism I've ever seen.” 

On August 10, 2012, Fareed Zakaria, Yale graduate and board trustee, Time Magazine editor, and CNN host, confessed that he had committed plagiarism by failing to attribute credit to The New Yorker writer Jill Lepore in his work. 

Suddenly, a debate ensued among journalists, who questioned whether or not Zakaria had actually plagiarized when he lifted an entire paragraph from Ms. Lepore’s writing. 

Upon hearing this news, I became fascinated, not by the debate, which I consider ridiculous at best, but by the temptation that writers encounter to be inauthentic and unethical.  Apparently, to write is hard work, and to write well is—well—just plain daunting.

Think about the plagiarism scandals that have plagued Romania since May 2012 involving two education ministers and the prime minister himself, Victor Ponta, who allegedly plagiarized his doctorate thesis and a book.

Edmund Niculusca, the head of the Romanian Association for Cultural, Education and Normality, posed an astute question to a SETimes reporter:  "If the prime minister cheated, why won’t students do the same? Why won’t we all do the same?" Indeed, Mr. Niculusca. Why won’t I?

Which got me thinking about the challenge of being a writer. How do I maintain integrity? My love and regard for the written word, an exquisite phrase or a masterfully crafted passage others create (and I create occasionally), keep me on the straight trail of academic integrity.  On its website regarding academic integrity, American University defines the term as “intellectual honesty.”  Honesty, credibility, and responsibility are paramount to my work. I must take credit and blame for my own words and give credit to those whose words I use.

Writing is toil. Writing takes time. And, sometimes we don’t want to invest the requisite effort. Yet, taking a short cut, like plagiarizing, rarely gets us where we ultimately want to go. Even if no scandal happens, we know the truth, and there’s not much worse than a lack of self-respect, as a recently released film, The Words, reveals. It portrays a writer, who publishes an autobiographical novel about a desperate, young writer claiming someone else’s manuscript as his own. When the novelist becomes successful, he encounters the real writer, who had lost the manuscript decades ago. The writer decides to confess, but the old man advises him to say nothing, exclaiming, “You take the words, you take the pain.” In other words, live with your guilt and shame.    

Whether we are developing or experienced writers, if we respect the rigorous process of writing, we eventually discover the art and joy of articulating our unique expression and distinctive ideas. Then writing well is just as important as earning an A on that paper, or publishing that poem or book, or posting that blog.  

Despite technological advancement in communication devices occurring every nanosecond, despite the preponderance of text messaging, individuals desiring success in their careers still must be competent writers. Therefore, the mission of St. Catherine University’s Writing Intensive Program (WIP) is to prepare students to graduate with excellent written communication and critical thinking skills needed to achieve success in their professional and personal lives. 

WIP’s goal is to assist faculty in cultivating a positive learning environment that inspires, encourages, and challenges students to develop as writers and to achieve excellent writing skills by taking four required writing intensive (WI) courses:  TRW, GSJ, an elective, and a course in their program of study. The primary objective of the Writing Intensive Program is to help faculty engage their students in an intentional writing process of pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and documenting sources correctly. 

As WIP Director, I hope that SCU’s Writing Intensive Program will help to set St. Kate’s graduates apart from their peers, equipping them with a keen understanding of the power of language so they may lead and influence others in their respective worlds.

I also envision this website becoming a dynamic online writing community among SCU students, faculty, and staff, who love and respect words, a writing community that will build a bridge to the Twin Cities’ writing communities and to the world at large.  

Lovers of words and wordsmiths, like Kiese Laymon, Dessa, Toni Morrison, and Ray Bradbury, know that writing is more than an academic exercise and an upward mobility device. Bradbury, who died on June 12, 2012 at age 91, said in his remarks at The 2000 Friends of the Hennepin County Library Pen Pal Lecture Series, “I thought about doing something wonderful that would make me feel alive.” The authentic word emboldens writers, readers, and listeners alike. Let us keep it alive.

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