If you are really accountable – you resign

Phil Baker….what the hell were you thinking?   For anyone vacationing off planet this week, the Canucks lost and Canada’s reputation for education lost as well.  Philip Baker – the dean of the University of Alberta’s medical school was caught plagiarizing someone else’s convocation speach.

Funny how that works, Phil.  You see, I’m not a Dean.  I’m just a part time instructor at a couple of universities.  And cheating is a real problem for me, anyway.   This year I made a speech to my class – I wrote it myself.  But I fully confess to stealing the ideas from a number of my professors years and years ago — probably about the time you took your undergrad, Phil.   My profs said what I said at that class.

They said – if you cheat and I catch you, the consequences will be severe.  Fair warning.  I will move heaven and earth to help each and every one of you pass.  But if you cheat to do it – and I find out, I will make it a personal calling to make sure that you get the full consequences.

Bold talk.  I’d heard from other profs – privately – that sometimes they didn’t pursue cheating, especially if the case was “on the margins” because it was so complex and time consuming.  I’d heard stories of kids whose parents had gotten them lawyers to defend in cases of plagiarism.  If you are a prof, you have to invest the time and energy to defend yourself – when it’s the cheater who should be on trial.

Such is the modern world.  Parents intervene so that their kids don’t have to take the consequences of their actions.

Frankly?  I understand it.  I’m a parent and I can’t tell you what I’d do if one of them were thrown out.  I understand the profs as well.  The hours that you would have to invest to go through all of the process and appeals if you come down on a student for cheating.

But – as I assured my class, it’s more than bold talk.  I’m a part timer and I teach for love — it sure as hell isn’t for the money.  I teach when I get the opportunity and can spare the time, to be able to give back just a little of what my profs gave me.  My profs gave me the ability to think critically, to love learning and to understand that learning was enjoyable — but it was hard work and discipline.

My education was eclectic – I experimented with more majors than might seem possible or at least wise.  Literature , IT, Admin Studies, Psychology, Economics , Performing Arts and even a brief flirtation with Philosophy.  I took it all in.  I learned a lot from my professors.  Truth be told, I really lucked out and got a great group of profs.

I graduated on the Dean’s Honour List

.  At least I did my second time.  Again, in the spirit of truthfullness, I sort of majored in partying my first time out — and I really just worked on the stuff that I liked.  Some of my first marks were —  shall I say, “leaving a little to be desired?”

Then I went back.  At night.  Working during the day.   This time I could usually find an employer who would pay my tuition, but I had to part with almost all of my free time.  I was serious about this.

So when I hit a course that was particularly brutal, I hit the books.

I did discover one trick that I used.  When you go to all the classes and do all the readings, you get good marks.

And I never cheated. Not once.

So as I stood in front of my first year class giving my first lecture, I was clear.   “Cheat and I will catch you.  And I will devote myself to making sure you get the full consequences.”

Why?  Again, partly the respect I have for learning.  But we don’t just teach learning – we model the behaviours that go with learning.  Curiousity.  Hard work.  Integrity.

What I did want to ensure these young minds understood was that they could appeal, they could bring their parents lawyers – heck, they could even try to get me fired.  I would never back down in the fact of cheating.

And I’ll be damned, but I did catch a couple of kids cheating.  I saw the phrases and they just rang a bell or looked a little too good to be in a first year essay.  It actually wasn’t hard to track them down either.  Google is a marvelous tool.

For all my bravado, I took no joy in pursuing this one.  Wouldn’t you know it?  My two “cheaters” were sweet kids who came to every class.  They seemed to study hard and were earnestly trying to get good marks.

So why cheat?  Who know?   Maybe they were overworked or got behind in their assignments.  Maybe it was just a “lapse in judgement.”   Unfortunately — there is no excuse.  So once I thought they were cheating, I spent hours pouring over every word of their work and assembling my case.  They paid the price.  And I was not going to back down.

Students have to take accountability.  They are young adults, but adults nonetheless.

But when I caught these students cheating I took no joy in it at all.  I pursued it.

I believe by taking this tough stand that I am defending what I hold so dear and work hard to defend.

Well, thanks Phil – because that job just got a lot harder.  Now, how do I justify dropping the hammer on some kid who cheats when a Dean of an institution feels that he can get away with cribbing someone else’s work without attribution?

There’s an awful thing in business these days.  Someone will repeatedly screw up or not make deadlines or let their team down and even repeat offenders seem to have the same tired old line.  “I take accountability” they say.  Which is crap.  They don’t want accountability — they want (as an old boss of mine once said) to go to confession.  By appearing to have the courage to acknowledge their screw ups, they expect a get out of jail card.

That’s not accountability.  When you are accountable, you take the consequences as well.   This new “confession tactic” is nothing more than an attempt to avoid the consequences.  It’s as sincere as a politician’s apology.  You’ve all seen the carefully scripted BS where the politician (why is always a guy?) has his poor wife standing dutifully by him.  He has tears in his eyes as he asks forgiveness for his “lapse in judgement”.   All of it scripted by some PR wonk to defuse the crisis.

Guess what?  That’s not accountability.  Accountability without consequences is not accountability.  At best its confession and at worst is PR BS.  I’m not into revenge.  I don’t take joy in anyone’s pain.  It’s not for me to decide whether sending naughty pictures of yourself on the internet is worthy of losing your job.  If it’s not – then boldly stand up and say that and let the voters decide.  But don’t pull this “lapse in judgement” deal and expect no consequences.  We elect politicians to have good judgement – even when times are tough.

Which brings us back to Philip Baker.  For those who believe that education is teaching kids that the only thing that counts is the end mark and they can lie, steal, cheat and buy their answers — this “cribbed speech” is no big deal.  For those who think that education involves trust, character and discipline – that scholarship and integrity are linked – we can’t have our leaders plagiarizing.

Phil – you have to resign.  That’s it.  No questions.  That’s the cost of your “lapse in judgement”.   If you don’t then every one of us who teaches or is simply just proud of our academic work or our alma matter — every one of us has to rise up and drum you out.  Sorry.

That’s accountability.

But don’t make us do it.  Next year, when I stand in front of the class, let me be able to say that even the Dean is not above it.  When Philip Baker realized what he’d done, he resigned.  That’s the best example to set.

If not, then my plan B speech would be — “I was only one of many who wrote, complained, hounded and worked tirelessly to get Philip fired.   And if YOU cheat, I’ll put the same amount of vigour into ensuring that you are also held accountable.”

It’s your choice, Philip.  Without taking real accountability, you’ve simply made it the “Dean’s Dishonour List.”  What kind of example do you want to be?   Because we are holding you accountable.

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