Academic Integrity Violations Lead to Professor’s Resignation
On Tuesday, the Amherst College community received word that Carleen Basler, a much-loved professor in Anthropology, Sociology, and American Studies, had resigned. Though her formal resignation had come a week earlier, the reasons were not widely disseminated until the Amherst Student released an article on the 25th.
In a statement to The Student, Basler revealed, “My reason for resigning is simple. In certain sections of my scholarly work, I unintentionally failed to cite and improperly cited previously published materials.”
Basler had been standing for tenure and was well supported by former students. An online petition gives some sense of the admiration many felt for her. One student cites Basler’s courses as “life-changing.”
As part of the tenure process, Basler’s peers and external scholars reviewed her publications. After the initial discovery of suspicious passages, a formal investigation included a rigorous examination of her writing dating back to her dissertation, which she completed at Yale University. Reviewers discovered additional discrepancies.
Dean of the Faculty, Gregory Call, informed Basler of the situation (though it’s unclear at what point Basler was notified). They then met to discuss the irregularities in a side-by-side comparison.
Basler admitted that her work contained improper citations and voluntarily resigned on September 17th.
Though her official statement claims that her violations of academic integrity were unintentional, that the investigation found multiple instances of unattributed quotations suggests a troubling pattern of intellectual misrepresentation.
Some members of the community feel that Basler struggled with her writing and this was a contributing factor in her violations. In a statement to The Student, Professor Karen Sanchez-Eppler pointed out, “The big findings were hers and were in her own words, but a lot of the background materials she used [were] other scholars’ work.”
While some feel that Amherst’s rigorous, high-pressure academic environment contributed to Basler’s plagiarism, others are still shocked to find that a role model violated academic integrity. An Opinion piece published in The Student suggests that the College examine its resources and support for struggling students.
While I acknowledge that the discussion of student intellectual support is important, I think there also needs to be a move to improve the respect and trust between the administration and students regarding issues of suspected intellectual dishonesty.
Though the exact process used to investigate the claims against Basler remains vague, I feel that she was kept abreast of the situation, that it was clear where the concern lay, and, ultimately, what the investigation found. For me, the incident highlights a discrepancy between the treatment of faculty and students regarding perceived violations of the honor code.
In the winter of my freshman year, I was eagerly awaiting my first semester grades. I was especially excited to see the result of my Geology class, in which I was on the A-/A border. I was pleased with my first three marks upon their arrival, but kept waiting. Interterm was ending. I had yet to receive a grade in Geology.
Then, an email.
My professor asked me to come to his office as soon as possible. He did not disclose the topic of the meeting, though I immediately suspected that it had something to do with the missing grade.
In the meeting (the first Monday of Spring semester), I learned that my paper, shaped from a group project, “contained certain similarities to a group of other papers.” The other people in my project group, I independently learned, were also being accused of plagiarism.
The professor then told me I would need to meet with the Dean of Students office. He also commented that it was possible I would receive a zero on my final assignment. Reassuringly he told me that this had happened to one of his senior majors as well.
I was not reassured. In fact, I felt insulted.
I had founded and sat on my high school’s integrity and discipline committee. I loved Chicago Style (Diana Hacker is my homegirl). I had no possible motivation to cheat going into the final project. I was devastated by the accusation.
A few days later, I met with the Disciplinary Dean. I had brought every scrap of paper related to the project. Since my professor had not allowed me to see the papers, I had no idea how I should be defending myself.
After a fairly brief conversation (I still had no real idea where the accusations were coming from), I let the dean photocopy my notes and left the office.
Some time later, my grade, an A-, appeared online.
I never heard from the professor or dean again.
Relating the incident has made it easier to deal with. I’m still shocked at the lack of respect I was accorded in the process and after it. I never received an official verdict, which I feel is extremely unprofessional, especially because it seemed like the professor presumed I was guilty.
I felt that the incident was an affront to my character.
I’m glad I can talk about it now, but it disturbs me that I was not a one-off, poorly managed case. Since then, I have heard of other instances of supposed academic dishonesty being similarly mishandled.
I do not mean to condemn Amherst, but merely to question its culture surrounding academic integrity. I think that there should be more discussion about it during orientation, a standardized, clear-cut process across departments for suspected violations, and a conscious effort to recognize that perceived and proven are two very different things.
Moreover, a person, be it a student or professor, deserves a base level of respect and courtesy regardless of the verdict.
I wish Basler the best of luck in her future endeavors, and I hope that the Amherst community – faculty and student alike – will pause to consider and discuss the issues raised by this incident.
Brianda Reyes, “Basler Resigns After Admitting to Plagiarism,” The Amherst Student, 9/25/2012.
The Amherst Student, “Thoughts on Basler,” 9/25/2012.