Posted by: Louis Lavelle on February 2, 2012
The number of MBA applicants at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management that have been rejected because of plagiarism has grown exponentially, with 40 more rejected in the second round of applications.
The new cases of plagiarism bring the total to 52. As we reported yesterday, 12 cases of plagiarism were discovered in a batch of 870 first-round applications. An additional 40 cases were discovered in the applications submitted for the second-round, says Elise Anderson, a spokeswoman for the school. The third round, which has an April 18 deadline, typically gets another 500 to 700 applications, Anderson says. So it’s possible that more plagiarized essays will be found in the third round.
The plagiarism was discovered through the use of a service called Turnitin for Admissions, which scans admissions essays looking for text that matches any documents in the Turnitin database. The archive contains billions of pages of web content, books and journals, as well as student work previously submitted to Turnitin for a plagiarism check. Turnitin flags any matches it finds, but individual schools determine if the similarity constitutes plagiarism. The service is now in use by nearly 20 business schools, including those at Penn State, Iowa State, Northeastern, and Wake Forest.
Anderson said the school does not currently notify applicants that their essays will be checked through Turnitin. She said the school is determining what, if any, disclosure should be made on its web site.
Research done by Turnitin suggests that plagiarism in admissions essays is vast. The company's study of 453,000 "personal statements" received by more than 300 colleges and universities in an unnamed English-speaking country found that "more that 70,000 applicants that applied though this system did so with statements that may not have been their own work." That's more than 15 percent.
For schools that do not currently vet application essays with Turnitin, the apparent prevalence of plagiarized essays raises an interesting question: Is it ethical for a school to turn a blind eye to this and award degrees to people who got their foot in the door by lying?
And for those that do screen essays, there's another issue. Many students use the same essays (with minor modifications) at every school they apply to, but there's no mechanism in place to flag plagiarized essays discovered by one school to all the other schools where that essay may have been submitted. One way to do this would be for the school discovering the plagiarism to notify the Graduate Management Admission Council, and have GMAC send a notice to every school that received the applicant's GMAT scores.
With just a handful of business schools using the Turnitin service, and no way to spread the word about purloined essays, plagiarism lacks any real consequences. The irony of course is that plagiarism persists despite ongoing efforts to get business school students to sign things like the MBA Oath--"my behavior must set an example of integrity"--a sort of do-no-harm Hippocratic Oath for MBA graduates started by Harvard Business School students in 2009.
If b-schools really want to turn out ethical graduates, accepting only ethical applicants might not be a bad place to start.