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Argosy plagiarism was ‘unintentional’ – Academic says Poshard got off easier

Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard is seen in his Carbondale, Ill., office Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007, where he responded to allegations that he plagiarized parts of his 1984 doctoral dissertation. | AP Photo

Nearly two years after she was stripped of her degree and job for plagiarizing her doctoral research project, Bindu Ganga wants her reputation back.

The former Argosy University-Chicago official’s defense — I didn’t do it on purpose.

Speaking extensively for the first time since the Sun-Times exposed her project in early 2006, Ganga admits there were many mistakes in her paper. But like Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard, who was accused of plagiarizing parts of his dissertation earlier this year, she said her errors were “unintentional” and claims she shouldn’t be seen in the same light as plagiarists who take credit for the work of others.

She cautions students to be careful to learn the rules. “A lack of knowledge on my part turned into a very devastating and damaging situation,” said Ganga, 35.

She said she would be willing to speak to college students about her case.

Ganga got her Psy.D. — the clinical equivalent of a Ph.D. — from the Rolling Meadows campus of the for-profit school in 2000, and was working as the downtown campus’ director of training when a student accused her of plagiarism. The school originally denied there were problems with her 55-page paper on lying. After the Sun-Times reported that 45 percent of her work was identical or nearly identical to other sources — and much of it not properly cited — the school agreed the plagiarism was “extensive.”

Allowed to do new project

Ganga, who was named Argosy’s “Outstanding Alumni of the Year” in 2003, was ousted from her job, and her degree was rescinded. But she appealed. Argosy eventually allowed her to re-enroll, scrap the first paper and conduct a whole new project. After a year of work, her degree was returned in October. She now works at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare as a coordinator with the perinatal depression program.

The Argosy student who spotted the plagiarism, Marla Decker, was disciplined, in part because she pushed the charge. After the Sun-Times stories, James Kaplan, then chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, requested all record of Decker being disciplined be removed from her file. The school agreed to do that.

Decker, who now lives in Colorado and graduated from Argosy, said she “couldn’t believe” Argosy let Ganga get her degree back. “It destroys the school’s credibility,” she said.

‘Parallels’ with Poshard case

Argosy University President Gregory O’Brien did not respond to requests for comment.

But Ganga thinks the school was too harsh. She wishes she got the same treatment as Poshard, who earlier this fall was found to have committed “inadvertent plagiarism” in his doctorate. Poshard was allowed to correct his paper while keeping his degree and job. She says there are “parallels” between her situation and his.

Still, many academics question how much weight to put on the claims of a student caught plagiarizing, noting that few admit doing it on purpose. It’s up to the students — particularly those seeking an advanced degree — to follow the rules, they say.

“You have to look at what’s on the paper,” said Robert Ware, a philosophy professor at SIU-Edwardsville. “Intentions have nothing to do with it.”

‘Lowered the bar’

Other academics, including some who defended Poshard, argue intentions do matter and say someone who knowingly lifts original research and claims it as his own is worse than someone who makes attribution errors.

While Poshard was found to have used far fewer statements without attribution than Ganga did, Ware argued SIU should have taken a stronger stance against him. The fact that Ganga mentions Poshard’s treatment as a model to follow is “disturbing,” he said.

“Not only have we lowered our standards by allowing Glenn Poshard to retain his position, but we’ve lowered the bar for all other institutions,” Ware said. “It’s a travesty.”

Ganga’s former boss at Argosy, Wendy Paszkiewicz, said she’s impressed with how Ganga has turned her life around.

“It was a very painful process for her,” she said. “She rose above it and learned from it.”

Ganga agrees the situation was “unfortunate, but I’ve really grown from this, and I’ve turned it around into a very positive situation, at least in my eyes,” she said. “I’m still standing.”