Students dismissed from Semester at Sea voyage

Allison Routman, Mark Gruntz convicted of plagiarism

Allison Routman and Mark Gruntz may not be traditional University of Virginia students, but when they signed on for the summer 2008 Semester at Sea program, sponsored by the University, they also signed on to a modified version of the University’s honor system. So, when they were charged with and later convicted of plagiarizing from Wikipedia, the University’s single-sanction system was carried out, and the students were dismissed from the Semester at Sea program as soon as the program’s ship, the MV Explorer, docked in Greece.
Routman, a 21-year-old Ohio University student, and Gruntz, a 20-year-old California Baptist University student, told The Cavalier Daily that honor hearing panels composed of three faculty members found each of them guilty of plagiarism on the same assignment: the first paper assigned for the mandatory, 101-level “Global Studies — Europe: East and West” class taught by University Politics Prof. Allen Lynch. According to both Routman and Gruntz, students were told to watch one of two films and to write a paper relating the film they selected to their Semester at Sea port experiences and class lectures. The two movies, “Europa Europa” and “Burnt by the Sun,” both detail World War II-related events. Routman chose “Europa Europa,” while Gruntz chose “Burnt by the Sun.”
Both students said they were confused after watching their chosen movie and wanted to check some facts for the purposes of writing their assignments.
“The movies — they are difficult movies,” Routman said. “They cover a thick subject matter [and] many of them are in subtitles.”
As a result, Routman and Gruntz consulted movie summaries available on Wikipedia, they said.
“I wanted to make sure I had things in the right order and had the right terminology for the World War II events,” Routman said, adding that she “thought using Wikipedia to check some facts wasn’t a big deal” because the assignment was not a research paper.
In composing their essays, Routman did not cite Wikipedia, while Gruntz did so twice, according to the students. Routman and Gruntz admitted the papers that led to their honor accusations were not the highest-quality work they have ever produced.
“It was not the best paper I’ve ever written,” Routman said, while Gruntz noted that he didn’t spend much time on his paper.
Nevertheless, both Routman and Gruntz said they were satisfied enough with their work to turn the papers in on time.
“I didn’t even think twice before turning in my paper,” Gruntz said in reference to whether he considered that his paper could lead to honor accusations.
Routman expressed a similar sentiment.
“It never occurred to me that what I was doing could be considered plagiarism,” Routman said.
Looking back, she said, the first sign of trouble might have been when Lynch devoted an entire class to proper citations after students turned in their papers.
Neither Routman nor Gruntz, though, thought they had done anything wrong, they said, noting that they felt Lynch’s statements did not apply to them. Similarly, Routman and Gruntz said they thought Lynch was not addressing them when he later announced in class that some students were under suspicion of plagiarism. Lynch said, according to the students, that if students came forward and admitted guilt via a “conscientious retraction,” possible honor charges would be nullified before they were even filed. In an e-mail, Lynch declined to comment about specific honor cases, including Routman’s and Gruntz’s, citing trial confidentiality.
The next day, Routman and Gruntz said, students received their grades.
“When I got my paper back, it said that I had gotten a ‘D,’” Routman said. “It said that I hadn’t followed directions and that I needed to be more careful about citations. From that, I was like, ‘OK, fair enough. I understand what they are saying.’ But I figured that if I was getting in trouble for something, I would have gotten an F, or I would have been talked to.”
Portions of Routman’s paper, obtained by The Cavalier Daily from Routman and printed below, are underlined. A proofer’s mark corresponding with an underlined portion on the first page reads “from Wikipedia.” Routman said the written comments on her paper were made by either Lynch or by a teaching assistant, noting that she was never told who wrote the comments. The writer stated, “Overall you attempt to tie in the the [sic] theme of the movie to your personal experience which is a start. However, keep in mind that the assignment was intended to be a reflection of your experience so far in the course with appropriate references to the movie, course materials and/or port experiences. Also, be extremely careful about your writing and the use of sources without citation.”
A copy of Gruntz’ paper was not made available as of press time, but Gruntz said the comments on his paper focused on one passage in particular, allegedly plagiarized from Wikipedia without proper attribution. Gruntz noted that he had cited Wikipedia twice previously but said he unintentionally did not do so a third time.
Both Routman and Gruntz said they were not informed when they received their graded papers back that honor charges would be pressed against them. But they soon received word of such charges.
“So, then, from out of nowhere, I get an urgent letter from the registrar [Laurie Casteen], saying to come see her,” Routman said.
Routman’s and Gruntz’s honor investigations, unlike those on Grounds, were coordinated by University staff members. Committee Chair Jessica Huang said the “unique nature” of Semester at Sea has led to the implementation of several modifications to the honor system in a guided effort to make the system more feasible aboard the MV Explorer.
Pursuant to Honor Committee constitution bylaws, the Semester at Sea Voyager’s Handbook provides special procedures, the language for which is generated by the Committee, for the reporting, investigation and trial of Semester at Sea-related cases. According to the revised summer 2008 Semester at Sea handbook, effective June 15, all Semester at Sea student participants were subject to the University’s honor code during the voyage, whether they were seeking a degree at the University or at another institution.
The general procedure for all Semester at Sea honor cases, the revised summer 2008 handbook states, is as follows: Anyone may report a suspected offense by contacting the registrar; the registrar will then investigate the case, conduct interviews and collect evidence.
“Upon completion of the investigation,” the revised summer 2008 handbook states, “the Registrar... shall determine, based on the results of the investigation, whether or not to formally accuse the investigated student of an Academic Honor Offense.”
If the registrar determines that an honor hearing is in order, an accusation letter will be sent to the implicated student, informing him or her of the charges. Routman’s accusation letter was provided to The Cavalier Daily and appears in print below. A copy of Gruntz’s was unavailable as of press time.
At the scheduled hearing, a hearing chair and two other hearing panel members will review evidence and question both the case’s plaintiff and defendant, the revised summer 2008 handbook states.
A majority vote by the three hearing panel members, including the hearing chair, is needed to either sentence the accused to expulsion from the ship and the program, or find the accused not guilty of any wrongdoing, the revised summer 2008 handbook states.
If found guilty, the accused has an opportunity to appeal to the academic dean aboard the ship. A dismissed party may appeal if the established procedures were not followed or if new, supporting evidence not available at the time of the hearing is made available. This appeal, according to the revised summer 2008 handbook, “does not provide a second hearing of the case;” rather, it “will be based on the existing record and any additional information or new evidence provided to the Academic Dean.”
If the academic dean receives a properly constructed appeal, he or she has the authority to affirm the decision of the hearing panel, determine that improper procedures were used and refer the case back to the registrar, or determine that new evidence exists and either refer the case back the hearing chair for a new hearing or dismiss charges.
Routman and Gruntz both said they filed appeals after having been found guilty of plagiarism by the honor hearing panel. Routman’s appeal was provided to The Cavalier Daily, while Gruntz’s was unavailable as of press time; portions of Routman’s appears in print below.
If the academic dean dismisses the accused party’s appeal, however, as was the case for Routman and Gruntz, that party will be immediately expelled from the MV Explorer, and no further avenues of appeal will remain open, according to the revised summer 2008 handbook.
Huang said all trials occurring on board during the most recent Semester at Sea expedition happened in accordance with the revised summer 2008 version of the Semester at Sea handbook.
“All procedures were followed,” Huang said.
There was one discrepancy, however, according to Routman, who said she was not immediately dismissed from the ship, but was kept on board until the MV Explorer docked in Greece. The reason for this, Routman noted, was that her father, Brent Routman, was concerned about her safety in a country not originally included on the trip itinerary: the ship’s planned docking in Turkey was substituted for a trip to Egypt. With this exception, the outlined procedures were closely followed, according to the accounts given by the expelled students. Gruntz was also dismissed in Greece, but his expulsion in that country was expected, according to both students, because of the time at which his appeal was denied.


Published September 1, 2008 in Focus









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