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Applying Ethical Theories: Interpreting and Responding to Student Plagiarism

Neil Granitz Dana Loewy

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ABSTRACT. Given the tremendous proliferation of student plagiarism involving the Internet, the purpose of this study is to determine which theory of ethical rea- soning students invoke when defending their transgres- sions: deontology, utilitarianism, rational self-interest, Machiavellianism, cultural relativism, or situational ethics. Understanding which theory of ethical reasoning students employ is critical, as preemptive steps can be taken by faculty to counteract this reasoning and prevent plagiarism. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that unethical behavior in school can lead to unethical behavior in business; therefore, correcting unethical behavior in school can have a positive impact on organizational ethics.

To meet this objective, a content analysis was conducted on the written records of students formally charged with plagiarizing at a large West Coast university. Each case was classified according to the primary ethical reasoning that the student used to justify plagiarism. Results indicate that students predominately invoke deontology, situational ethics, and Machiavellianism. Based on these findings, specific recommendations are offered to curb plagiarism.

KEY WORDS: academic dishonesty, ethical reasoning, history of copyright, historic views of plagiarism, Internet plagiarism, teaching academic integrity, theories of ethics


While the use of the Internet has led to improved efficiency and effectiveness in teaching, it has also created an explosion in student plagiarism (Fialkoff and St. Lifer, 2002; Groark et al., 2001; Rimer, 2003). Through online term paper mills (http:// www.cheater.com, http://www.schoolsucks.com), Google searches, as well as access to library databases, students literally have a world of information at their fingertips. In a 2001 survey, conducted by McCabe, 41% of undergraduate students admitted that they had engaged in one or more instances of ‘‘cut and paste’’ plagiarism involving the Internet [Center for Academic Integrity (CAI), 2002–2003]. Addition- ally, non-Internet plagiarism continues to be a problem. While instructors and students have tools such as Turnitin.com at their disposal, a better ap- proach would be to understand student reasoning about Internet plagiarism and to devise methods to stop it before it happens.

Past research has demonstrated that when faced with an ethical dilemma, individuals will form their ethical reasoning and moral intent based upon dif- ferent theories of ethics (Hunt and Vasquez-Parraga, 1993; Mengue, 1998). Several researchers have

This research is the result of a long-standing interest in new technology and plagiarism. Very early ideas on this subject were presented by the authors at the ABC West Conference in New Orleans in March 2003.

Dr. Neil Granitz teaches Marketing at Cal State Fullerton. He has published articles in the Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Marketing Education, and the Quarterly Journal of E-Commerce. Moreover, Neil is a consultant for the fast-food industry, the airline industry, and an Internet advertising agency. Before earning his MBA at McGill University in Montreal and a Ph.D. in Marketing at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, Neil Granitz gained extensive corporate experience in market and consumer research. Neil’s research focuses on three areas: (1) Instilling meaning and motivation into marketing education, (2) E- Commerce: Development and effect on marketing educators and practitioners, and (3) Awareness of ethics: Its influence on the internal culture of organization.

Dr. Dana Loewy teaches Business Communication at Cal State Fullerton. Having earned a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in English and translation, she is a well- published freelance translator, interpreter, and brand-name consultant. Fluent in several languages, among them German and Czech, Dana has published critical articles in many areas of interest and various poetry as well as prose translations, most notably the 1997 volume The Early Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert from Northwestern University Press.

Journal of Business Ethics (2007) 72:293–306 ! Springer 2006 DOI 10.1007/s10551-006-9171-9

demonstrated that students engage in varied rea- soning based on these different theories: deontology, utilitarianism, rational self-interest, Machiavellian- ism, etc. (Ashworth and Bannister, 1997; Lewis and Speck, 1990; McLafferty and Foust, 2004; Nickell and Herzog, 1996; Swinyard et al., 1989; Webster and Harmon, 2002). These findings should be tested in the specific context of plagiarism.

The purpose of this paper is to understand the reasoning students use when justifying the act of plagiarism. More specifically, we have identified two objectives:

(1) To determine which theory of ethical rea- soning students invoke when defending the act of plagiarism;

(2) Based on the theory of ethical reasoning to which perpetrators appeal, to develop instructor recommendations to prevent plagiarism in all student populations.

Additionally, we will explore the data for demo- graphic differences.

This research is significant for several reasons. First, faculty members are looking for guidance in recognizing and dealing with plagiarism. This study will uncover student reasoning justifying plagiarism and lead to specific action-oriented recommenda- tions that faculty members can follow to reduce plagiarism. Second, it has been demonstrated that unethical behavior in school can lead to unethical behavior in business and to financial ruin (Brubaker, 2003; Sims, 1993); hence, understanding and cor- recting unethical behavior in school can have a positive impact on organizational ethics and corpo- rate profitability. Additionally, ethical learning about copyright infringement may carry over to similar unethical student behaviors such as illegally down- loading music or movies from the Internet (Mark, 2004). Third, as the findings of this study are dis- seminated to universities, academic disciplines, pol- icy makers, and school boards, this research can serve as a platform for designing and allocating funding for programs that encourage originality, instruct in academic honesty, and teach educators how to deal with cheating. Finally, the bulk of past research has focused on understanding the different determinants (age, sex, locus of control, personality type, and religious orientation) of general student cheating (Allmon et al., 2000; Coleman and Mahaffey, 2000;

Crown and Spiller, 1998; Rawwas and Isakson, 2000; West et al., 2004); there is a dearth of empirical research specifically on student plagiarism and the reasoning behind this dishonest behavior.

In the next section, a brief historical overview showing various changing attitudes toward plagia- rism will be presented. Then, some of the back- ground literature and statistics on plagiarism will be reviewed. This will be followed by a discourse on the different ethical theories and how they relate to plagiarism. The methodology and results will then be discussed, leading to the findings and recom- mendations.


The historical perspective

In traditional Western academic circles, plagiarism is universally despised. In print and on the Internet, definitions of cheating and instructions on how to avoid it abound (Auer and Krupar, 2001; McKenzie, 1998; McLafferty and Foust, 2004; Ryan, 1998; Sokolik, 2000). Yet rigorous studies of the phe- nomenon, especially the justification for such behavior, are still far and between (http:// www.academicintegrity.org). Thomas Mallon’s Sto- len Words (1989) is sometimes called a definitive investigation of intellectual theft, but in the absence of other works about plagiarism this assessment seems premature. As opposed to Mallon’s categorical moral stance, Marilyn Randall’s Pragmatic Plagiarism: Authorship, Profit and Power offers this contemporary academic relativism of literary theft as a subversive, almost revolutionary act: ‘‘Within the general frame of ‘postmodernism,’ I posit ‘plagiarism’ as a mode of guerilla warfare directed against an oppressive hegemony’’ (Randall, 2001, p. xiii).

Mallon uncompromisingly denounces such apol- ogetic rationalizations of plagiarism. In the afterword to the 2000 edition of Stolen Words, he criticizes those contemporary academics who, like Randall, invoke Roland Barthes’ philosophy, casting doubt on the preeminence of authorship and originality in traditional Western thought.

Permissive attitudes are nothing new, albeit for different reasons. In Aristotelian poetics, imitation (mimesis) is a natural, instinctual quality of humans and is seen in a positive light as a vehicle leading

294 Neil Granitz and Dana Loewy

both to pleasure and learning. Likewise, it is well known that the Romans borrowed from and emu- lated the Greeks. Moreover, all biblical books, written over a period of approximately 1100– 1300 years, have been distorted by translation errors and two or three millennia of manuscript copying by ancient and medieval scribes (Hoberman, 1985).

In antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and in the Renaissance, ideas of others were used liberally and often without acknowledgment. In Shakespeare’s time, theater companies staged plays that usually bore no name of an author and were changed at will by the actors after purchase (Clark, 1996). The Bard himself adapted many a theme from predecessors. Ovid’s Metamorphoses strongly influenced Shake- speare, Dante, Chaucer, Milton, and other writers, providing them with powerful classical myths. Subsequently, literature featured themes and motifs – for instance, the Faustus myth – that recur throughout the history of letters.

It was not until the late 15th century that the introduction of printing began to transform the idea of authorship and, hence, that piracy emerged as a threat, necessitating protection. Copyright was first established in 1662 by the Licensing Act and by the Statute of Anne in 1709 (UK Patent Office, 2004). Only when ideas become a commodity worth selling and protecting, can they also be stolen. Not coincidentally, the Latin word plagiarius means kidnapper. The emergence of copyright and the insistence of the Romantics on originality (inspira- tion perceived as divine afflatus) have shaped our modern perception of plagiarism as morally repre- hensible.

To describe the injurious effect of lifting ideas from others, in today’s academic arena it is fre- quently noted that plagiarism tips the scales of fair competition, hampers learning, dilutes individual and class grades, and cheapens the value of honest work, hurting the perpetrator, other students, as well as their professors (‘‘Did You Know?’’, 2004; Park, 2000; Ryan, 1998). Curiously, more than 30% of instructors did nothing to pursue cheating although they knew it was going on in their classes, as McCabe found in his 1999 study involving more than 1000 instructors at 21 college campuses. The student respondents stated that they were more likely to cheat if a faculty member was known as lenient toward cheaters (CAI, 2002–2003).

Our goal was to view plagiarism historically, briefly tracing changing attitudes toward the phe- nomenon and the motivations and rationalizations driving these changes. We were also interested in juxtaposing the practice of plagiarism before the advent of the Internet with the emergence of what has been called ‘‘new plagiarism’’ (McKenzie, 1998; Ryan, 1998).

Plagiarism – a new epidemic

The truth is that the available statistics are disturbing indeed. At Virginia Tech, officials stated that cheating involving electronic media rose dramati- cally within one academic year, from 80 cases in 1995–1996 to 280 incidents in 1997 (Zack, 1998). As reported by USA Today on May 21, 2001, at UC Berkeley, academic dishonesty cases doubled be- tween 1995 and 1999 alone (Groark et al., 2001). A large 2000/2001 survey conducted by McCabe indicates that cheating is rampant in high schools as well. More than half of the high-school students have plagiarized writing assignments in some form specifically with the help of the Internet (CAI, 2002–2003).

But problems remain when we try to estimate the true extent of cyber-plagiarism. Faculty members do not always pursue and report dishonest behavior, many cheaters probably get away, and some plagia- rists may lie in interviews (Ryan, 1998). Compli- cating matters further, as Roig (2001) shows, is the fact that not even college professors always agree on what constitutes plagiarism.

However, evidence of a rise in Internet-facilitated plagiarism is the growth and apparent profitability of electronic paper-mills that thrive on selling prefab- ricated as well as custom-written assignments online (‘‘Plagiarism and the Internet,’’ 2004). Kenneth Sahr, one of the co-owners of schoolsucks.com, a website that features advertising and about 5000 free downloadable documents, claims two million hits every month (Flynn, 2001).

Speculation about why Internet plagiarism is growing

Most sources (McKenzie, 1998; McLafferty and Foust, 2004; ‘‘Plagiarism and the Internet,’’ 2004;

Applying Ethical Theories 295

Ryan, 1998) argue that old-style plagiarism was arduous, required some degree of skill, and was relatively easy to spot by knowledgeable faculty. As opposed to that, the Internet has made cyber- cheating as simple as a mouse click and has raised the bar for instructors who may be struggling to keep up with tech-savvy perpetrators. The Internet is seductive with its ease and speed of access and sheer bounty. To a student under pressure to produce an assignment it may seem just too tempting: ‘‘Stealing or copying someone’s work has become so effortless […] that students may be inured to the ethical or legal consequences, much like drivers exceeding the speed limit’’ (Zack, 1998).

Berkeley professor Alex Aiken, creator of an anti- plagiarism software package, cites the anonymity of the electronic medium, the growing capacity and speed of computers, and the vast supply on the Internet as factors contributing to the lowering of inhibitions and acting on impulse (Zack, 1998).

Many professors are not as technologically savvy as their students, so the plagiarists may not fear detection. Transgression may present an ‘‘irresistible challenge’’ (Ryan, 1998) to vulnerable students, or cheaters may experience a certain thrill when they get by without the professor noticing (‘‘Preventing Plagiarism,’’ 2004).

Deadline pressure, difficulty keeping up, and lack of preparation for college may play a role, too, in motivating cheating: ‘‘Plagiarism is almost always a symptom of other educational problems’’ (‘‘Did You Know?’’ 2004).

Reasoning and cheating

While several researchers have focused on classifying the reasoning used by students to justify general cheating behaviors, no work has been conducted specifically focusing on plagiarism. The predominant categorization scheme employed for general cheat- ing has been Sykes’s and Matza’s Neutralization Techniques (Sykes and Matza, 1957). It is main- tained that delinquent behavior is based on justifi- cations that are valid to the delinquent – but not the legal system, and that these justifications can precede the act. Thus, potential violators are tempted to perform the unethical act, recognize that the act is wrong, use one of the techniques to justify the act

and then perform the act. It is the enticement of gain or pleasure that instigates the neutralization tech- nique (Vitell and Grove, 1987). For example, one technique of neutralization is Denial of Victim, wherein the delinquent behavior is justified, as the perpetrator believes that the victim deserved it (rightful retaliation). Both LaBeff et al. (1990) and McCabe (1992) classified students’ reasoning on cheating according to the different neutralization techniques. While some similarities between the theories of ethical reasoning and neutralization techniques exist, theories of ethical reasoning are broader and, therefore, more useful for analysis. For example, among the neutralization techniques, deontology has no equivalent.

Ethical philosophies and plagiarism

After reviewing several key ethics journals and texts (Loe et al., 2000), as well as examining past research on the types of ethical reasoning students had used in different ethical contexts (Ashworth and Banister, 1997; McLafferty and Foust, 2004; Nickell and Herzog, 1996; Swinyard et al., 1989; Webster and Harmon, 2002), we decided to include six ethical theories. Below, each of the different theories will be discussed in detail, along with examples of how plagiarism would be considered wrong under each theory. Then we will suggest what type of reasoning students would use to justify plagiarism (if they subscribed to that theory) and present extant research pertaining to each theory.

Deontology Deontologists subscribe to the belief that ‘‘human beings have certain fundamental rights and that should be respected in all decisions’’ (Cavanagh et al., 1981, p. 366). Duty is the basis of morality, and the locus of right and wrong is in self-directed adherence to one’s moral duty by helping others without regard for personal consequences (Ashmore, 1987; De George, 1990; Kant, 1959; Laczniak and Murphy, 1991).

Deontology extends to an individual’s personal rules (what he or she thinks is right), rules of an organization (i.e., corporate codes of ethics), or to religious deontology (one’s moral duty is to follow g–d).

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Under deontology, plagiarism is a morally wrong; perpetrators are stealing and presenting someone else’s work as their own. If students subscribe to this theory, they can only plagiarize if they misunder- stand or are unaware of the theory (e.g., ‘‘I didn’t know what plagiarism was’’/‘‘I didn’t know that plagiarism was wrong’’).

In a study focused on ethics towards animals, Nickell and Herzog (1996) found that whether students followed deontology accounted for varia- tion in their reasoning. Bugeja (2001) reports a rise in ignorance pleas and defenses invoking a lack of intent among journalism students who thus imply innocence when they are caught cheating. Altsch- uler (2001) cites a Rutgers University focus group that noted that many students seemed to be ‘‘blasé’’ about plagiarism – not seeing it as a true transgres- sion (p. 15). Faculty members does not seem to offer clear guidelines to help struggling students figure out how to use the Internet in an acceptable fashion. At least this is McCabe’s conclusion from two studies of ‘‘cut and paste’’ plagiarism (CAI, 1999, 2005). In the former study, 77% of the students did not consider such behavior a serious problem at all. In other words, they did not understand what plagiarism was, what the deontology was.

Utilitarianism Utilitarianism holds that an individual should weigh the costs versus the benefits and act to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of peo- ple. A moral decision is one that creates the greatest total utility (De George, 1990; Frankena, 1973; Mill, 1861/1957). Individuals who follow a utili- tarian philosophy could only justify plagiarism if the outcomes were good (e.g., ‘‘Plagiarism leads to better learning or higher grades’’/‘‘Nobody gets hurt’’).

Utilitarian philosophies used by students were also identified by several researchers in a business context (Swinyard et al., 1989). A transgression may present an ‘‘irresistible challenge’’ (Ryan, 1998) to vulnera- ble students, or cheaters may experience a certain thrill when they get by without the professor noticing (‘‘Preventing Plagiarism,’’ 2004). In a class exercise where students had to decide what to do with critical information about a coming earthquake, Mallinger (1997) found that American MBAs were most likely to appeal to utilitarianism.

Rational self-interest (social contract theory) One acts to benefit oneself; however, no sacrifice is involved – people should relate to one another strictly on a trading basis, exchanging value for value in all endeavors (Rand, 1964). From a capitalistic perspective, an implicit agreement exists between a society and corporations that society will allow the corporations to exist and profit as long as they satisfy consumers, employees, etc. (Donaldson and Dunfee, 1994; Hasnas, 1998; Rawls, 1971). Under this theory, plagiarism could be justified only if the plagiarists felt they were engaging in a fair exchange (e.g., ‘‘I’m publicizing the author’s work’’/‘‘The teacher doesn’t put much effort into this, so why should I?’’).

Rational self-interest is discussed in a study by Ashworth and Bannister (1997). Taking a transac- tional view, students believe that plagiarism is justi- fied if the assignment is boring and irrelevant.

Machiavellianism (ethical egoism) Individuals embracing this philosophy have no qualms about sacrificing others for their own benefit. They are always motivated to act in their own perceived self-interest. Therefore, for students sub- scribing to Machiavellianism, plagiarism could be justified if they managed to get away with it and did not get blamed or caught (e.g., ‘‘Look how clever I am… I can plagiarize, do well, and not get caught’’). If caught, they’ll blame others (e.g., ‘‘It’s the tea- cher’s fault’’).

In a longitudinal study, Webster and Harmon (2002) discovered that college-age students had be- come more Machiavellian over a 30-year period. In studying student attitudes regarding plagiarism, Ryan found denial, lack of remorse and shame, even defiance (1998).

Cultural relativism Words such as right, wrong, justice, and injustice derive their meaning from attributes of a culture (Donald- son, 1989, p. 14). Ethical standards are different across cultures and an act that is ethical in one cul- ture may be considered unethical in another culture (Robertson and Fadill, 1999; Vitell et al., 1993). Students justifying plagiarism with the help of this theory would focus on how plagiarism is acceptable in their culture (e.g., ‘‘It’s allowable in the country where I come from’’).

Applying Ethical Theories 297

Demonstrating a relativistic approach, McLafferty and Foust (2004) recount anecdotal information about students who admit that they have never had problems in other classes when cheating this way. With regard to computer issues, Hay et al. (2001) found that cultural background was an important determinant of ethical behavior among undergrad- uate business students.

Situational or contingent ethics Ferrell and Gresham (1985) introduced a ‘‘contin- gency’’ framework of ethics specifying that indi- vidual (knowledge, values), social (significant others), and organizational (opportunity, rewards, punishment) situational elements could affect an individual’s response to an ethical dilemma. Pratt (1993) established that the most important variable was the specific scenario related to the dilemma. To avoid overlap with other categories, situational ethics has been restricted to instances when students justify an act due to circumstances beyond their control (i.e., external locus of control); as in Pratt (1993), the focus is on specific scenarios surrounding the ethical dilemma. Students who plagiarize using this theory of ethics would cite a situational element as a justification (e.g., ‘‘My kid was sick’’/‘‘My boyfriend just dumped me’’).

It should be noted that under deontology and cultural relativism there is not necessarily an awareness of a transgression. In other words, perpetrators may not realize that they are doing anything wrong. For utilitarianism, rational self- interest, Machiavellianism and situational ethics, an awareness of wrongdoing exists; however, it is rationalized away by the circumstances of the situation.

In general research that focused on the ethics of business students, Galbraith and Stephenson (1993) and Grover and Hui (1994) found that situational influences affected the type of reasoning students used. When studying general cheating behavior, McCabe (1992) and Labeff et al. (1990) arrived at similar findings.

Finally, in one of the few studies contrasting several types of ethical theories in a general ethical context, Brinkmann (2002) found that 51% of the students used deontological arguments, 42% resorted to utilitarian arguments, and 7% of the students advanced Machiavellian reasoning.


As our research focuses on ethics, it is necessary to choose a realistic methodology (Aronson et al., 1985; Mathison, 1988). Therefore, to identify and understand the different types of reasoning that students use to justify plagiarism, we conducted a content analysis of past plagiarism cases at a large West Coast university. Well suited for this study, content analysis is, ‘‘an observational research method that is used to systematically evaluate the symbolic content of all forms of recorded commu- nication’’ (Kolbe and Burnett, 1991, p. 243).

With the help of our university’s dean of students, this analysis was conducted examining the rationales offered by students caught plagiarizing. Once faculty members discover that their students have plagia- rized, they bring these individuals before the dean of students where the offenders are formally charged with plagiarism, given the chance to explain their behavior, and then may receive a punishment, such as writing an essay on plagiarism, suspension, course failure, etc. All of this information is recorded in a confidential file.

These files were categorized using the ethical reasoning philosophies described above. One limi- tation of this study is that students may not be revealing their true justifications for plagiarizing since they have been caught. In most cases, it does appear as if the students are just coming clean and telling the truth; however, even if some students are not revealing the actual reasoning that they used to justify the act of plagiarism, they are still exposing the logic that they use to defend plagiarism – and being able to understand and counter that logic is valuable for faculty.

To avoid researcher bias, two judges were re- cruited to independently evaluate and categorize the reasoning of students (e.g., Kolbe and Burnett, 1991). For each case, the primary reasoning used by the student was classified under one of the ethical theories. Coders were given strict guidelines and trained on how to classify reasoning. Before evalu- ating the cases used in this study, each judge classi- fied 20 identical ads. Their ratings were compared and reasons for any disagreement were discussed and resolved among the judges and the authors to help to ensure a sufficient level of inter-rater reliability. After the data collection was complete, the authors

298 Neil Granitz and Dana Loewy

independently evaluated a random sample of the ads (10% of the total). The independent judges’ ratings were compared with the authors’ ratings (e.g., Dilevko and Harris, 1997), and using Holsti’s (1969) formula, the inter-rater agreement was 83.6%, indicating a high degree of reliability (Kassarjian, 1977).


Students invoked all six ethical theories (Table I). The most commonly followed ethical theory was deontology; 41.8% of respondents referred to deontological reasoning. Students acknowledged their adherence to the code by clearly apologizing for violating it or by providing statements revealing that they did not realize they were breaking it. Some typical justifications include: ‘‘Yes, I did plagiarize and I’m sorry;’’ ‘‘I accidentally left out some cita- tions;’’ and ‘‘I didn’t know this was plagiarizing.’’ Not knowing falls under deontology because it suggests that they were following the rules; they just did not know that this was one of them.

The second most frequently invoked theory of ethical reasoning was situational ethics (19.9%). Individuals subscribing to this theory believe that different conditions warrant different treatment. Some typical quotations focused on extenuating circumstances, such as, ‘‘I came to the U. S. with nothing and I don’t know anybody;’’ and ‘‘I have to support my brother.’’

The third most likely type of reasoning used was Machiavellian, as 18.4% of students used it as a rationale. Machiavellians are opportunists, lacking concern for others (Christie and Geiss, 1970). When

caught, they blame others or deny the charge. Some typical claims such students made were: ‘‘It was the professor’s fault because he/she didn’t talk about it in class;’’ ‘‘I accidentally handed in the wrong version of my paper;’’ or ‘‘the other person had plagiarized them.’’ Finally, they denied that they had plagiarized, even in the presence of incontrovertible evidence.

Bound by the level of multiculturalism in the sample, cultural relativism was used by 8.5% of students to justify their behavior. Some characteristic statements included: ‘‘I did it in community college and it was OK;’’ ‘‘Everybody does it in Asia;’’ and ‘‘Everybody does it where I come from.’’

Finally, 5.7% of students called upon utilitarian reasoning. Some representative rationales were, ‘‘I didn’t think there was any harm being done;’’ and ‘‘I was falling behind and doing poorly, so I thought this would help.’’

The theory used the least was rational self-interest. This is a position that takes the form of equal ex- change. Some of the typical justifications included, ‘‘My friend gave it to me so that I could learn’’; ‘‘The instructor doesn’t use original materials – why should I?’’ and ‘‘I got help online.’’

To determine potential differences across demo- graphic variables, we ran several chi-square tests on the demographic variables (Table II). No differences emerged across sex (p = 0.123), ethnicity (p = 0.173), GPA (p = 0.667), school or division (p = 0.319), class status (p = 0.454) or repeated of- fenses (p = 0.520). However, for the type of pla- giarism (plagiarism from the Internet as opposed to other types of plagiarism), a p-value of 0.008 was found. Internet plagiarists were more likely to rely


Theory of ethical reasoning used

Theory used Percentage

Deontology 41.8 Utilitarianism 5.7 Rational self-interest 5.7 Machiavellianism 18.4 Cultural relativism 8.5 Situational ethics 19.9


Chi-square test of theory used versus demographic and behavioral variables

Cross tab of theory used and … p-value

Sex 0.123 Ethnicity 0.173 GPA 0.667 School 0.319 Class status 0.454 Repeat offense 0.520 Type of plagiarism 0.008*

*Significant at 0.05 level.

Applying Ethical Theories 299

on situational ethics and utilitarianism. They were less likely to call upon cultural relativism and Machiavellianism (Table III).

Discussion and recommendations

The findings of this study strongly correlate with past research. The most prevalent theory of ethics used by students to justify plagiarism was deontology. In accordance to Bugeja’s findings (2001), the key plea students entered was that they were uninformed and lacked intent to plagiarize. This recalls the observa- tions of Altschuler (2001), who documented that students appeared confused about the meaning of plagiarism and were lacking in malice, as well as McCabe’s conclusions (CAI, 2005) that faculty may not be providing clear guidelines to students.

The second largest category was situational ethics, under which many of the students cited situations beyond their control (i.e., need to support brother; having been adopted; coming home to house on fire; grandmother died). This corresponds to McCabe’s research (1992) that found that the most prevalent technique used (68% of the time) to justify general cheating was Denial of Responsibility. This technique refers to cases when the individual cites circumstance beyond his or her control. Addition- ally, this is consistent with the observations of Zack (1998), who found that a student under pressure may be tempted by the effortless supply of information. Given that Internet plagiarists were more likely to call upon situational ethics, the ease of retrieval from the Internet may be triggered by the slightest

external pressure. Relativism emerged at several levels; consistent with McLafferty and Foust (2004), students admitted that they had plagiarized in other classes of the same institution, and parallel to Hay et al. (2001), students from different nations and cultures claimed that copying was acceptable in their countries of origin. It is unclear whether they knew that their transgression was wrong.

Machiavellianism was the third highest category at 18.4% of offenders. As expected, students who were caught were quick to blame others, such as their peers or the professor and often simply denied the trans- gression. This was similar to McCabe’s research (1992), where the second largest neutralization strat- egy found was Condemning the Condemner (28%). Skeptics may believe that many Machiavellians are simply hiding behind deontological ignorance pleas. In any case, the recommendations will address both of these areas.

Utilitarianism was low at 5.7%. However, unlike the thrill or lack of fear of detection proposed by several researchers (Ryan, 1988; Swinyard et al., 1989), justifications appear innocent (‘‘I didn’t think it would hurt anyone’’). Internet plagiarists were more likely to resort to utilitarianism and situational ethics. Higher rates of utilitarianism may lend credence to the beliefs of Zack (1998) and Turnitin, who have stressed that the negative consequences to others are mini- mized. Finally, offenders who subscribe to rational self-interest indirectly or directly balance the trans- gression with the actions of the professor.

Below are several recommendations that respond directly to each of the different ethical philosophies. Before implementing any of these solutions, faculty and administrators must resolve several issues.

First, from this and previous research, evidence exists that professors do not always agree on their definition of plagiarism and that different professors are allowing different practices in their classes (Roig, 2001). Therefore, common ground must be estab- lished at the institution.

Second, whose responsibility is dealing with pla- giarism, the faculty’s or the administration’s? Evidence suggests that instructors are overloaded with higher priority issues and often unsupported by administra- tion (Boyer, 1990; Eble and McKeachie, 1985), par- ticularly when it comes to writing instruction (Plutsky and Wilson, 2001). Since faculty members are the principal agents in detecting plagiarism, faculty


Cross-tab percentages of theory used versus type of plagiarism

Theory Type of plagiarism

Internet Other

Deontology 40.8 42.1 Utilitarianism 9.9 1.4 Rational self-interest 4.2 7.2 Machiavellianism 12.7 24.5 Cultural relativism 4.2 13.2 Situational ethics 28.2 11.6

300 Neil Granitz and Dana Loewy

incentives and instructional materials are needed to explicitly address integrity at the class and university levels (Hair, 1991; Ives and Jarvenpaa, 1996; Mason, 1991; Padgett and Conceicao-Runlee, 2000).

The recommendations below are essential to creating an ethical culture at our schools and to instilling ethical values in our students; however, there are also positive implications for the ethics of organizations. Researchers have documented the association between cheating in college and cheating in business (Sims, 1993; Smith et al., 2002). Several researchers studying student cheating or the link between ethics education and business ethics have called upon business schools to teach students what is ethical behavior and what are its consequences for the organization and society (Crane, 2004; Jennings, 2004; Lawson, 2004; Luthar and Karri, 2005; Smyth and Davis, 2004).

The recommendations to answer each type of reasoning follow (Table IV). As some philosophies justifying plagiarism require similar steps, the action is only explained the first time it is presented. Sub- sequently it is just listed.


Our recommendations focus on ensuring that stu- dents understand what plagiarism is and that it is wrong.

Contract honor Most universities have honor codes, which cover plagiarism. If they do not, the professor can easily develop one for the department or class (for examples please go to http://www.academicinteg- rity.org). Much like organizations that protect themselves from rogue employees with written ethical codes (Stevens, 1996), academics should attach the honor code to the syllabus and have students read and sign it (Cole and Kiss, 2000). Research by McCabe involving 12,000 students on 48 campuses indicates that educational institutions with honor codes face significantly fewer breaches of academic integrity. On campuses without honor codes, 1 in 5 students self-reported more than three incidents of cheating. On campuses with honor codes, only 1 in 16 students reported such levels (CAI, 2005).

Teach proper citation and documentation techniques Rather than merely insisting that students cite materials properly, instructors must concretely teach them how to do it. This includes practicing para- phrasing and assimilating sources into one’s text. Additionally, faculty can distribute examples from previous classes as well as materials on the correct use of sources.

Act as a role model One of the strongest determinants of ethics is peers and superiors (Granitz, 2003). As role models to students, professors should properly document all course materials they develop, including presenta-


Recommendations for each ethical theory

Theory Recommendation

Deontology Contract honor Teach proper citation and documentation techniques

Act as a role model Avoid standardized general assignments

Use anti-plagiarism software Utilitarianism Explain and emphasize surveillance

Institute clear, severe penalties Enforce penalties Emphasize learning impairment and other negative consequences

Rational self-interest

Highlight inequitable exchange for the original author

Highlight inequitable exchange for the plagiarist

Stress professor’s effort Machiavellianism Explain and emphasize surveillance

Institute clear, severe penalties Enforce penalties Contract honor Teach proper citation and documentation techniques

Cultural relativism Define plagiarism as wrong Contract honor Teach proper citation and documentation techniques

Use anti-plagiarism software Situational ethics Adopt zero tolerance approach

Institute clear, severe penalties Enforce penalties

Applying Ethical Theories 301

tion slides, handouts, and exercises (Kienzler, 2004).

Avoid standardized, general assignments Faculty need to design assignments that are chal- lenging and difficult to plagiarize (Sokolik, 2000). Many faculty members give rather broad research topics to students, for example, a situational analysis of Wal-Mart. Assignments can and should be made more specific. For instance, if the class has focused on strategic competitive responses, instructors may have the students list and evaluate how Wal-Mart has responded to competitive actions from K-Mart and Target. Hence, students will need to synthesize several sources. Under no circumstances should instructors give the same assignment semester after semester.

Use anti-plagiarism software Rather than employing it as a fear-inducing deter- rent, faculty should put anti-plagiarism software like turnitin.com to better use. The software can be used as a pedagogic tool, allowing students to submit a draft version of their final project before submitting it to faculty.


The recommendations focus on making the negative consequences of plagiarism clear and significant.

Explain and emphasize surveillance Students may evaluate the chances of getting caught as very low and, hence, the consequences as very low risk. Therefore, the professor must ensure that students understand that they can be easily caught. First, professors using anti-plagiarism software should ensure that students know that the software is used in their course. Second, if applicable, professors can give examples of the different ways that students were caught. For instance, in our study, instructors had caught students by recognizing that the quality of the paper was different from the students’ previ- ous work. Third, faculty must keep abreast of new technological trends and resources to combat aca- demic dishonesty effectively.

Institute clear, severe penalties Punishment must be strict (for example, failing the class, suspension, or dismissal from the school), and clear (Harris, 2002). To ensure that the negative consequences are clear, the ‘‘contract honor’’ recommendation can apply.

Enforce penalties If students only receive a slap on the wrist and the promised penalty is waived, the offenders are receiving a misleading message about cheating that they will take with them to their next classes and then into the working world.

Emphasize learning impairment and other negative consequences While it did not appear in this study, it is conceiv- able that students subscribing to utilitarianism may believe that their learning is maximized through plagiarism (Harris, 2002). In that case, the professor can demonstrate to them that learning is lost by testing students on the plagiarized material.

Rational self-interest

In this case, responses must address how plagiarism is not a fair trade for the authors of the original material:

Highlight inequitable exchange for the original author This recommendation focuses on accentuating negative consequences to others. Since much of the plagiarism is Internet-related, the professor can cover the developing Internet copyright laws. For exam- ple, researching the Napster case could be an assignment.

Highlight inequitable exchange for the plagiarist To prevent students from buying work from an online term-paper mill, such as http://www.chea- ter.com, http://www.schoolsucks.com, instructors should explain to them that identical essays are sold to thousands of their peers and are easily identifiable. Hence, offenders are receiving an unfair exchange. For the price, they obtain a document that will be easily identifiable as a plagiarized text.

302 Neil Granitz and Dana Loewy

Stress professor’s effort For the students who contend that their instructor is not putting much effort into the class (So why should they?), the efforts of this faculty member, if indeed found to be questionable – which may not be easy – must be investigated. At the same time, professors must do a better job in communicating their efforts to the class. Additionally, accentuating the plight of other stakeholders (see Highlight ineq- uitable exchange for the original author above) may balance the scales against plagiarism. The trickiest area here is the implicit understanding of hierarchies. Ideally, the students should grasp that even profes- sors who may seem uninvolved in their teaching have significantly greater institutional authority than their pupils do and that assuming equal right to dereliction of duty will put the students at a disad- vantage.


The faculty’s response must focus on making stu- dents aware of how they can be caught and ensuring these students learn and acknowledge what plagia- rism is, so they cannot blame others for a ‘‘misun- derstanding.’’ The following recommendations apply:

(1) Explain and emphasize surveillance. (2) Institute clear, severe penalties. (3) Enforce penalties. (4) Contract honor. (5) Teach proper citation and documentation.

Cultural relativism

Since these individuals think that plagiarism is per- missible, the professor should concentrate on explaining why it is wrong and what exactly it is and then teach proper behavior. The following recom- mendations are offered:

(1) Define plagiarism as wrong. Explain why pla- giarism, defined both as lying and stealing, is wrong in the mainstream culture in the U.S.

(2) Contract honor.

(3) Teach proper citation and documentation tech- niques.

(4) Use anti-plagiarism software.

Situational ethics

Professors must communicate to their classes that no leeway will be granted for situational excuses for any course requirement. For example, does the instruc- tor allow students to hand in papers late? And if yes, does he or she impose a penalty? It is up to the professors to maintain an atmosphere that will allow the student to approach them if they have a genuine situational problem, hopefully before the offense is committed. In the context of these views, the fol- lowing recommendations can be followed:

(1) Adopt zero tolerance approach. Ensure that students know what plagiarism is. Assure students that they will be ‘‘prosecuted’’ after one infraction and that everyone will be treated identically with regards to plagiarism – regardless of the circumstances.

(2) Institute clear, severe penalties. (3) Enforce penalties.


This study examined how students justify plagiarism once they are caught. The recommendations ten- dered can be employed to preempt any justification of plagiarism. Future research can focus on the changes that may have been wrought on the ethical perceptions of the users of the new media. Likewise, it would be difficult, yet intriguing to examine sys- tematically whether the underlying reasons why students plagiarize have changed as well.


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Department of Marketing and Business Communication, Cal State Fullerton,

College Park 900, 800 North State College Boulevard, Fullerton, CA, 92834-6848, USA

E-mail: [email protected]

306 Neil Granitz and Dana Loewy

You, your spouse, and your two young children, have recently moved to Texas and you are now the Human Resource Manager of an apple juice plant called Beech-Nut. It’s a great move, both for your career and family. Your first few months on the job have really confirmed that you made a great choice in joining Beechnut. Your relationship with your new peers, your employees, and even the president have been very positive.

Thomas Rex Gibbs* is the President of Beechnut. He earned the nickname “T-Rex” because of an unfortunate accident that left him blind in one eye many years before. While it is barely noticeable and creates few work-related problems for him, it does mean that he is forced to move his head to and fro when entering the room due to limited peripheral vision, thus creating the stalking appearance of the popular portrayal of his deadly namesake. But he doesn’t mind the name at all. Instead, he seems to actually relish it. If truth were told, Rex not only approves of the moniker, he thinks it’s an appropriate symbol for one so dominant and firmly in charge.

T-Rex believes in surrounding himself with talent. One of his first actions as President was selecting and hiring a new leadership team. He gave each team member freedom to run their respective areas (to his liking, of course). The leadership team’s first order of business was establishing the following core values:

 People: Be a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.  Portfolio: Bring to the world a portfolio of products that satisfy customer’s desires and

needs.  Planet: Be responsible citizens that make a difference by helping build and support

sustainable communities.  Profit: Maximize long-term return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall


This first step paid off – the company’s product sales have benefited from Beechnut’s carefully crafted image, and Beechnut is now the second-largest maker of baby foods in the country.

In fact, Beechnut’s winning combination of competitive salary and core values allowed your predecessor (the previous HR Manager) to successfully recruit young, top talent to the organization. This not only lowered payroll and medical benefit costs, but also resulted in Beechnut being featured in Forbes magazine’s annual “Best Employers for New Graduates.”

T-Rex was not all that supportive of the initiatives of the leadership team at first, but he did appreciate the positive press from the Forbes listing. The success of the company, T-Rex had become convinced, was inexorably linked with positive press through all mediums. All managers within the company knew that the slightest negative story would lead to attention you did not want.

During your first few months, you have found that having so many young people in the organization is exciting in a company that had been around so long. “Work hard, play hard” was the unofficial motto among your new work force, and their results were incredible. So it was probably inevitable that some of these “play hard” employees would decide to form a new singles group to socialize together after work and on weekends. The singles group recently setup a ski trip, and about 15 employees participated in this 4-day excursion. Upon returning, a few of the employees, including one who works for you in the HR office, show you some great pictures, and it looks like they all had a good time. They even took time to participate in a community service event while on their excursion.

About a week later, T-Rex calls you into his office, and he appears angrier than you have ever seen him. He shares with you a letter he received from a Delta Airlines Senior Pilot. In the letter, the pilot states that in all his years working for Delta and other airlines, he has never experienced a group that was so disrespectful towards the flight crew and staff. He used several examples of their behavior, including showing up for the flight inebriated, demanding to be served when they had already been denied service in-flight, a broken lavatory, an allegation of marijuana smoke, and your employees proposing inappropriately to a stewardess.

When you suggest an investigation would be in order to find out who the miscreants are in the crowd of 15, T-Rex says that you can investigate all you want, but at the end of this day, he wants a solution. “We have all worked too hard to build our reputation to have it all taken away from us by a crowd of immature children,” he said, growing louder with each syllable.

While you would prefer a lengthy investigation, it’s already past noon. You know T-Rex wants everyone fired, and since this is an employment at-will state, he could do so. Also, if you can’t come up with a good idea, T-Rex could lose faith in you as his HR manager – meaning you could be next! You have knots in your stomach thinking about the ramifications of your looming decision.

* The “Thomas Rex Gibbs” character is borrowed from: Clayton, R., Stratton, M.T., Julien, M. and Humphreys, J.H., 2015. Beverly Matthews. Organization Management Journal, 12(4), pp.221-234.

Ethics Case Instructions The purpose of this exercise is to explore ethics and decision making within organizations. Assignment Guidelines After reading the case:

1) Name this section ‘Identification of Dilemma’ and address the following (limit to 1 page):

a. What is the overall ethical dilemma? b. Who can be impacted by the dilemma (people and/or groups)?

2) Provide a brief overview of 2 Frameworks (Approaches) to Managerial Ethics (1+ pages per framework). Name this section ‘Ethical Frameworks’. Name each sub-section after the ethical frameworks you choose.

a. Choose from: Utilitarian, Deontology, Self-Interest, Rights, Justice, Social. b. The textbook and lecture provide general explanations for the approaches above.

Expand on these with external sources. Use in-paper citations and list the additional references at the end of your paper.

c. This is not copy/paste from the internet. Be sure to write this in your own words based on your research.

d. This section of your paper should not reference the case. Instead focus on what you’ve learned (researched) regarding each ethical approach.

3) Provide outcomes to this ethical dilemma (2+ pages). Name this section ‘Evaluation of Ethical Dilemma’. Address the following in this section:

a. Based on what you’ve learned about the case, which framework (from the two you’ve explained in the previous section) do you believe will guide you in this situation? Explain why you will go this direction.

b. What are the implications of this decision (who does it benefit? What are the positive implications? What are the negative implications?)

c. If you had been guided by the other framework addressed in section 2, what would have been the positive and negative implications?

d. There’s no right/wrong answer choice, so I won’t grade this on your ability to choose a particular ethical framework. Instead, I’m more concerned with your ability to describe why you chose the approach and what happens next based on the approach. These will help me assess whether or not you understand the concepts.

e. No need for additional outside resources in this section, as you should refer to the case and the information provided from section 2.

General Instructions All exams are due NO LATER THAN 11:59 PM CST on the due date. For each day that your assignment is late, I will deduct 10 POINTS from your grade. If you do not meet the 11:59 PM CST deadline (even by one or two minutes), I will deduct 10 points. If you do not turn the assignment in by 11:59 PM CST the next day, I will deduct an additional 10 points, and so on. Saturdays and Sundays count towards the total days late.  Include LastnameFirstname in the document title. Example: “WilliamsAlex Assignment

3.docx”  Make sure your name appears somewhere within the document that you submit.  Submit the assignment to myLeoOnline. If for some reason you have difficulty uploading

your assignment, e-mail it to me and explain the situation in your e-mail.  Use the bold phrases above as section headers; do not repeat the entire question.  A title page and executive summary are not required.  MS Word documents, 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins, double-spaced.  Document your sources within the paper (example: Avery, 2000), and include full citations

in the reference section at the end of the paper.

 This is not an opinion paper; in other words, I am not looking for “I think” types of responses.

 There’s no right/wrong answer choice. Instead, I’m more concerned with your ability to make a practical, actionable decision and understand the consequences and outcomes of that decision.

Max Points

Identification of Dilemma  Students can recognize the conflict of interest in an ethical

dilemma.  Students can identify a minimum of two stakeholders

impacted by an ethical dilemma.

15 points

Ethical Framework  Students can recognize ethical framework(s).  Students can apply ethical framework(s).

25 points

Evaluation of Ethical Dilemma  Identify a minimum of two alternatives.  Evaluate the positive implications of various alternatives.  Evaluate the negative implications of various alternatives.

25 points

Overall Quality of Paper  Paper Formatting  Turnitin Similarity Rating  Grammar

5 points

One final note: I reward high quality work. An average answer will result in an average score. Therefore, if your goal is to obtain an A, be sure to exceed my expectations. 

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