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The Journal of Higher Education 74.4 (2003) 473-474

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Crisis on Campus: Confronting Academic Misconduct, by Wilfried Decoo. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. 280 pp. $32.95

During our careers, those of us in academe will more than likely become involved in an alleged case of professional misconduct or at least be challenged to ponder an incident which exhibits impropriety on its face. The timing of such a ponderous experience and the ethical crisis it engenders cannot be well predicted. This book will brace us for this likely but unexpected challenge to our own ethical standards—and our ethical courage. This is one book that all academics should read now and keep handy on the office shelf for when a critical event erupts.

Recent decades have seen a number of highly publicized individual cases of gross scientific misconduct, accompanied by a burgeoning literature on research misconduct. However, much of this information is shaped by the two editions of the National Academy of Sciences' booklet on misconduct (Committee on the Conduct of Science, 1989; Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1995), which fosters limited discourse regarding only acts of deception principally through fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism ("FFP"). We have recently called for a broad expansion in the focus on professorial misconduct (Bayer, 2000; Braxton & Bayer, 1999), and Wilfried Decoo has done this in superb fashion (and hence the book's title embracing "Academic Misconduct" rather than merely "Research Misconduct" restricted to FFP). This broad definition used by Decoo encompasses such disparate acts as including intentionally deceitful information when applying for a grant, misuse of funds, forging institutional documents, awarding unearned high grades to athletes or other students, and failure to give proper authorship credit to collaborators. An all-too-common ethical breach which he addresses is what he refers to as "academic make-believe." One version of this is the padded C.V., with minor works misidentified as "peer reviewed"; identical works listed more than once with only different titles (described by Decoo as "autoplagiarism"); publications listed as "in press" or "forthcoming" which are in fact yet to be written; a brief incidental conversation characterized as participation in a conference; a brief informal campus visit as a "postdoctoral fellowship"; a simple recognition as a prestigious prize; claimed development of courseware which is actually "fakeware," "masqueradeware," or "emptyware" in Decoo's terms; or awarded degrees falsified and honorific titles invented.

The core of the book lays out the daunting task for the whistle-blower of procedures for detection of wrong-doing (Chap. 2), analysis and documentation of evidence of wrong-doing (Chap. 3), and evaluation and reporting of wrong-doing (Chap. 4). These chapters are grounded in one illustrative case study of the author's earlier allegation of plagiarism against a doctoral dissertation author. The accused in this case was exonerated, and it appears that much of the illustrative detailed documentation, including supporting statements to his allegation by six "misused authors" in the dissertation, was compiled only after the case was reviewed and closed. These illustrations appear to be ex post facto evidence that Decoo uses to tenaciously substantiate his failed claim and to vindicate himself. [End Page 473]

The transfixing on this single case detracts from the book's utility and objectivity, but it serves to illustrate the great and time-consuming effort that a whistle-blower should expect. While not the intent of this book, this exhaustive task, together with the acknowledged high risks of sanctions against the accuser(s), may be sufficient to discourage one to act on their conscience of professional standards, rendered unable to muster their ethical courage. On the other hand, exposure to this book prior to an incident of misconduct may well deter a would-be transgressor or provide a whistle-blower with the capabilities to enact their professional duty.

The book concisely lists recommendations to the whistle-blower, the accused, and the academic institution involved. It addresses tactics of prevention, including both a series of constructive measures as well as establishing penalties and invoking fear as deterrents to misfeasance and malfeasance...


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