Penn State Cracks Down on Plagiarism

At the Smeal College of Business, dozens of MBA applicants who plagiarized admissions essays on "principled leadership" were shown the door. They won't be the last

dmissions Director Carrie Marcinkevage was sitting in her office reviewing business school application essays last February when she stumbled on a sentence that bore an uncanny resemblance to an essay she had just finished reading. The essay, one of five required in the application, asked students to discuss the connections between principled leadership and business.

"I had that inevitable moment of 'Oh gosh, I swear I have seen this sentence before,' " says Marcinkevage, who heads the MBA admissions office at Pennsylvania State University's Smeal College of Business (Smeal Full-Time MBA Profile).

She pulled out the essay where she remembered seeing the phrase and compared the two side by side. To her dismay, she discovered both applicants had used the exact same sentence.

The problem soon proved to be bigger than Marcinkevage could ever have anticipated. Over the next few days, she and her admissions staff combed through 360 pending applications submitted for Smeal's 2010 admissions cycle, even reviewing those submitted by applicants who had already been admitted or invited to the school for an interview.

They uncovered 29 cases of students who had lifted entire sentences or paragraphs from online sources, including a 2009 essay titled "Principled Leaders: A Model for the 'Reset' Economy," by Deborah Merrill-Sands, then dean of Simmons School of Management (Simmons Full-Time MBA Profile) in Boston. The case was even more surprising because all applicants to Smeal are asked to sign an honor code before submitting the application. Said Marcinkevage: "It was the perfect storm of plagiarism."
Plagiarism Detection

For the past decade or so, universities have taken a more aggressive stand on cheating in the classroom, using plagiarism-detection software on student research papers, opening up state-of-the-art testing centers designed to prevent cheating, and implementing honor codes. But up until now, little attention has been paid in the academic world to plagiarism in admissions essays, and few tools are available to admissions officers to help them uncover students who use fraudulent content in applications...

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