September 21, 2007
Last week, James Madison University student body President Brandon Eickel was charged for plagiarizing more than half of the bulleted goals taken from the campaign website of Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ’09 and Vice President Valerie Hopkins ’09.
p. In its Sept. 14 staff editorial, The Flat Hat was “dismayed” by Eickel’s actions and even more by his lack of sincere remorse. Eickel was clearly in the wrong for falsifying ideas and deceiving his peers, but is it really the end of the world? He didn’t fabricate a news article, steal a final exam or lie about having sexual relations with an underclassman. Sure, he didn’t give credit where credit was due, but I believe we are overreacting.
p. In a way, we should be flattered. Eickel was searching for a clear and effective platform when he used Pilchen and Hopkins’ plans. The College should be accustomed to being a model for excellence by now. Were we not the first university to initiate an honor code and honor council in 1779? Are not countless honor codes modeled, almost verbatim, after ours? I don’t see many officials freaking out because other universities wish to steal our good morals and honor. Why should ideas for a better college community be any different?
p. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned one of the most influential documents of our nation’s history, the Declaration of Independence. In this document he spoke of the inalienable rights of citizens and their right to fight for them. Hailed for his ingenious works, Jefferson, a graduate of the College and a supposed founder of the first honor code, committed a similar crime. Take a moment to crack open John Locke’s “Concerning Civil Government, the Second Essay,” and one will find striking similarities between the ideas of Locke and Jefferson. I’m sure TJ didn’t Google John Locke and copy and paste, but their views are more than parallel. Nearly half of his ideas are identical, simply put into an American context. Is that not what Eickel did? He copied some of Pilchen and Hopkins’ platform and put it in a JMU context.
p. America didn’t disown Jefferson because he forgot to use MLA standards to cite Locke’s ideas. Yet, it has been reported that James Madison, another graduate of the College, accused him of being unoriginal — I believe Jefferson was still a noteworthy president despite his lack of originality. If anything, we should be grateful that Jefferson was intelligent enough to realize that Locke was on to something with the whole democracy thing.
p. Whether it is academic or political, plagiarism is by no means acceptable, but it isn’t always black and white. Was Eickel wrong? Yes. Should he have resigned? No — a simple apology would have sufficed.
p. I’m not saying that Eickel is as intelligent or qualified as good old TJ, nor do I think Jefferson was without flaw — I mean, he did have slaves. But as history shows, even the well-equipped leaders know they don’t have all the right answers. Sometimes they must look to other more successful governments or institutions for direction.
p. The moral of the story is to always cite your work. Even if an author is lucky enough to get away with it in his lifetime, it will probably come to bite him in the behind hundreds of years later. This lesson was hard learned by Eickel.
p. __Joanna Sandager is a freshman at the College.__