SWBTS houses the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is also a visiting professor at SWBTS. An ERLC committee is scheduled June 1 to release the findings of its plagiarism investigation of Land.
The word “plagiarism” originated as a word for kidnapping. That’s the takeaway from a Baptist ethicist called to comment on plagiarism.
The idea of passing someone else’s work off as your own has moved into popular discussion after a Southern Baptist Convention official was found to have quoted material verbatim and at length, without citing the source, during a radio broadcast.
But the issue of plagiarism goes far beyond that single controversy.
The Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the organization tasked with accrediting seminaries, includes a section in their standards calling for academic integrity.
Section 3.3.5 of General Institutional Standards says: “The institution shall define and demonstrate ongoing efforts to ensure the ethical character of learning, teaching and scholarship on the part of all members of the academic community…”
Tisa Lewis, the director of Accreditation and Institutional Evaluation for ATS, said every school is expected to have written standards concerning plagiarism and other academic integrity issues.
“We don’t have specific guidelines for them to follow,” Lewis said, “but we do expect guidelines to be in place.”
Bill Tillman, a former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas, and at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, said SWBTS was serious about plagiarism when he taught there in the 1990s.
“The student handbook had content dedicated to institutional and student accountabilities,” Tillman said. “The catalogs form a contract between the parties, in fact … there are usually lists of the kinds of activities that would be understood as academic dishonesty, etc. For example, cheating on exams, using sources without documentation and so forth. And, yes, SWBTS did work against plagiarism.”
The current catalog at SWBTS also addresses plagiarism: “All research papers will be closely examined and submitted to an anti-plagiarism program for analysis. If a paper shows noticeable instances of plagiarism, the research paper will be rejected.”
That is only one possible penalty for plagiarism, though. Institutions of higher learning typically give discretion to professors in dealing with plagiarism; a zero on an assignment and failing the class are possibilities.