This is a guest post from Bob Timberlake, the faculty advisor of Mira Costa High School MUN in California.
One of the great hands on experiences MUN provides for the high school level delegate is the position paper. The ability to write a clear and focused analytical paper is perhaps the greatest skill we teach our students, and the fact that delegates write several of these papers over the course of a year only adds a natural polish to this vital competence. Of equal importance, the simulation itself requires nations of like policies to work together to create original documents, further enhancing writing and editing proficiency. The value of these activities, however, is continually besieged by plagiarism and prewritten resolutions, and the fact that some students and programs continually cut corners has started to reach pandemic proportions. This issue needs to be addressed and a blue print for action needs to be identified.
In my over twenty years as both an advisor and a delegate I have heard and repeated the warnings about turning in hackneyed work. As a student, my advisor always checked the originality of my work and ideas, and I currently require that all delegate papers/resolutions be turned in to plagiarism web sites like turnitin.com. Too many teams and advisors either do not bother or are ignorant of such tools and standards. Many clever, though unprincipled, delegates also understand the rarity of conferences actually enforcing their own plagiarism / prewritten rules. Given the host of responsibilities borne by chairs and the secretariat, it is perhaps unsurprising that they are hard pressed to clearly identify indiscretions when they are presented. Adding to the difficulties and confusions of the process are the frequent false witness accusations of cheating, generally used as a gambit to derail a successful competitor. The system as it stands is not working.
Solutions To Be Applied
Tech and the internet offer the easiest solutions. As mentioned, plagiarism web sites such as turnitin.com abound. These sights have the ability to identify origination and highlight any and all transgressions—even while accommodating quotes and bibliographic entries. Technology can also be put to work during committee. The advent of smart phones, tablets and wifi allows a whole committee to instantaneously check any and all documents. So, instead of the dais being solely responsible for plowing through all submissions, the entire committee can do their own due diligence. Some high school conferences are experimenting with these new technologies: position papers are posted for all to see; Google Docs is used to build resolutions in real time. This last solution shows particular promise. As operatives are finished they can be submitted to the dais and then to the committee as a whole, using only hand held media. This also allows for easy identification of contribution, increases quality and rewards sweat equity—not to mention eviscerating the prewritten resolution and the false accusation. One could also go back to the old days of just writing resolutions by hand. That seemed to work very well at Berkeley MUN (BMUN) this past year.
Dangers of Inaction
The potential cost of allowing these transgressions to continue is not fully realized by many of those involved. One has only to visit the websites of the universities associated with college conferences to understand that plagiarism and academic dishonesty are not merely strongly discouraged but soundly punished. It is not only possible, but highly likely that students involved in such actions would have their university acceptances withdrawn. And it is not merely the initial transgressor who could face this discipline. Entire MUN clubs could be disbanded or class offerings eliminated if an established culture of dishonesty is identified. The tech age makes such transgressions easy to track, identify and hold the guilty accountable.
This threat also carries over to the conferences themselves. The names of the various great universities are invariably attached to each and every simulation. A culture of indifference or ignorance that results in the scandal of plagiarism could have brutal repercussions for any undergrad-sponsored MUN simulation–and particularly those in charge. A Secretary-General that embraced a “kids will be kids” attitude towards plagiarism could see an inquiry from the university chancellor or president, making laissez faire oversight a very lamentable decision.
The key is mature, responsible supervision by all parties involved. If the integrity of a club, class, program or conference is questioned by a parent, school administrator or in a university inquiry, then the stake holders must be able to demonstrate that they are the guarantors of high academic integrity. Once a reputation is tarnished it will take twice as long to cleanse. We all want the same thing–quality conferences, chairs, advisors and delegates. Integrity starts it all in the right direction.