Virginia’s Cavalier Daily Charged with Breaching Confidentiality in Plagiarism Case

An editorial in The Cavalier Daily apologizing for repeated plagiarism by a staff writer has angered University of Virginia’s judiciary committee.  The committee contends that the editorial breaches the confidentiality required during its investigation of the student plagiarist (for violating the school’s honor code).

As the paper shared in an unsigned editorial earlier this month, “[I]t became clear that the writer consistently copied words and phrases from other sources including prominent news outlets, Wikipedia and a press release.  The writer did not acknowledge these sources in any way, and used their words and phrases repeatedly throughout his articles.  Editors determined that the writer did this in at least four articles, three of which were published.”

Prior to the editorial, staffers did report the student to the judiciary committee, following the UVA code stating that those who keep quiet about violations they witness are just as accountable as the transgressor.  In the subsequent editorial, the paper did not name the student nor mention the plagiarized pieces to ensure their identity would be kept under wraps.

Yet, after its publication, the judiciary committee charged the five Cavalier Daily staffers on the managing board responsible for the editorial with breaking its rules requiring silence about open investigations.  The official charge, as the paper itself reported, was “intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct which obstructs the operations of the Honor or Judiciary Committee, or conduct that violates their rules of confidentiality.”

The larger question: Does the judiciary have any right to charge staffers of the school newspaper with anything?  The legal director of Virginia’s ACLU says no: “Clearly the judicial council shouldn’t be initiating proceedings against the Cavalier Daily if the judicial council’s bylaws deprive it of jurisdiction to act against student newspapers.  The fact that The Cavalier Daily could be subject to discipline for writing about a matter of great importance for the university community without divulging the name of the student in question offers great constitutional concerns.”

So to review: A student plagiarized some pieces published in the paper.  The paper reported the student to the school.  The paper told its readers about the student’s misdeeds.  The paper got in trouble for telling its readers about the student’s misdeeds.  And finally, in an even stranger twist, the paper might get in still more trouble for telling its readers about the fact that it got in trouble in the first place.

Why?  Because by publishing the story about the fact that the judiciary committee is investigating the paper’s managing board, the paper is AGAIN violating confidentiality rules.  Yet, as the sub-headline of a separate editorial explaining their decision to knowingly break the rules notes, “The Cavalier Daily is bound by its responsibility to readers, not the institutional interests of student government bodies.”

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