The Castle Herald
Every Picture Tells A Story

Plagiarism, part II: In the beginning, the world began with the Word

My husband and I were having coffee together before we left for our jobs on a cold January day in 1997. In those days, whenever we had a chance to talk, we discussed “the infernal problem,” a phrase we’d taken from the Dorothy L. Sayers mystery Gaudy Night.

“Words and what a writer makes of them are his own creation, so they are something that belongs to the writer,” I said.

“But your boss and the dean don’t know you’re a writer,” he said.

The Infernal Problem: Theft

“Whether or not they know I’m a writer shouldn’t matter; they want to use the Stop Form without giving me credit for the idea. I thought of it and I designed it. They may not give me respect as a classified employee, but they want to take my idea, my words, and my design, for the college to use to improve student retention. They want to use my work, but will not acknowledge that I was the one who created the form.”

My husband stared into his coffee mug. I sighed.

“I don’t sneak into my managers’ offices and take their property. Whatever a writer’s degree of success, their words and ideas are still their property, and their words and ideas are worth something.”

“My managers have credentials, careers, money and great retirement; if they had created the Stop Form they would be taking bows at the president’s weekly meeting. They would be telling other departments how to use the Stop Form. And when they come up for promotion and raises, the Stop Form would be their number one accomplishment demonstrating their value to the college.”

“What they would expect from the college if they had designed the form is something they insist that the college isn’t able to do for me. I don’t know what they are up to or where I stand. I don’t how much the college president knows. Maybe he is with them. It could be that Administration doesn’t want to admit that the college’s Information Operator created the college innovation for retention. Information Operators don’t count for very much in the college bureaucracy.”

“But they teach just the opposite viewpoint. Remember the instructor who said, ‘nature doesn’t plant a tree in the perfect place, sometimes nature plants trees to grow out of a rock,'” he said.

“Well, as that tree planted in the rock, I say they talk a good game. But if the college believed everything that they said about all employees being equal and important, it wouldn’t matter whether I was president of the college or scrubbed the floors. They would use my work and acknowledge me as the creator. But I’m a classified employee and they are management. They say all the right things, but don’t actually believe them. And they don’t believe in American Exceptionalism, or in American heroes, or even believe that ordinary citizens are able to do extraordinary things.”

“Have any of them heard of Thomas Edison? Homeschooled but brilliant,” my husband said with a grin.

“You don’t hear much about Edison these days. He wouldn’t get much respect from the college crowd, whether students or instructors. To most of them he’s just another dead white guy.”

“Edison. To them he’s just irrelevant history; to me he was a genius. The only light bulb I understand is the one that lights up in my mind when I get a new idea.”

“Edison was a practical genius; I bet he would think that the Stop Form should be my step up in job classification and money. The Registrar and the Dean want the credit for it, so they want to keep me quiet. They are pressuring me to do something they would never do: give up any claim to the form, and allow the college to use it while getting nothing in return.

“But if I do either of those things the Registrar and the Dean might claim that they designed the form. And then it will be their solution to the student retention problem.”

“And if I hadn’t had the foresight to surprise them and present it, and explain it in front of a whole room full of people, and at the very end of a meeting, they would have claimed it as the work of the group. As it is I still don’t feel secure, no matter how many people were there.”

“I don’t know whether it’s them or the college president who says that I can’t take credit, or receive public acknowledgement, or get a job upgrade in exchange for them using the Stop Form.”

“None of it makes sense. I solve problems creatively, and I have a way with words; I used those talents to create the form. If I don’t get credit for my work, I’ll have nothing left,” I said.

My husband said, “I agree that they want to claim the form. But I think that some of their grudging attitude towards you comes from the past. When Dean Joey was your boss, she and her assistant wanted to keep you as a contract worker. You pushed back until you got classified status and they will never forget or forgive that. From that time on, whatever they “gave” to you was given grudgingly because they still held a grudge.”

I came back to my point.

“They’ve taken other ideas that I’ve had and used them without acknowledging that I had any part in them. It would be wrong to let them play me for a fool again and take this away from me. ”

“Thou Shall Not Steal?” My husband asked.

“Yes. They’ve stolen from me before. Ideas and words are all I have, and when they are stolen…I feel sick at heart.”

He shook his head.

“Colleges are supposed to stand for honesty and truth. Rules against plagiarism are in the student handbook. Instructors are required to guard against students using, or stealing, someone else’s words or ideas. Words can be valuable intellectual property. Stealing isn’t allowed. The college teaches that, and so it should stand up for that principle when it deals with me. Managers, not students, are trying to claim my work; they are plagiarizing, and that’s against the rules. The college is a state agency, part of the state government; they are supposed to obey the state’s and the people’s law. If my managers don’t understand that point, maybe their managers will.”

Sociopaths don’t have a conscience

“But what if your manager’s managers don’t get the concept? What if they are sociopaths too?  Sociopaths don’t have a conscience. What do you do if the next higher layer of management won’t help you?” asked my husband.

“Go to the top, I guess. The governor is a Democrat, and the newspapers love him. I don’t know if he has a conscience, but does he want the public to know that the Dean and registrar at one of his state colleges are trying to steal ideas from a subordinate employee?”

“Let’s say the governor supports college management, because that’s usually what happens. So, you go to the newspapers first, but you have no guarantee that they will report your story. If they don’t report the story then the public won’t know. The newspapers support the governor; do you think that they would report a scandal that might hurt him?”

“Newspapers have to tell the truth, don’t they?”

I shrugged off what my husband was saying, because I still believed in the integrity of America’s media. They were biased but their mantra was and is “report the truth”, and that “they existed to keep institutions and government leaders honest”.

In the Beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God  John1.1

“I was brought up on the Bible, and in the Bible words mean something. Words are important. They are truth. They lead to Heaven or to Hell. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God,'” I quoted.

“Beautiful words,” my husband said.

“And well- known words, but Ryan and Dean Joey would steal them right out  from under God’s nose if they wanted them. They would claim God’s Word, and they would claim anybody’s words and ideas as their own, if they thought that they could get by with it. It’s because they think that they can get by with it that they are trying to steal the Stop Form from under my nose. How can anybody be so dishonorable?”

“I don’t think that you believe, even now, that they are dishonorable. Please accept that they think that they can get by with it, and go figure.”

“I think the worlds turned upside down,” I muttered.

We shook our heads and laughed, but it didn’t relieve the anxiety that we felt.

I was grateful that despite our anxiety we could still laugh. But what we had been through since the preceding November was no laughing matter. It didn’t make sense. I had done some innovative work for my employer, and now the situation in my office was deteriorating, and we were afraid that my job was in jeopardy.