Commentary | Caught red-handed

The perils of plagiarism, and who can help

Thirty-two students enrolled in Physiology 320 – “Biomechanics of Human Sexuality” – were paraded before a Committee on Student Discipline this past Wednesday. The charge: reproducing sexual positions from the Kama Sutra, an ancient Hindu text on human sexuality, and sensuality without using proper references.

Kerwin J. Myler, a third-year Law student and senior advocate at the Student Advocacy Service located in the Shatner building, defended the shocked students who couldn’t get over how their term project had landed them in hot water.

“All we wanted to do was create an attractive sex ed book for freshmen. I mean, they need it!” complained one visibly upset student.

“How was I to know that my move wasn’t original? All my lovers had always told me I was like nothing else in bed!” lamented another student.

While the course instructor admitted to having authorized group assignments, she said she had not given the green light to group sex, “no matter how tastefully presented.”

Most importantly, the professor alleged that principles of academic integrity had been violated when the students failed to give credit where credit was due. Only 11 of the 97 positions depicted in the glossy full-colour guide could be said to be original, stated the professor.

Tellingly, two students were immediately vindicated because, by mere chance, ornately framed vintage paintings of quotation marks had been on the walls on either side of them as they posed in the “ripe mango plum” position. Considering the context, that was considered to be adequate acknowledgement of the non-originality of their contribution to the assignment.

“All these students had the purest of intentions,” pleaded student advocate Myler. “They may have inadvertently replicated certain postures in the Kama Sutra, but the necessary intent to deceive, as required by §15(a) of the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, was missing.

“Not so!” argued the disciplinary officer for the faculty. “This was not just a case of sloppy citation work, but entirely unacceptable research methodology.”

The student advocate built the case for a lack of intent to deceive by having the students relate how they had done their research. The Committee on Student Discipline was satisfied with the arguments that “nobody thought it was necessary to dig deeper than the Marquis de Sade,” and that “if the French hadn’t come up with it yet, nobody had.” Accordingly, they were justified in thinking that they had indeed come up with some innovative “moves.”

Incredibly, Student Advocacy Director Daniel King stated that this was just “another run-of-the-mill case” for their service, which won the SSMU award for campus group of the year in 2005.

In a related matter, the McGill Legal Information Clinic is now being called upon by the same group of students to fend off allegations of intellectual property violations made by the Indian Consulate on behalf of the collective rights holders of the Hindu heritage.


Kerwin Myler, Law III, is a senior advocate at the Student Advocacy Office. The views expressed here are his own. Write Kerwin at: kerwin.myler@mail.mcgill.ca.


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