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Plagiarism Allegations Boot a Student From a Study-Abroad Trip

Allison Routman, a senior at Ohio University, seemed to have a pretty good plan for the summer: She had earned a spot in the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea program, so she would tour the Mediterranean Sea on a boat, studying social justice. But then a Wikipedia entry, and some sloppy research, brought her idyllic summer to an abrupt halt, according to U-Wire.

For a report on the film Europa Europa, Ms. Routman consulted the open-source encyclopedia’s entry on the movie, copying three phrases — “when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa,” “German speaking minority outside of Germany,” and “who had just been released from a concentration camp.” The student says she thought she’d done nothing wrong by cutting and pasting the material.

But officials with the study-abroad program begged to differ. A panel of professors found Ms. Routman guilty of academic misconduct, and she was summarily expelled. (In fact, Ms. Routman says, she was told to arrange her own trip home from Greece.)

Officials with Semester at Sea read the University of Virginia’s honor code at the start of the expedition, so Ms. Routman may have been properly warned about the penalty for plagiarism. But the student says she didn’t receive a fair chance to clear her name: The jury that considered the case was comprised of professors, not Ms. Routman’s peers, and Ms. Routman says she was not given an adviser to help her through the process.

Regardless of the merits of Ms. Routman’s case, the incident raises an interesting question: If “soft” plagiarism from Wikipedia is becoming more common, should institutions change their policies for dealing with alleged honor-code violations? —Brock Read

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