Follow Up on the Amanda Serpico Plagiarism Case

Rutgers Academic IntegrityShortly after I posted my previous article on the Amanda Serpico plagiarism case, Amanda Serpico contacted me and said that she wanted to provide me some additional information regarding her case, information not present in the initial reports.

While the information isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, it does help provide some additional insight into the case and, along the way, raise some interesting new elements to the matter that weren’t explored in the original reporting.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what Serpico said and what it possibly means.

A Quick Recap

To recap, Serpico was a Rutgers student who, last year, was accused of plagiarism in her “Argumentation” class at Rutgers University. She received an “F” for the course and, though she was able to graduate, she claims the grade and action has harmed her ability to get into graduate school. Serpico, for her part, has staunchly maintained her innocence, not only appealing at every junction in the disciplinary process but even filing a lawsuit to have the matter removed from her record and the grade restored.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty about what happened and whether or not Serpico actually plagiarized her paper. Unfortunately, without being able to look at the paper, there’s no way myself or others can do an independent analysis and make any determinations. Still, the story is an interesting case study for those who follow plagiarism matters in academia as it is extremely rare for such a plagiarism case to result in a lawsuit.

What Serpico Said

First, Serpico said that she could not provide me with the papers involved to perform an independent analysis due to “pending litigation”. While this seems sensible, it goes against earlier reporting that she was looking to “share all of the documents related to her case”.

That being said, she did say two things that were of interest to this case:

  1. Citation Issues: Serpico said that the “three passages” at issue were correctly quoted and cited, but that they were quoted and cited to their primary source. The sources that the professor involved claimed that they were secondary sources that also used the same primary ones. According to Serpico, all content in the paper was cited to primary sources.
  2. Procedure Issues: In addition to the plagiarism issues, Serpico is also fighting against wht she says were violations of Rutgers’ own policies in handling the case. This include giving her an “F” in the course before the investigation was complete (instead of an “Incomplete”), failure to give her a chance to speak with her professor about the paper and the failure of the school to provide needed documents.

Unfortunately, I can’t vouch for all or any of this. Without the paper in front of me, I can’t see if it was correctly cited to its primary sources and, since I don’t have any knowledge of Serpico’s disciplinary hearings I can not confirm the latter.

That being said, what Serpico said about the disciplinary process matches what is in Rutgers Academic Integrity Policy (See both Non Separable Academic Integrity Flow Chart for Faculty (PDF) and Page 10 on
Academic Integrity Policy

That being said, not meeting with the professor was, most likely a matter of practicality both as school was on break when the plagiarism was discovered and, according to Serpico, the professor was on vacation until January 13th of the next year. It may not have been practical to do so with the timeframe provided.

Still, it does seem Rutgers did make at least some mistakes in following its policies but it is unclear at this time if those errors materially hurt Serpico and her defense.

Bottom Line

All in all, while Serpico’s letter and expansion on her points are interesting and add some new elements to the case, they don’t really bring us any closer to understand what exactly happened and what, if anything, students and schools can learn from this case.

Hopefully those answers will come out over the course of the legal dispute and, with time, we’ll be able to get a better understanding of what happened.

In the meantime, this is going to be a case that plagiarism experts, universities and students alike will be watching very closely.

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