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Professors Spend Semester at the Ethics Institute

PLATTSBURGH, NY __ Plagiarism, the Internet, Western values and the Canadian judicial system will be scrutinized this semester as three new fellows take their places in the Institute for Ethics in Public Life at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh.

J. Stephen Mansfield, assistant professor of psychology; Dr. Heidi Schnackenberg, associate professor in adolescence and health education; and Dr. Jon Gottschall, professor of political science; are the new fellows inhabiting the new Institute offices in Room 233 Hawkins Hall.

Dr. E. Thomas Moran, distinguished service professor, is the Institute's director. The Institute, which has operated since the fall of 1999, provides fellowships for SUNY Plattsburgh faculty to spend a semester in residence where they spend their time preparing to integrate questions of ethics and civic responsibility into their teaching.

These fellowships provide release time from two courses, so fellows can work on projects of their own interest that are germane to their fields. They are also afforded the opportunity to work with other fellows and faculty in acquiring a well-grounded understanding of ethics as it relates to civic life.

Mansfield said his focus for the fellowship is two-fold. He plans to investigate factors that influence plagiarism in student work, and he will strive to acquire expertise in issues relating to professional ethics in psychology. 

"My interest in plagiarism started in my second year teaching at Plattsburgh," Mansfield said. "I was concerned that many students in my general psychology class were copying material directly from the class textbook into their homework. In some cases, the copying was obvious, but I realized that without being intimate with the precise wording in the entire textbook, there were probably other cases of copying that I was not noticing."

In response, Mansfield created a software program to scan homework and finds matches within the textbook to what students had written.

"I use the output of this analysis as a teaching tool," he said. "I provide students with a copy of their work with the copied portions highlighted. This allows students to monitor how well they are avoiding plagiarism and encourages a more responsible writing strategy."

Mansfield said that he looked forward to his time in the Institute and that his "activities as a fellow will give me a deeper understanding of ethical issues so that I will be able to make a substantial contribution to the Psychology Department."

Schnackenberg will spend her time "investigating the introduction of technology into 'emerging' countries," she said. "I'm particularly interested in the idea that the Internet and technology are carriers of Western values and culture. I'm researching how educational technology professionals attend to this idea and how distance education is impacted by this claim."

She said this introduction "can be a good thing if a country has or wants to adopt Western values. Technology in that case is a wonderful way of being exposed to our values and ways of doing things. However, integrating technology into a culture without that knowledge that it carries particular values and customs can run counter to the aims of what a non-Western culture believes or wants to accomplish through technology."

Gottschall, who teaches U.S. constitutional law, U.S. civil liberties and introduction to law, said his focus as a fellow will turn north to study the history of judicial interpretation of the new Canadian Charter of Rights.

"(Being a fellow) is a chance to be a student again," he said. "I had been increasingly interested in Canada's surprising, and to me inexplicable, turn to American style judicial activism in its revolutionary 1982 adoption of a Charter of Rights to be enforced primarily by an unelected judiciary.

"The Institute allows me the time to do a comparative study of judicial activism in Canada and the United States and to try to understand the Canadian turn toward the U.S. model, albeit with significant modifications, for protecting fundamental rights. Surprisingly, my attention has begun to turn from why did they do it to what can we learn from their variations on our theme."

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