Integrity Matters
May 10, 2006

Call it what you want: Plagiarism is cheating

Question: (E-238)

Dear Jim:

William H. Swanson is the 57 year-old chief executive of Raytheon, a multi-billion dollar military contractor. He serves on the board at Sprint Nextel. He was just "outed" for plagiarizing. Why would a rich and powerful guy stoop so low? His "Unwritten Rules of Management" were copied - sometimes word for word - from the 1944 writings of another engineer, W.J. King, who wrote "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering." Where is Swanson's integrity?


Your questions about plagiarism confirm the need for an intelligent and effective architecture of integrity, in many areas of our society. Powerful individuals fall prey to ego, greed and self-inflicted lies. These folks believe their own press clippings. Restoring social and emotional integrity requires a behavior-shaping framework. And here is a reason why: can you name a profession or enterprise that has not been tainted by corruption or malfeasance? Human beings need clear guidelines with meaningful consequences.

Two recent plagiarism stories underscore this widespread disease in our society. Is the issue about cheating or getting caught? For too many it is the latter. Swanson's behavior at Raytheon was wrong and so too the sophomore at Harvard College, Ms. Kaavya Viswanathan, whose now infamous debut-novel, was little more than a cut-and-paste job. Downloading the work of others, without attribution, is dishonest. Yes, mistakes can be made - but not a whole book's worth.

The Bracher Center for Integrity was launched, in 2002, because we recognized that values such as integrity, perseverance, and commitment were being averaged-down in a misguided search for consensus and convenience. It is fundamentally wrong to accept that to get along you always have to go along. The excesses of a few appear to have punished the whole of society, including the moral confidence way too many people. Prevailing structures promote the politics of convenience over the commitment of leadership, quality or integrity. Too large a part of the business community enjoys the excesses of luxury as it continues to drift from quick deals to devastating dishonesty, winking as rules, laws and constructive values are ignored.

According to President Theodore Roosevelt: "The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life."

Any thinking adult understands that "integrity is one of several paths; distinguishing itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which you will never get lost." -- M.H. McKee. The harsh reality is that success comes before work, but only in the dictionary. If achievement was that easy, then everyone would be rich and famous. Integrity, in all activities, is the best policy.

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