Assignment Ethics Case 2
DUE ON: Tuesday, March 22
(submitted in Canvas)
Please type your discussion and attach this sheet as cover page
with your name at the top
Instructions: Read the attached ethics issue about plagiarism of a geotechnical report
from A Question of Ethics, a Case Study published in ASCE News. Write an essay in
narrative form , 1-2 pages long, addressing as a minimum the questions below and
providing your opinion and discussion on the case and decisions.
1) What actions (by the engineer and supervisor PE) are being questioned in this case?
2) In your opinion, was what they did professionally correct? Discuss.
3) Was it ethical? Discuss.
4) What was the determination and action of the ASCE CPC in this case?
5) Have you seen this problem occurring frequently among your peers? If so, in
your opinion, do those who plagiarize report material written by others know that
this action is likely to be in violation of core ethical principles of our profession?
6) What can we learn from this case? Provide your opinion.
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A Question of Ethics
a c a s e s t u d y
This new columnto appear monthlywill examine
an ethics issue reviewed by ASCEs Com-mittee on
Professional Conduct (CPC). It is written by a
member of ASCEs legal staff on issues brought to the
attention of ASCEs attorneys.
SITUATION: In the process of preparing a
geotechnical report for a high-rise apartment
project proposed by a client, an engineer and
his supervisor plagiarized a report prepared by
another engineering firm for a similar project.
The engineer writing the report in question had
obtained a copy of the report prepared by the
other engineering firm from his supervisor,
who furnished it to him in an effort to assist
him in preparing the report.The engineer liked
the style of writing in that report and decided
to use language from it in his own report.This
language, however, did not relate to or affect
the technical conclusions and recommenda-
tions of the report in question.The time frame
for completing the report was very tight, and
the supervisor, who was listed as a coauthor of
the report, approved it after evaluating the
technical issues but without thoroughly
reviewing the background information.
QUESTION: Did the engineer, his supervi-
sor, or both violate ASCEs Code of Ethics?
According to canon 5(e) of the code,Engi-
neers shall give proper credit for engineering
work to those to whom credit is due,and
shall recognize the proprietary interests of
others. Whenever possible, they shall name
the per-son or persons who may be
responsible for designs, inventions, writings,
or other accom-plishments.
Plagiarizing, or publishing someone elses
written work as if it were ones own, is a vio-
lation of canon 5(e).This is a serious offense,
equivalent to the theft of someones property.
DECISION: In this particular case, the CPC
the body responsible for investigating ethics
complaints against ASCE members and
recommending sanctions, when appropriate, to
the Board of Direction and the Executive
Committeedetermined that both the engineer
who authored the report and his supervisor
were in violation of the Code of Ethics. The
fact that the plagiarized material did not relate
to or affect the technical con-clusions or
recommendations of the member is not
relevant to the issue of whether or not the code
was violated. Neither is the fact that the
engineers had little time in which to meet a
deadline. A person simply must not pass off
anothers work as his or her own.The
engineer who authored the report in ques-tion
stated that he considered the language he
appropriated to be verbiage and not a propri-
etary work product.This does not change the
fact that someone else wrote those words.
Because of the seriousness of this offense,
the possible sanctions included expulsion from
the Society. However, in the course of its
investigation of this matter, the CPC did weigh
many of the supporting facts of this case when
determining what to recommend as sanctions
against the engineers. It considered the fact
that, as mentioned above, the plagiarized
material did not relate to or affect the techni-
cal conclusions or recommendations of the
report. The engineers stated that they liked the
style of writing of the other report and were
attempting to adhere to that style, not copy the
proprietary work of the firm that authored the
report. This lack of intent to commit the act
was an important factor in determining what
sanctions were in order, as was the fact that the
engineers took full responsibility for their
actions and took steps to make amends. The
engineers recognized their mistake and sent a
letter of apology to the authors of the original
report.These facts were important in the CPCs
decision to rec-ommend not that the members
but that their memberships be suspended for
one year. Additionally, the CPC reported this
matter to the members state licensing board.
This scenario illustrates very well the type of
problems that can arise from a simple act of
carelessness. Not only did the engineers send a
letter of apology;they also lost their bonuses for
that year. This matter brought embarrassment
both to the engineers and to their firm. Engi-
neers, like all professionals, must exercise great
care in practicing their profession and not let
everyday pressures cause them to cut corners or
be careless.These engineers did not set out to
plagiarize the work of their colleagues, yet the
results of their actions affected not only
themselves but also their firm. This case also
highlights the responsibility of a supervisor.
Although the supervisor did not make the
decision to use the language from the other firms
report, he was held accountable for that decision
because he approved the report with-out taking
the time to thoroughly review it.
Members who have an ethics question or
who would like to file a complaint with the
CPC may call ASCEs ethics hotline at (703)
295-6101 or (800) 548-ASCE (2723), exten-
sion 6101. This line is staffed by ASCE attor-
neys, who can provide advice on how to
handle an ethics issue or file a complaint.