This does not represent the views or opinions of anyone other than myself. Specifically but not exclusively, this does not represent the views or opinions of anyone with whom I have worked in the past, my employer, or anyone associated with ResNet, Inc.
I am very, very sad to have to write and publish this entry. I have always thought very highly of ACUTA, the U.S. higher education professional organization that focuses on networking and telephony. They have produced high quality reports and conferences, including conferences and webinars at which colleagues and I have presented. They were also very gracious in allowing me to visit their headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky, a few years ago to comb through some of their historical archives as I performed historical research.
Six months ago, on April 6, I contacted ACUTA to draw attention to the material in the then-recently released ACUTA ResNet Survey that is identical to material in previous research conducted by me and other colleagues loosely associated with the ResNet Symposium (now the ResNet Student Technology Conference). Although ACUTA initially claimed that any similarities were “inadvertent,” they later admitted that at least 15 of the 45 questions – one-third – on their survey are virtually identical to older questions copied without attribution. Despite this admission, ACUTA has only impartially and reluctantly publicly acknowledged the previous work from which a substantial portion of their current survey was copied. In particular, the (a) summary report and infographic associated with ACUTA’s survey make no mention whatsoever of the previous work upon which those work are substantially built and (b) ACUTA website was only edited in the past few days, presumably in response to an e-mail I sent on September 28 allowing them one more week to make edits before making this issue public.
This is not a legal issue. Although I am one of the copyright holders of the original 2005 and 2008 survey instruments and reports and I could pursue legal action against ACUTA and their contractor Forward Analytics, it is highly unlikely that I will do so. I have no interest in making money from my original work or the work performed by ACUTA and Forward Analytics. I’m not very interested in stopping ACUTA from conducting their surveys and publishing results; in fact, I’m quite pleased that the work is being continued and I am flattered that they believe that the survey instrument I helped create is of sufficient quality that they are reusing and building on it.
This is an ethical issue. In academia, we respect the work that others have done by clearly drawing attention to it when we build on their work. It is right to give people credit for what they have done, especially when we are benefiting from that work. Moreover, it is essential that we give readers a clear idea of the provenance of our ideas so they can perform due diligence to assure themselves of the quality and rigor of our work.
It is not necessary to ask permission to build on the ideas of another; as far as I am concerned, ACUTA is welcome to use, modify, and adapt questions from the survey instruments I helped to develop. But it is necessary to give us credit, both to acknowledge the work that my colleagues and I did and to allow others to know where some of the content in the ACUTA survey originated. I don’t think it’s asking very much when I have asked ACUTA to play by the same rules as everyone else in academia. I am perplexed and saddened that half a year ago I initially contacted ACUTA and since then they have not taken a few minutes to add a sentence or a footnote to their documents acknowledging the work on which theirs is built.
Plagiarism is a very serious charge. ACUTA has acknowledged in private e-mail messages that many questions were copied from the 2005 and 2008 survey instruments. I am not quite comfortable publicly publishing the contents of private e-mail messages but here are some examples of the evidence that originally led me to be concerned about this:
1. Based on ACUTA’s report, their survey instrument asked “Is your institution’s residential network separate from the rest of the campus network(s)?” with the response options of (a) Yes, only physically, (b) Yes, only logically, (c) Yes, both physically and logically, and (d) No. In 2005, my colleagues and I asked “Is your residential computer network separate from the rest of the campus network(s)? with the response options of (a) Yes, our residential computer network is physically separate, (b) Yes, our residential computer network is logically separate, (c) Yes, our residential computer network is both physically and logically separate, and (d) No.
2. Based on ACUTA’s report, their survey instrument asked “How many staff members (FTE) provide direct support to your campus residential computer network and its users?” In 2008, my colleagues and I asked “How many full-time equivalent (FTE) staff provide direct support to your campus residential computer network and its users?”
3. ACUTA’s report states that “50% of IT Departments pay for bandwidth supplied to the residential networks but do not recover the cost.” In 2005, my colleagues and I asked “Who pays for the bandwidth available to the residential computer network and are the costs recovered? (Check all that apply)” with the response options of (a) An outside vendor supplies the bandwidth and recovers some or all of the cost through a charge to the university, (b) An outside vendor supplies the bandwidth and recovers some or all of the cost through resident fees, (c) Central IT pays for it and recovers some or all of the cost through fees to residents or interdepartmental charges to Housing, (d) Central IT pays for it and does not recover the cost, (e) The Housing department pays a non-university ISP and recovers some or all of the cost through rent or other fees, and (f) Other (please specify) [emphasis added].
4. ACUTA’s report states that respondents were asked “What organization on your campus is primarily responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of your residential computer network?” with two pie charts displaying the responses, one pie chart for the Logical Infrastructure and the other pie chart for the Physical Infrastructure. In 2005, my colleagues and I asked “What organization on your campus is primarily responsible for maintaining the physical infrastructure of the computer network for your on-campus housing facilities? Examples of this responsibility may include physical installation and maintenance of wiring, network switches, and installing and repairing data ports. (Check all that apply)” and “What
organization on your campus is primarily responsible for managing the logical infrastructure of the computer network for your on-campus housing facilities? Examples of this responsibility may include configuring switches and routers, monitoring network traffic, administering servers (DHCP, DNS, etc.), and shaping/filtering network traffic. (Check all that apply)”
5. ACUTA’s report states that “About 9 % of higher education institutions report thet [sic] they are currently outsourcing all or significant portions of their residential network. Another 4% of survey respondants [sic] indicate they are currently considering oursourcing [sic], while 15% of institutions have considered outsourcing their residential network but have yet to pursue such an option.” In 2005, my colleagues and I asked “Has your institution considered outsourcing any significant portion of the residential computer network, including its support or maintenance, to an outside
entity not affiliated with your institution?” with the response options of (a) Yes, we have outsourced significant portions to a non-university organization, (b) Yes, we have considered outsourcing to a non-university organization but not pursued it, (c) We are considering outsourcing to a non-university organization right now, (d) No, we have not seriously considered outsourcing to a non-university organization, and (e) Other (please specify).