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Napolitano v. Trustees of Princeton University

Decided: October 13, 1982.


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Mercer County.

Matthews, Francis and Greenberg. The opinion of the court was delivered by Matthews, P.J.A.D.


When this action was instituted plaintiff was a student in her senior year at Princeton University, a member of the Class of 1982. Were it not for the disciplinary action which precipitated this litigation, she would have been eligible to graduate on June 8, 1982. She is presently eligible to graduate in June 1983, at which time she will receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in English.

Defendant, The Trustees of Princeton University, is an educational corporation in the State of New Jersey. It operates a private institution of higher education known as Princeton University. Princeton offers undergraduate programs leading to the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Engineering.

Defendant William G. Bowen is the President of Princeton University. He has held that position since July of 1972. According to the University's By-Laws, the President is the "chief executive officer of the Corporation" and is "charged with the general supervision of the interests of the University."

Among the many functions exercised by President Bowen is the power to review and, when appropriate, to modify the penalties imposed by various disciplinary bodies at Princeton, including the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline (COD).

Defendant Peter Onek is an Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Princeton, having held that position since August of 1977. As Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Dean Onek is Secretary of the COD, but not a voting member. Dean Onek's duties as Secretary include (1) receiving disciplinary charges from faculty members, proctors or others, (2) notifying students of such charges, (3) counseling students on their rights and the

procedures of the COD, (4) coordinating the presentation of documentary and other evidence to the COD and (5) taking and, when appropriate, preparing the minutes of the COD meetings. Dean Onek performed each of those duties in connection with the first disciplinary hearing but was voluntarily replaced for the second hearing, although replacement was not required by the trial judge.

Defendant Sylvia Molloy is a Professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. She began teaching at Princeton in 1970 as an Assistant Professor with a Bicentennial Preceptorship. In 1973 Professor Molloy was promoted to Associate Professor, a tenured position. In 1981 she became a full Professor.

During the Fall Term of the 1981-1982 academic year Professor Molloy taught Spanish 341, a course entitled "The Spanish American Novel." Plaintiff elected to become a student in that course. It was her submission of a term paper for that course which gave rise to the disciplinary proceedings here under review.

Princeton maintains a bifurcated disciplinary system with nonconcurrent jurisdiction in two committees for the purpose of disciplining undergraduate students: the Princeton Honor Committee, which is concerned with examinations given under Princeton's Honor System, and the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline.

All disciplinary matters concerning undergraduates which do not involve in-class examinations are subject to the jurisdiction of the COD. This includes academic violations, such as plagiarism on essays, term papers or laboratory reports, and nonacademic violations, such as disorderly conduct or drug-related offenses. The COD is a Standing Committee of the Faculty of Princeton University. Rules and Procedures of the Faculty of Princeton University (July 1978 with Addenda).

A general description of some of the rules and procedures of the COD is found in a booklet entitled Rights, Rules, Responsibilities

-- 1980 Edition (RRR-1980). The penalty section lists the following penalties:

Range of Penalties. For violation of University-wide rules of conduct, members of the community are subject to several kinds of penalties. The applicability and exact nature of each penalty varies for faculty, students, professional staff, and employees; but in general the penalties, in ascending order of severity, are:

1. Warning. . .

2. Disciplinary Probation. A more serious admonition assigned for a definite amount of time, up to two years. It implies that any future violation, of whatever kind, during that time, may be grounds for suspension, required withdrawal, or in especially serious cases, for expulsion, from the University.

3. Suspension. Removal from membership in, or employment by, the University for a specified period of time.

4. Required Withdrawal. Removal from membership in, or employment by, the University for at least the period of time specified by suspension, with the suspension to continue until certain conditions, stipulated by the appropriate body applying this sanction, have been fulfilled. These conditions may include restitution of damages or formal apology.

5. Expulsion. . .

6. Censure. . .

A withheld degree, the penalty imposed upon plaintiff, is a less severe variation of suspension. It is imposed only upon second semester seniors. It permits them to finish their academic requirements and wait the prescribed period to receive their degree, rather than requiring them to lose their tuition and repeat their last semester in the following academic year. Excluding plaintiff's case, Princeton has withheld 20 degrees for disciplinary reasons since the 1972-1973 academic year.

There are two avenues of appeal from the decision and penalty of the COD: to the Judicial Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (Judicial Committee) and to the President of the University. Only the Judicial Committee avenue of appeal appears in the written material. A direct appeal to President Bowen from the COD is not mentioned in RRR-1980 or any other University publication, but, we are advised, is the avenue chosen in the overwhelming number of cases in which there is an appeal.

The appellate jurisdiction exercised by the President of the University is generally confined to a review of the penalty. It is

accurately described in the RRR section concerning appeals from the Judicial Committee.

RRR contains a lengthy section concerning the "general requirements" or "fundamental principles" for the acknowledgment of sources in academic work:

General Requirements for the Acknowledgment of Sources in Academic Work

The academic departments of the University have varying requirements for the acknowledgment of sources, but certain fundamental principles apply to all levels of work. In order to prevent any misunderstanding, students are expected to study and comply with the following basic requirements.

Quotations. Any quotations, however small, must be placed in quotation marks or clearly indented beyond the regular margin. Any quotation must be accompanied (either within the text or in a footnote) by a precise indication of the source -- identifying the author, title, place and date of publication (where relevant), and page numbers. Any sentence or phrase which is not the original work of the student must be acknowledged.

Paraphrasing. Any material which is paraphrased or summarized must also be specifically acknowledged in a footnote or in the text. A thorough rewording or rearrangement of an author's text does not relieve one of this responsibility. Occasionally, students maintain that they have read a source long before they wrote their papers and have unwittingly duplicated some of its phrases or ideas. This is not a valid excuse. The student is responsible for taking adequate notes so that debts of phrasing may be acknowledged where they are due.

Ideas and Facts. Any ideas or facts which are borrowed should be specifically acknowledged in a footnote or in the text, even if the idea or fact has been further elaborated by the student. Some ideas, facts, formulae, and other kinds of information which are widely known and considered to be in the "public domain" of common knowledge do not always require citation. The criteria for common knowledge vary among disciplines; students in doubt should consult a member of the faculty.

Occasionally, a student in preparing an essay has consulted an essay or body of notes on a similar subject by another student. If the student has done so, he or she must state the fact and indicate clearly the nature and extent of his or her obligation. The name and class of the author of an essay or notes which are consulted should be given, and the student should be prepared to show the work consulted to the instructor, if requested to do so.

Footnotes and Bibliography. All the sources which have been consulted in the preparation of an essay or report should be listed in a bibliography, unless specific guidelines (from the academic department or instructor) request that only works cited be so included. However, the mere listing of a source in a bibliography shall not be considered a "proper acknowledgement" for specific use of that source within the essay or report.

With regard to essays, laboratory reports, or any other written work submitted to fulfill an official academic requirement, the following are considered academic fraud:

Plagiarism. The deliberate use of any outside source without proper acknowledgment. "Outside source" means any work, published or unpublished, by any person other than the student.

Please note that, while not all academic infractions involve fraud, all are violations of the University's standards and will normally result in disciplinary penalties.

Because of the importance of original work in the Princeton academic community, each student is required to attest to the originality of the submitted work and its compliance with University regulations:

Student Acknowledgment of Original Work

At the end of an essay, laboratory report, or any other requirement, the student is to write the following sentence and sign his or her name: " This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations." [Emphasis in original]

RRR also presents a brief but fairly complete discussion of violations and examples of violations of these regulations.

At the first class meeting of Spanish 341 Professor Molloy announced that the course requirements would be a term paper and midterm and final examinations. The term paper was to be a critical analysis of one of the works read for the course, on a topic which was to be chosen by the student but approved by Professor Molloy. The paper could be handed in at any time during the Fall Term, but no later than January 13, 1982, the last day of Princeton's reading period.

Plaintiff did not meet with Professor Molloy to seek approval of her topic until December 16, 1981, the last day of classes before the Christmas recess. She was one of the last, if not the last, to seek such approval from Professor Molloy.

Plaintiff told Professor Molloy that she wanted to write her paper on the family ties in a novel entitled Cien anos de soledad

(100 Years of Solitude) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Professor Molloy approved the topic and told plaintiff that she ought to read Cien anos de soledad: una interpretacion by Josefina Ludmer (Ludmer), a book which Professor Molloy had put on library reserve at the beginning of the Fall Semester. At her deposition, Professor Molloy described Ludmer's work as "a very highly personal and highly original work" and "revolutionary" in that it "allowed people to perceive [100 years] in a completely different light." Professor Molloy told plaintiff to read or be aware of Ludmer, which treated "important aspects of the topic" plaintiff had chosen.

Plaintiff has testified that Ludmer was the only book to which she referred in writing her paper. Although she also testified that she did not have Ludmer in front of her when she wrote her paper, she admitted that she did refer to her ...

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