SDSU Collegian

Three years of writing for the SDSU Collegian Newspaper is already an achievement for me as an amateur writer. But the sparkle each article brought to my eyes was not all-bright every time. The months of making stories and publishing them on paper and online rendered more frowns than smiles – more what-ifs than yes-I-can. I may not be a real newbie to writing columns (with credits to Cebu’s Sun-Star Weekend Magazine), but catering to a different set of readers other than Filipinos, almost always on release day, a new Collegian copy on the table at the basement of Wecota hallwould send shivers down my spine. The audience here is varied, so varied that their opinions posted in response to my articles online could easily signal a raising of the white flag on my part. Majority of the comments criticized (not my way of writing, by the way) my viewpoints about life and living in which my columns usually revolved.

My inclinations to writing religious articles and sharing spiritual miracles had awakened the unbelievers in many ways than one. For countless times the judgments posted were too personal. But I had devised a strategy to not read them verbatim so as to lessen the hurt. The less painful and the few uplifting comments were the needed push to keep all my articles coming each and every week. The avid readers of my columns may have already painted the story of my life, as articles tackled the bits and pieces of my existence and those around me — everything shaped in words, English words, a Filipino, me, hoped to convey.

The Collegian had been my emotional outlet. Read between the lines and you will realize that there were more to every word. Pain was not a tear, but a silent wail when I talked on the phone with my family back home. Happiness was not defined by a small smiley figure, it was the hopping and shouting and yahooing inside the rented house whenever I am alone. You see, the Collegian sometimes made me crazy. But the craziness was momentary — like that sad feeling when the warm summer weather just swifts you by and the cold rain and snow of winter begin to terrorize your day. The feeling does not have to linger forever. At some point, there comes an acceptance. Pain at times. Joy at times. Bright summer sun. Cold winter nights. I was joyful at some of my Collegian articles; others were enough to provoke a saint. However, after all the craziness, I managed not to tip the balance too much on one side and remained sane.

Saneness, and all its derivatives, should be attributed to a few Collegian editors who have trusted and believed in me. The first time I submitted the article “Fuchsia in South Dakota“, a week after my arrival in SD, former editor Jeremy Fugleberg emailed to tell me how good it was and asked if I could be part of their team as a regular columnist. Although it was not part of the plan to own a weekly space in the Collegian, there was no hesitation on my part because I wanted so much to further hone my writing skill. Jeremy and I exchanged emails until we came up with the name of my column: Foreign Eyes. The name suggested that, whenever I could, I should write something related to living abroad, about Brookings, surviving America as an international student, and stories of differences in cultures. And I did. I should credit Jeremy for giving me the opportunity to siphon my thoughts and weave them into short tales and for not looking at my style of writing as something different from the rest. I should also salute another former editor, Gay LeClair, for being patient at me most of the time. Gay was a very humble editor, and although I realized it much later, she exactly knew her limits and when to say “sorry”. There were still other editors who made every published story possible. To all of them, I say my sincere thanks.

Now I am ready to say “I quit”. I have not ripened yet, still budding as a writer, but circumstances forced me to stay out of the branch so others could take my space on the tree and prosper in my disappearance. Yes, I considered it a job even though I was not paid to write. The job that I used to love now came to a close.

The closing was harsh. There were email exchanges with the editor that went south. We disagreed on rules of publishing articles. I may have been outraged, no, disappointed, because of the rejection of my article that was supposed to cater to the minorities in the university, yet went to no avail. I may have trusted myself too much and presumed that what I had submitted was “of such importance that it may trump all other columns.” I won’t deny it – I felt good about the column and was too confident it could get printed. However, the editor said and I quote: “While I’m glad you feel strongly about your column and writing skills, I obviously did not feel the same way, and as Opinion Editor, it’s my call–plain and simple. You obviously have a problem with this decision and have taken it up with me.” In my interpretation: “Eric, shut up. I can reject any articles I want.”  By the way, in his first message to me, he said that there was nothing wrong with my piece.

Here’s more. In my opinion, and I say this with due respect to his editing skills, the editor seemed to have missed the part of knowing what was relevant for that week and what was not. I say for that week, because I believe all articles could be relevant at some specific time, and that mine would have been relevant for the week. Yet, the editor thought it was not: “The main question you had is of the importance of your column in relation to the rest. I think the fact that your column did not run is evident of this, but I felt yours was one we could do without.” This statement alone was so heavy for me to contain.

When someone begins to say that “it’s my job and I have the final say,” what option do I have? Basically, nothing. No matter how many times I have to argue hoping to see a hint of answer to a confusion, if you are told “If this is how you handle yourself because you failed to get your way and disagree with our editorial decisions, I don’t think writing for our Opinion Page is for you,” what other steps could I take? I was led to the exit door.

The editor had the final say of what gets to printing, but he could have thought much deeper (or maybe he did and all these, are my own speculations). With due respect, all the articles from my fellow columnists were excellent (yes, I read each one every week), but it is the decision of the editor to check which columns can be postponed (and could still be relevant for the next edition) and which ones should be given a light for publication because of time constraints. He could have read every piece and researched about them a bit, before finally deciding to reject one (or maybe he did and all these, again, are my own speculations).

But I have already put that one to rest. That episode was over two weeks ago. I even had the opportunity to chat with Madam Susan Smith, the Collegian adviser. She was so kind to invite me back to the team. After that, I kept quiet. Two of the staff members wanted to meet and talk to me regarding the issue, but I remained quiet. To me, Prof. Smith had already shed a light to most of my queries. Besides, there is this saying that “time heals all wounds.” And the editor could be right. He may have exercised good judgment in the selection of articles to publish. Mine was not good enough for him and I just have to wallow in my own sorrow. I thought “Oh, well, I had rejections in the past too — this, too, will come to pass.” If it will be in court, I will lose the case.

Wait. Maybe not. If you are reading this blog entry and happen to see a Collegian newspaper around (April 14 issue), grab a copy and open to page A5 – the article written by Hassan Ali. Read and reread the piece. Nothing is wrong, I know. Then head on to this link and scroll down to the middle – surprise! The columnist plagiarized an online posting. If you put the column and the original article side by side, the similarities are undeniable. Verbatim, Mr. Ali copied a post for his Collegian piece.

Now tell me, how did this happen? A plagiarized article made its way to the opinion page of the college newspaper, written by a political science/pre-law major, SA Senator and president of Model United nations.

Alright, I should not pass judgment. I must give Hassan Ali the benefit of the doubt. I should have used the word “maybe” in my statements above. My apologies Mr. Ali. Maybe you did not plagiarize anything. Maybe, the original article was yours. Maybe you own the website where your column was clipped from. All this can be proven, though, by knowing and contacting the owner/s of the domain.

If in any case, the column was copied (no attribution was ever mentioned on the column), someone should quit or be fired. If proven that the plagiarized article was published in the Collegian with the approval of the opinion editor (recall: he has the final say), then my doubt that he is not doing his job right has turned into a solid proof. I am sorry sir — I would have forgotten what had happened with my article, but with this incident anew, all has come to life again. Allowing and approving a column copied completely from someone else is an insult to me (whom you classified as someone who wrote a “not-strong” column) and to all the other columnists. Or was it really your intention to insult me? Enlighten me with this please, because I am now very confused on how articles are chosen for publication.

I will make sure I get answers to this issue. The columnist must show that he owns the online page where he copied his article from. The first line/fourth paragraph of his column it says “According to the Congressional Budget Office, if the 2007 immigration reform bill had passed, it would have generated $48 billion in new federal revenue through 2008-2017.” This statement was from the Congressional Budget Office, “Cost Estimate of S.1348, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

Paragraph 2 of the column had this: “And yes, undocumented immigrants contribute more in taxes then they consume in public benefits. Between 1996 and 2003 they contributed an estimated $50 billion in federal taxes. They also contribute between $7 and $8 billion in social security funds annually-that’s $100 billion in the past 15 years they will never claim.” All these were copied verbatim from the original posting. This should have been referenced back to “Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the Middle Class. Drum Major Institute. 2007.”

If proven that it is indeed a copied article, is this what the opinion editor said “a strong column” that he ever wanted? Honestly, I would have not written this blog had it not for this serious issue. If my purpose was to attack the editor/s, I would have done that two weeks ago, when the wound was still fresh.

If all those involved in the printing of the questioned article can prove that it was from Ali, I will immediately take down this blog posting and write an apology post. But if I am right, I want to see actions done and editors must write an apology in the Collegian for all students to read. Quoting a line or two in the article is fine, even a paragraph or two is okay (with proper credits). But when almost everything had been copied and pasted, then that is something deserving of serious attention and action.
Note: The editor-in-chief of the Collegian emailed me saying “we will take these concerns very seriously and will do what we feel is appropriate to rectify the situation.” And I believe her.

Update: SDSU Collegian Plagiarism – Collegian Editors Forgiven