Hungarian president and Olympian resigns after plagiarism scandal, college students take note

Hungarian President Pal Schmitt resigned on Monday amid controversy after a university panel in Budapest revoked his doctoral degree for plagiarism.

Schmitt — a two-time Olympic gold medalist in fencing — played a crucial role in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government by advancing his agenda, such as retroactive tax reforms.

Schmitt's paper, which dealt with the Olympic Games, was found by the panel to have “copied chunks of his thesis without proper acknowledgement.” Schmitt’s resignation from a top government position should be a wakeup call for youth who overlook the seriousness of plagiarism.

Despite efforts by universities to curb academic dishonesty, an alarming number of undergraduate students have admitted to plagiarizing. According to plagiarism.org, 36% of undergraduates have plagiarized while 80% admitted to cheating at least once. The prevalence of plagiarism is problematic. It is not a topic meant to fill the last page on a college course syllabus, but an offense that carries real ramifications. As seen in Schmitt's case, students must diligently avoid plagiarizing because the consequences can ruin education and professional careers.

Punishment for plagiarism ranges, with some schools approaching it more severely than others. For example, Rutgers University makes students with “level one infractions” like “improper footnoting” by making students re-do assignments. If a Rutgers student were to copy significant portions of research without attribution on a graduation thesis like Schmitt had, that student would face “expulsion and a permanent transcript notation.”

Plagiarism goes beyond the classroom. Former New York Times journalist Jayson Blair, who wrote more than 600 stories, committed numerous acts of plagiarism like inventing quotes and sources, which led to his firing.

While plagiarism can lead to big punishments, it is a completely avoidable offense if one puts in the effort. Each major citation method has its own guidelines, and there are websites to help with them, such as these sites for; MLA, Chicago, and APSA. Given the severe consequences that accompany plagiarism, and the relative ease with which such offenses can be avoided, there is no excuse to put yourself at risk of being kicked out of school or fired from a job. Who knows, you might be president of a country.