Plagiarists take warning!

Make my day!

Flavia at Ferule and Fescue wrote recently about snagging some plagiarists in an upper-level class for majors, and she writes about how sad it makes her although of course she’s standing up for fairness and academic integrity.  Go read the whole thing, but here’s a little end of term/exam week plea for students:

[T]his is what I’d like to tell my plagiarists, and what I wish they’d hear and believe:

“You did something unethical, and you knew it was unethical; ‘giving you a break’ would be unfair to your classmates and it would be unfair to you; it’s my job to enforce academic standards and to see that you wrestle honestly with tough intellectual tasks. You’re selling yourself short when you think that you can’t come up with good ideas or write a good paper on your own. You will fail this class and the academic dishonesty charge will go on your record. But if you repeat the class, the ‘F’ will disappear, and if this is your first violation–and you never have another–you’ll get to stay at RU and there will be no indication of this on your transcript. “This doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a person who f^(cked up, and there are consequences when you f^(k up. But you can make things right over the long term, if you want to.”

This $hit breaks my heart.

Message to students:  We care.  Please don’t f^(k up.  But know this:  we will work you over if you f^)k up, and it will hurt you more than it hurts us, for realz.  In my experience, it never pays to give a plagiarist a break.  Hang’em high, regretfully if you must, but hang’em high, friends.

21 thoughts on “Plagiarists take warning!

  1. I had an experience at my former uni where I confronted a student about a plagiarized paper & failed hir & reported it to the judiciary because I always did that at former u. It was terrible; ze was crying and of course it was upsetting for me too. But ze showed up in one of my classes the next semester. Ze said ze wanted to prove to me that ze was better than that. And ze did a lot better! It was the heartening cheating experience I’ve ever had. Sometimes cheaters are ethically-challenged a$$hats, and sometimes they really are nice kids who f&*ked up.


  2. Super hardcore student! Good for hir. I had a similar incident once, involving a somewhat lower-level of student dishonesty than plagiarism, but the student took her F, stayed in the class, and I even asked her to serve as an undergraduate T.A. for me the following semester. She turned out to be really tough & a good egg after all.


  3. I have seen a plagiarist turn around so I’m not of the opinion that they’re bad eggs. But we have to be fair and enforce consequence: if the plagiarism is serious, they fail my course and the file goes to the chair, dean and registrar.

    If a student has to take another course with the same prof to make up the lost credits, it’s the best way for them to demonstrate that they’ve learned the lesson. But I know that sometimes they’re determined to avoid the prof that caught them in the act: whether because they’re unrepentant or ashamed. (Of course, in some cases, I’m sure that a few bad apple profs would also have it in for the student, always riding them in expectation they’d be plagiarizing again.)


  4. At the other end of the plagiarism practice, I had a student who handed in a copied paper, and in those pre-internet days, I found the source in the third book I picked up to check my suspicions. When I reported him to the dean, I learned that he had a previous infraction of cheating on an exam. As this was the second report, he was suspended from the university. And who knows how many times he had gotten away with cheating?


  5. I’ve seen both sides of this as well. Sometimes it’s an act of desperation and I can sympathize with that. It’s the wrong thing to do and the cheater/plagiarist needs to learn from the mistake but if they can and do, then more power to ’em. However, I’ve also seen plagiarism committed with angry intent (as in, that @$$##% professor assigned this $*% project). Not much hope in a case like that.

    Good ol’ fashioned cheating comes up for me with projects completed in group settings. I usually just distribute the points earned evenly across the group of people who have copied each other’s work. In the best case scenario, this will reel in the lot of them and if at least one of the guilty understands the problem with what they have done, ze will confess and identify who really did the work. I then give the points to whomever did the work and allow the others to start again from the beginning, for half the original value. It’s a better deal than where they started, the learning objectives have a chance of being met, and a lesson has–I hope–been learned.


  6. I made my class of 100 students today read out loud in unison the statement on the syllabus of what constitutes plagiarism. “I have never taken a history course before” is not an excuse, folks. In what discipline is it OK to cut and paste from a web page and present it as your work?


  7. Throughout public school here, it seems totally acceptable to cut and paste from a web page and present it as your work, without citation in everything but a research paper (and sometimes they don’t seem to care even then). So, while I’m pretty serious about plagiarism, I do think that we teach students one thing for 12 years, and then tell them: oops, new rules. Sometimes they are trying to cheat, sometimes it is just what everyone does (from their perspective), sometimes they don’t get it.

    Lots of blame to go around.


  8. Shaz–that’s a good point, and an unfortunate one. The secondary history teachers I know spend a great deal of time on plagiarism: explaining it, explaining why it’s wrong, and going after it when it happens. One former student of mine who now teaches HS history gave her plagiarist students the chance to re-do an assignment, and they still plagiarized. Then the parents of the students complained that 1) she hadn’t explained to them how to avoid plagiarism, but also 2) that she was just picking on the students in insisting that they not plagiarize from the interwebs, and why was she so ridiculously petty?

    So, yes: lots of blame to go around, but in my view conversations about plagiarism and academic honesty should start at home for those students who have parents who attended college or university. I recognize that not everyone has had the privilege, but it would be useful and salutory for parents to uphold academic standards as well as teachers and professors.


  9. Just to chime in here, there’s a huge difference between improper citation (which I see a lot of in the 9-12 world and it’s points off) and full-blown plagiarism (of which I’ve encountered very little and usually of the desperate cry for help please catch me sort). I’m guilty of not attributing where I get my source material from with primary documents that I copy and hand out in class. Also, when we have papers where the textbook is the only source, I don’t require citation because we all know where it comes from. The students I’ve put before disciplinary committee all had positive outcomes in the end, even if they took their lumps in the short term.


  10. I swear that the internet is making plagiarist dumber by the day. I have a post up regarding that. I just encounter the most ridiculous case of plagiarism. The student paper was an analysis of a famous theater play. The student copied and pasted (and then had somebody translate that into Spanish) an analysis of such play done by one of the most well-known scholars in the field. Literally, ze plagiarized from a book published by Duke University Press and presented it as if it was hir research paper. And no, the book in question is not in the bibliography, so ze can’t claim that ze didn’t know how to properly quote.


  11. I had two of these this past week too (upper level class for majors). And up, up, up they go to the relevant dean. I’ve actually never had a student confront me, not yet. It’s always the same: I email them, tell them to meet with me, they don’t, I send it to the dean with nary a peep from them. I think in this class it’s about 2 a year.

    My worst, most blatant plagiarism cases have all involved first year students. They have mostly been a mix of intentional copying and bad citations. I don’t teach first years much these days, but in most cases I give the young ‘uns the option of redoing the assignment for no credit. (You have to redo the writing assignment to pass, but you get a zero on that part of the grade.) I’ve actually gotten apologetic responses from two students, one of whom didn’t even blame their high school teachers. “I should have learned this before, but now it has really sunk in.”

    ’tis the season.


  12. I make a point of modeling exactly the behavior I expect on everything I hand out. It is not clear, however, that students look to my writing as a source of information beyond “what is the assignment and when is it due?”


  13. At a previous institution, I used to catch 2-3 plaigerists a term amongst the first years, and in a large proportion of cases, they involved students who had English as a second language. And while I still had to do them for plaigerism, it was often the case that they just didn’t have the language skills to write what they needed to (at least in the time frame required to hand in assessments). And, I still feel that was partly the university’s fault for not ensuring that their written English was strong enough before taking their money – in a context where we were under a lot of pressure to accept ‘foreign’ students as they paid higher fees.


  14. I teach freshman composition, where we are teaching them citation/attribution practices. You have to have a little leniency, otherwise it’s a class where you can’t make mistakes. But I drill it into them that if it happens a second time I will “Crucify them. Upside down. Underwater.” Upper level students have no excuses.



  15. In the last few years, I have had a few cut and paste jobs from the internet. When confronted, to a person, those who have done this have said, “Oh. I didn’t mean to hand in that. I just downloaded that for my own purposes.”

    I haven’t yet crafted a good response to this. I generally stutter and stammer and then say something like, “I asked you to read and interpret these sources in relationship to the required reading. How would this Wiki article serve any purpose at all?”

    I have started adding a statement to all my assignments that reads: This assignment is to be based on the required reading and in-class material for this course. Any use of outside sources, web-based or otherwise, will result in a failing grade.

    This is in addition to the academic honesty policy on the syllabus that forbids plagiarism.


  16. @Profsweddy, I guess the difficulty with that approach is when ‘additional reading’ forms part of the requirement for essays, as it does in many of the courses I teach. A requirement that is meant to teach them research skills, to familiarise them with research databases, and to reward ‘going above and beyond’ in their intellectual development.


  17. General intertubes plagiarism may seem like just silliness in the cesspool, but that’s where plenty of students learn their communication habits now. I’d say not plagiarizing is the exception, rather than the other way around.

    Ancient netiquette was to always provide a link back to the original post. Now, it’s good if there’s a “hat tip” to the immediate source, and there’s no attempt at all to pin down the origin. That’s become the norm. How do we even start waking everyone up to the fact that information turns into mere rumors under those conditions? I’d guess this is why so few students even understand what plagiarism is, without extensive drilling.

    What I find most sinister, though, is that the de facto monopoly search engine actually forces terrible citation habits. Providing a link to someone else ups their ranking in Google’s algorithm, and therefore necessarily depresses your own. Bona fide news sources with reputations to maintain get around this problem by citing their sources in plain text, without links. That means readers don’t bother checking original sources. Plain old bloggers don’t even bother with text cites, obviously. And the way the situation is structured, this is just going to get worse as more people realize that forgetting attribution is a Good Thing in Google.

    Even if a mad, viral, Occupy Web Sites campaign could get us back to a culture of giving credit where it’s due, I don’t think any power on Earth could get Google to do anything unless it makes more money from advertising. So we’re doomed?


  18. Pingback: If I Had College-Age Children, I Would Give Them This Advice for the Final Weeks of School - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  19. Every course in our department makes students sign an anti-plagiarism contract and submit all their work to turnitin. I now see a difference between our grads and students from other schools in my graduate course; even very strong grad students from other schools seem to start out with a weaker understanding of what plagiarism is and is not than our grads.

    Some folks are obviously getting away with it at even higher levels – in our last search, a candidate sent us a plagiarized teaching philosophy!


  20. Pingback: Don’t cheat. Don’t even try it. | Cranach: The Blog of Veith

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