Plagiarists: I’d turn back if I were you!

Nice use of the subjunctive, but please correct punctuation!

Tenured Radical offers more thoughts on academic honesty, plagiarism, and cheating this morning in the form of an imagined conversation with her imagined spawn as she sends the child back to college after Thanksgiving break to complete hir exams.  Go read, and send it on to your students. 

It’s pretty much the exact conversation I’d have with my imaginary child or children too, except that I think the conversation would start around the time that the child was assigned to write reports based on original research–say, around the second or third grade.

20 thoughts on “Plagiarists: I’d turn back if I were you!

  1. Perhaps “witches castle” is a descriptive sentence, in which witches are credited with a place where they habitually engage in a chess maneuver involving the king and the rook.


  2. No–the sign refers to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, at least the movie version. One witch requires revised spelling and the inclusion of an apostrophe!


  3. I’m the kid of two profs, and let me tell you I would NEVER have asked either of them for this kind of advice. On the other hand, after 18 years listening to my parents talk about the cheaters they caught, the grade grubbers, the students who never studied, etc etc, I had absolutely no need for this advice by the time I started college. And let’s not even talk about the correct use of punctuation!


  4. The only thing I disagree with in TR’s piece is her assertion that the “truly innocent” get angry while the guilty attempt to act innocent. That may have been true in her experience, but I’ve gotten a range of reactions from plagiarists and falsely accused alike. This may have to do with the wider-ranging student population that I teach. But I’ve been cursed out and born the anger of somebody who was totally guilty, and I’ve dealt with sobbing pleas for innocence from some who are actually innocent. It really is a crap shoot.


  5. I agree, Dr. Crazy. I’ve seen more variation in response, too. In my experience, anger is what the accused *men* do. Instant apologies and crying have come only from accused women (in some but not all cases.) But I’ve never had an angry woman in my office in a F2F confrontation.


  6. I agree w/ @Dr. Crazy about the variety of responses. Of course, I always confront with proof (ie, plagiarized portion of paper highlighted, show text/website the original came from), so the most they can say is that it was a mistake and they didn’t mean to – at which point I remind them that intent is not a factor in being guilty of plagiarism. I also have never had a student become visibly angry with me, although that might have been facilitated by the fact that as a young prof, I always asked my generous chair to sit in on the meeting. (My uni had strict policies regarding the procedure for “accusing” someone of plagiarism, and it didn’t hurt to have a witness to the conversation. It also had the bonus of terrifying the students.) @Historiann – I have had male students cry in my office over plagiarism allegations.


  7. TR’s beautiful point that our research skills are more than a match for their ability to disguise their plagiarism: yes. It’s one more reason that we need assignments to be assessed by trained faculty members.

    Software services such as turnitin can detect some common net-based types of plagiarism but an engaged educator can see so much more such as the student who found an old book on the library shelves and retyped one section wholesale as their analytic paper. . . .


  8. Also, do you guys remember the good old days when the way that you’d catch a plagiarist was to bring the student in and to ask them to explain various passages of what they’d written? And then the student would confess? Because when I first started teaching, that was the first thing you’d do – you’d only bother rooting around for evidence if the confession wasn’t forthcoming, which it almost always was.


  9. Some people cheat. That’s about it. As a parent you convey explicitly and implicitly your moral values. It is not about being caught.

    I never talked shop at home, this includes with my kids. Two of mine are now academics too. Now we exchange stories and experiences. I didn’t have to tell my kids specifically not to cheat at school; they heard us talk about our expectations all along.


  10. I’d like to ask this group for some advice. On Monday I had my very first experience failing a student for the entire course for wholly plagiarizing their paper. I felt awful, but knew it was the right thing to do. I knew it would be hard, but didn’t know *I* would feel so bad after. There was pleading, professions of innocence, crying, lots of questions of me, and finally acceptance that they’d been caught and an admission of guilt. I KNOW I did the right thing but when will *I* stop feeling bad about it?

    Does it get easier? This is my first semester teaching my own classes (I am currently writing my dissertation) and I was not expecting to have to deal with this right out of the gate.

    Thanks everyone!


  11. I often let papers I suspect of plagiarism go. I don’t have the time to bother tracking down the source. I’ll give them a B- when they probably expected an A, but that’s about it. Again, no time. Thing is, no one ever has complained. How do you all manage to find the time?


  12. LadyTraveller: you’ll get over the sadness pretty quickly. Anger tempered with a large dose of exasperation is about where I’m at when I see plagiarism at this stage of my career.

    Paul, it’s really not that time- or labor-intensive to track down a plagiarist’s source. Because plagiarists are by definition lazy, usually the plagiarized source will be at the top of a Google search that will take you all of 0.43 seconds! Perhaps you need to think more creatively about making plagiarism-proof assignments. In most classes, I don’t ask students to write open-ended term papers on subjects of their own choosing. I force them to write on a particular subject and to use specific combinations of primary and secondary sources, and I never assign the same question & set of readings twice.

    Then again, I have a 2-2 teaching load, so I can stay on top of this stuff. But people like Dr. Crazy & Tom have 4-4 loads, and they stay on top of this stuff, too.


  13. LadyTraveller: It does make you feel like crap, but my advice is to get over it quickly. YOU didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not trying to be harsh to you at all, only thinking that you’ve got enough on your plate right now and you do not need to be taking that kind of weight on.

    Paul: 1) your load is astonishing. I don’t know how you do it. 2) H is right. It usually takes less than a minute to find the source. You could always give yourself a 2-minute limit. If you can find it in 2-minutes, great! If not, you find other things to grade down.


  14. I guess it never occurs to some students that their instructor is a specialist in the field of study being taught and who has read lots of books and papers on that topic.

    Not only that but unless they are a new teacher they have read lots of term papers too.

    When the teacher realizes “I’ve read this before” it’s just a matter of figuring out where.


  15. I, too, have seen a range of reactions, including something verging on absolute panic from a student who I’m quite sure was the innocent one: her roommate had copied her paper, making a few changes. I felt awful for the innocent party, who spent exam period in a state that must have hurt her grades in other classes, but, no matter how much I reassured her that the honor process would either identify the guilty party beyond a reasonable doubt or punish no one, I couldn’t calm her down (as it turned out, I was all too right; the guilty party in fact was not penalized, and did not seem all that concerned, though I did get a nasty call from her father, which was an interesting experience; that was when I stopped giving out my home number to students).

    When I used to do face-to-face confrontations, I usually got some version of stonewalling. These days, I just google the sources (or let turnitin do it for me), write up the honor violation paperwork, and email the student *after* the charge is filed. Mind you, this is on papers that are supposed to have gone through a drafting, revising, and conferencing process, and I don’t penalize anything short of wholesale theft of a single text at the draft stage; they just have to do it over again if they want to pass the class (I teach writing, so learning citation is part of the class; though they’re supposed to have some knowledge of the basics, a few show no sign of prior training). But on the final version (usually papers that I never saw in draft, or saw in extremely fragmentary form), I throw the book at them — or, rather, fill out the necessary forms and gather the documentation with a certain amount of mumbling under my breath at having to spend several hours of what would otherwise be vacation this way, but not a lot of passion. It does get easier, LadyTraveller; my first case — which basically had to go before an honor board because the student in question was unwilling to accept my authority, insisting instead that I yield to his perception of the results of a philosophical discussion he had with another (male) professor about ownership of ideas — had me tied up in knots for a while, too. Now it’s just part of the routine — unwelcome, unpleasant, but not really upsetting (except for the occasional case of an otherwise good student doing something stupid at the last minute).

    @Paul: I sympathize, I really do. I’ve done 5-5 as an adjunct, and have a 4-4 (plus two in the summer) full-time but non-tenure-track gig now. But, speaking from that experience, and considering what you have admitted are the consequences for the quality of your teaching, perhaps you ought to consider another line of work? As long as you’re doing the work of 2-3 people for barely the price of one (I assume you’ve taken on that much work because that’s what you need to make a living), none of the institutions for which you work have an incentive to hire full-timers at a salary which would allow them to do basic things like hold students accountable for doing their own work.

    As someone said in a blog comment a few weeks ago (exactly where, I can’t remember), in the case of higher ed, “occupy” may mean “leave.”


  16. Pingback: A Plagiarism Story « Reassigned Time 2.0

  17. @Contingent Cassandra: At this point in my life, there’s really nowhere else for me to go. I’m in my late 40’s and I’ve been doing this for 15 years. Unfortunately, the only non-academic jobs I ever held were bar tender and day laborer, and my knees can’t take that anymore. And I’m not really in a position to go back to entry level, not to mention, even entry level jobs are pretty scarce these days.

    And to be clear, I’ve learned how to not let the quality of my teaching suffer from my semesterly load. But yes, grading does have to become streamlined.


  18. Thank you! I appreciate the feedback. I am looking forward to the upcoming break so I can work on my own stuff for a week or two & my only stress will be handing work in to my committee!


  19. they never took away Mr. Kings degrees from plagiarism
    why is the American flag same colors as England ?
    life is a is 2012 not 1912
    If you have time to worrie/think about a theif, then they have robbed you of your mind space
    quality work tells the tail
    not shortcuts

    “open door
    light from
    to go
    to go
    on and on”
    this is MINE ! ! ! !


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