Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Da capo

I recently caught my semesterly plagiarist. This one came with some especially enraging particulars--but really, don't they all?

More surprising than the details of this case is what I discovered while assembling the paperwork to make a formal charge of academic dishonesty. I hadn't received certain documents back from my department chair, who was out of town, so she directed me and her secretary to the place in her office where I could find them: among a stack of other pending plagiarism charges. Rifling through these to find mine, I discovered that not one, not two, but three of the students I've charged with plagiarism in the past have new charges being brought against them by my colleagues.

I'd like to say that this gave me some sense of satisfaction, but really it just depressed me. Being caught once, you'd think, would put the fear of God in a student, especially since RU has a policy of two-strikes-and-you're-out (i.e., dismissed from the college). One of the students I caught in the past was radically unsmart and already failing my class, so I'm not surprised she did it again. But my other past plagiarists were canny and mostly diligent students, whom I even rather liked, and I'd have hoped that they'd have learned from the experience.

But if I've learned anything, now, it's this: it's not personal. It may feel as though my plagiarists are saying that they don't think I'm smart enough to catch them--but apparently they think equally poorly of my colleagues and of themselves: that they're not smart enough to do their own work, or make time to do their own work, or get help when they need it, or recognize when they shouldn't be in college in the first place.

Maybe this will keep me from dissolving in a rage the next time I catch one.


neophyte said...

I continue to be baffled by this phenomenon. Not that it happens, but that it happens with such alarming regularity, and that so many people do it.

I think there was one case of plagiarism during the entire time I spent at the Petri Dish, and it was a huge deal. It got covered in the student newspaper and followed with some interest. It's possible that other cases were reported but ran under the radar as freak first-offenses.

If punishment doesn't work, how about shame? Openly laughing at the student might be traumatic enough to prevent a repeat offense. And fun. (I've decided that any syllabus I ever design will carry the words of Morrissey en guise de plagiarism policy: "If you must write prose and poems, the words you use should be your own. Don't plagiarize or take on loan. There's always someone, somewhere, with a big nose, who knows, who'll trip you up and laugh when you fall.")

Susan said...

My favorite was when the student who was CHAIR OF THE ACADEMIC HONESTY COMMITTEE -- i.e. in charge of enforcing the honor code -- was guilty of plagiarizing. And he didn't get it -- all he'd done was take a chunk of a paper he'd written for another course and use it in my course. The fact that it didn't do the assignment (which was how I figured it out) seemed irrelevant to him, as did the fact that the policy clearly stated that papers could not be submitted for two courses without the consent of the instructors.

Sigh. In retrospect, it's funny, but it's hard to laugh at the time.

Flavia said...

Oh, I love that Smiths' song!

I'd guarantee you that there were plenty of plagiarism cases at Petri when you were there, Neo. Probably fewer than we get at RU, and almost certainly more intelligently-done. . . but it's everywhere. But they *aren't* publicized, and there's no reason they should be unless it's something spectacular (and for better or for worse, plagiarism is rarely spectacular!).

That being said, I'm more Javert-like in the pursuit of plagiarists than a lot of people, so I probably catch more. There's also the problem of the fact that 2/3 of the texts I teach are extremely well-known (thanks, Big Willie!) so there's just a lot more temptation.

And Susan: wow. Just. . . wow.

neophyte said...

Oh AND just got an e-mail from a friend (who teaches at a regional campus of a public U.) telling me a student had copied three consecutive sentences from my friend's own introduction to the work of literature at hand, verbatim, into a two-page response paper. And then tried to deny that ze had plagiarized, insisting that the words were hir own.

There should be a Darwin-award equivalent for such cases.

Renaissance Girl said...

You're right, of course, that students plagiarize because THEY'RE short-sighted, and not because they are convinced WE'RE stupid. I think that the rage I feel has to do with my putting so much time into commenting and grading, time I could spend otherwise, that when it becomes apparent that the paper's lifted (usually on the first page or two), I've lost time. It's a precious commodity, and I feel like *I'm* the theft-victim.

I'd dig public shaming, but FERPA laws usually preclude such displays. And I'd relish the chance to use the Smiths, but it wouldn't register w/ most of these kids, sadly.

But when I was in high school, and the editor of the literary magazine, an English teach forwarded a poetry submission my way, without the student's consent, because she was so dazzled by the student's work. It was, if you can believe it, the first verse of "Cemetary Gates," and my rejection consisted of the bridge, previously quoted.

Anonymous said...

i really don't understand people who don't learn their lessons, it drives me batty!

Flavia said...

RG: oh, I feel enraged by the time-theft, too, but not the time that I've wasted *before* I discovered the thing was plagiarized (grading and commenting as if it were an honest effort) so much as the time spent afterwards: I have to break my grading stride, go try to track down the source, check it, print it out, highlight it, etc.--and at RU we have to make all charges in writing, so even though that's basically just a form letter, that requires still more time. And sometimes I never AM able to prove that the thing is plagiarized, so I waste even MORE time trying to find the source.

So, what? An hour of additional work, at a minimum--when I'm usually on a tight grading schedule to begin with and have other students & papers who deserve my attention? And then maybe another 30-60 minutes to calm down from my rage?

Sisyphus said...

Yeah, I've had better luck lately by just explaining to the students how enraged it makes me. First day, on the syllabus, I make a big deal about how I see it as a slap in the face. Of course, it helps that our dept has someone who _lives_ to track down plagiarism cases and even got someone's degree revoked a year later when he finally found the smoking (textual) gun. So I get to tell them that there is absolutely no statute of limitations for catching plagiarism when I tell that story ... and I don't tell them the name of the plagiarist-hunting-prof.

scr said...

I like your usage of "radically unsmart." It somewhat reminds me of something I like to say, "aggressively boring," for something that's so insidious or in-for-face about how uninteresting it is.

Flavia said...

Hey! *I* say "aggressively dull" (and am pretty sure I say "aggressively boring," too)--in fact, in college there was someone Bert and I dubbed "Mr. Aggressively Dull." Great sibling minds apparently think alike.

And thanks: I was pretty pleased by "radically unsmart" myself. I'm not sure it's a locution I've used before, but it's one I'll def. use again.

Belle said...

You've all said it, so I won't, but know there're lots of us out here who share the frustration and angst.

I just fail 'em. They know it's plagiarized, and I do too. I don't even track it down; I make them prove their authorship. If they can't talk it, they didn't write it.