But not taking it personally doesn't mean that it's not still emotionally exhausting, and this semester has been a doozy: in one single class I've had two clear-cut cases of plagiarism, with two or three additional papers that I believe were influenced by outside sources--but in a relatively minor way and to a degree that I wouldn't be able to prove anyway. Moreover, they were all on the same paper assignment.
For privacy reasons, I won't go into details, but we're not talking about a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears freshmen, or lazy-ass non-majors. This is a smallish class with good energy, and I genuinely like all the students in it.
And that's what's hard about catching and prosecuting academic dishonesty. When you take it personally, it's easier to nail the kid; you've got the righteous (or maybe self-righteous) sense of indignation to carry you through: "Ha-hah! Play me for a fool, will you? Here's your violation report, asshole." But when you like the kids and have taken some pride in their intellectual growth--and especially when you have some knowledge about the shit going on their personal lives--the anger is different. You're pissed off at them for being stupid and for fucking up, and you're pissed off that they've trapped both of you in a legal process where it's hard to say what you want to say and where what you want to say probably wouldn't be heard anyway.
I gave my class a lecture in the quiet, Angry-and-Disappointed-Mommy voice, and it freaked them all out and maybe it helped and maybe it didn't; part of the problem is that "plagiarist," like "racist," is a term that doesn't allow for gradation or nuance, and no one believes he can be that thing. But although the reality is that not all forms or instances of academic dishonesty are equal, any suggestion that some might be lesser or more deserving of leniency could only come back to bite me in the ass.
So this 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 shit breaks my heart.
"This doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you a person who fucked up, and there are consequences when you fuck up. But you can make things right over the long term, if you want to."