Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Happy Fricken Holidays

Since when does saying happy holidays mean you hate Christians?
I hate those Christians.

So it has been awhile. I hope to get some good photos of Sophie's 2nd Christmas but we sort of got caught up in the moment and failed to take any... oops. We might find some somewhere.

Today I got a call from a student who plagiarized his final paper last semester. He will lose his track scholarship, he will probably not be able to return to college. First generation from inner city New Jersey.

Am I a rules festishist by sticking to my rule? Am I not paying attention to the context, the consequences?
But if I do, and if I am lenient, then what?

Sometimes, I hate my job.


At 11:13 PM, Blogger jeff said...


You were put in a pretty crappy situation, if you ask me. Anybody who has gotten to college knows that it's wrong to plagerize--no matter what their background is.

Also, it's not your rule. It's a general rule, and it's a good one.

What exactly is the important context and consequences that would have made it ok for him to plagerize a paper?

I'd mostly be pissed off that he put you in this position, frankly.

At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a student plagarizes a paper, the instructor has to assume that the student is not capable of doing the work that was necessary in order to pass the class. Now, it may be that the student *is* capable of doing the work, but simply did not do so for other reasons (illness, overwork, laziness, etc...) But the instructor can't know that. All he/she has to go on is what he/she has in hand. So by choosing not to show his/her capacity to do the work, the student has given up the right to pass the class, in the same way as if he never bothered to do any of the work.
I think one can fairly say that the student here has made choices, knowingly, which have led directly to the consequences. The blame is entirely his for the consequences, no matter how upsetting they may be, and how unfair it may seem as a whole.


At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree that there are certainly solid ethical frameworks for your decision. and i would probably act in the same way (although, if i caught the student at it during the term, i might do something like give them the option of immediately withdrawing the plagarized paper and taking a grade as if they had not turned in the assignment). but, at the same time i disagree with the strength of jeff's assertions:

"Anybody who has gotten to college knows that it's wrong to plagerize--no matter what their background is. Also, it's not your rule. It's a general rule, and it's a good one." "knows that it's wrong to plagarize" _might_ be generally (though probably not absolutely) true: i honestly doubt 100% of college students know what the word means. however, the degree of wrongness understood also probably varies... and not just because some folks may never have encountered the idea before. (for example, is plaigarizing more or less wrong than turning in a paper late? collaborating on homework when it's explicitly supposed to be done alone? how 'bout implicitly? coming to class late?). some people genuinely come from places where plaigarism and cheating are acceptably swept under the carpet with the tacit approval of the folks involved (the president of the u.s.a and national guard service come to mind as a parallel :). finally the generality of the rule is not so straightforward (in a broad cultural, if not institutional sense).

it might not be an appropriate place to discuss this, given the lousy experience steve is having, but mayhap some other time (like when i am back in the country on the 26th) we could pose the question "what if plaigarism is _not_ wrong?" my motivation for such an inquery comes from wanting to critique meritocratic ideology and institutions; intellectual property as private property; resistance to a (posited on my part) cultural program of atomizing expression/creativity with institutions impeding collaborative effort. i also have to say that this is exploratory, and not intended to advocate for plaigarism.


At 3:55 AM, Blogger kfawell said...

I suppose there are three issues: Steve, the student, and plagiarism. Steve, your situation sucks. Did you do the right thing? Well, as Alexis points out, it could be complicated and not easy to know. As Jeff points out, it was cheating, plain and simple. Let’s say 95% of the time, you did. The other 5% of the time there are special circumstances (and I don’t mean the kind that means you should have put him/her to death). In short, who knows? You very likely did. I assume there are rules for the school that make it clear you did as you were supposed to as a prof. If we took this really far, we could say that whatever happens for the rest of the student’s life followed from this. Then would it be fair? Oh, he is hit by a falling safe a month from now. He would not have been if were at school… Hence, the situation could be as complicated as you want to make it. It could be simple too. You have to live with it. As I said, it sucks.

The student’s life has apparently changed for the worse, at least in the short term. I suppose there is a chance he did not know that he was cheating. (As a rhetorical question, was the entire paper copied or just part?) In all fairness, the last person to blame is you though. He might though. He might tell you how bad things have become. It would be understandable; I think that would be a typical human response. Whatever the case, fair or not, he has to live with it too. I am sure it sucks for him too. He did it. You were incidental.

So far, this is no lose-lose situation.

Finally, there is the plagiarism issue. And that is all I am going to write about that.

I suppose in the future you can somehow communicate to students that plagiarism is not allowed and carries severe penalties. Naturally, you should not have to do this, one would think, but whatever the ideal, this shows that in reality, a student might cheat. To simplify the next time, with a warning, if not already given, at least you can know that you did all that you could to make the issue of a student ignorant of plagiarism become a non issue. If your policy makes it clear, “I don’t find the rules on plagiarism quaint and obsolete. In fact, you will lose all capital if you commit fraud”, then the student really has only themselves to blame.

It would still suck, but at least it might suck less. In the meantime, I say you did what you should have done. I say stick with enforcement of the rule. Rules like these simply have the ill side effect that when enforced someone is going to suffer.

Oh, one last thing. Bush sucks!


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

A couple clarifications and an update.

1. I go into an extensive and exhaustive account of plagiarism is my writing classes, I already remind people before each paper is due. I think it is possible that some miss those days, or somehow still don't get it, but, that itself means something. The consequences of plagiarism are clearly marked in my syllabus, as are those of missing class, turning in late papers etc (although there are no late papers accepted for the final). I still think there is a element of not realizing it is the cardinal sin of academia. I blame mostly high school teachers who encourage their students to do 'research' on the web, which amounts to just downloading shit.
2. As to plagiarism being wrong. I am not a big fan of intellectual property per se. I don't see the main wrongness of plagiarism coming from 'stealing.' Rather it is about cheating, and misrepresenting oneself. Cheating. If I give someone an assignment the presumption is that I have a reason for doing it, and plagiarism and other forms of cheating defeat that purpose. I am not generally measuring their knowledge, but rather trying to give them experience thinking through arguments, and expressing themselves in writing. That sort of lesson is often defeated by plagiairism. Also, even were there no property rights at all, it would still be wrong to misrepresent yourself. If I were to claim to be an expert epidemiologist and apply for a job at a major health policy institute, it would be wrong for numerous reasons. Imagine other doctors, lawyers, pilots and others doing so... yikes.
3. Part of my concern is that the practice is so widespread that I often feel as though I would be kickig out dozens of students each semester. It doesn't seem to make a difference how many times I repeat the message, they still do it. It is troubling for it ubiquitity.

Follow Up: I try to be consistent but reasonable forgiving about this problem. If it occurs early in the semester, I fail the paper, meet with the student, and her advisor, and offer some kind of lesson in order to stay in the class. Most take me up on it. One student did an optional paper and plagiarized, but since he was the only in the class who attempted that option, I hadn't given much discussion about plagiarism. So I gave him an opportunity to stay in the class but he had to provide abstracts of each of the works he allegedly cited from (in otherwords, he had to read and review the works cited in his plagiarized paper).
This last one, I've offered that he write me a paper on the ethics of plagiarism. If it meets some reasonable standards, I will simply give him a 0 for the plagiarize paper, and he can get a D in the class. I think that might preserve his scholarships and he could stay in school. But I am not sure. He claims he will have it to me Monday. I anticipate sending him back to redo it.

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... steve i'm pretty sure i have told you on other occasions that i've looked upon you as a kind of big brother or mentor in a lot of ways since we met, and yet again you come through... you've given this a lot of creative thought and action: when i start teaching, you can be sure ima ring yer phone off the hook...

your points on the problems with plaigarism are excellent and to the point... there's still a little bit of discussion to be had for me, but i am inclined to want to address my listed concerns more directly...



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