Plagiarism nightmares

The Hartford Courant reports on a nightmarish lawsuit over a student’s expulsion for plagiarism.  Though it happened at CCSU, I don’t know any of the participants in this case.  At any rate, it hardly seems worth it to get into the specifics of a case that will probably leave everyone’s reputation at least somewhat damaged.

But there are a few generic points worth making:

  1. Allowing students to turn in work to an unsecure location: Risky!  In addition to plagiarism concerns, there’s always the chance of mischief, purposive or otherwise.
  2. Relatedly: Part-time faculty need to have secure locations to receive student work.
  3. Commenters on the article seem to believe that the grammatically cleaner piece is likely to be plagiarized, because doubtless the cheater would’ve cleaned things up a bit to cover their trails.  This has not been my experience, and I’m not naive about plagiarism.  The reason is simple: If you had the time and inclination to write a good paper, and the knowledge of your subject matter to produce a coherent final draft, then you would know that “covering up your trail” in this way is as time-intensive as just writing the damn paper in the first place.  Plagiarizing well doesn’t pay–you’d be as well off doing the work.  (Assuming you’re doing this yourself, of course, and not buying a paper outright.)
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8 Responses to Plagiarism nightmares

  1. I’m in the same department as this professor. His mailbox is no more or less secure than mine. So, I guess we all need secure places! Also, past performance does not rule out the possibility of cheating.

  2. jbj says:

    In general, I don’t think mailboxes are a good place to accept student work. But most full-time faculty have an office, with a door that locks. Better to have students slide things under the door, than use the mailbox, I think.

    The past performance bit is a good one, too.

  3. Tom says:

    Reading the article, a couple of thoughts occurred to me:

    The original author is typically in the Word document properties and I can determine quickly if student A generated the document or student B, regardless of the date stamp.

    I’ve never seen an “A” student copying the work of a “C” student.

    I spent 45 minutes explaining how I knew one student copied from another student’s exam. They were transcription errors that I picked up instantly, but were difficult to explain. Things like an equation copied with a 6 instead of a ( .

  4. Mama Anarchia says:

    Sorry, but I gotta play devil’s advocate.

    Just because someone is an “A” student does not mean that they are a moral, non-cheating student. For all we know (and we don’t, which is my point here), the “A” student had cheated before in order to maintain her GPA status.
    Likewise, just because someone is a “C” student does not mean that they are willing to cheat in order to get a higher grade. A person can be a sub-par student without being amoral. I think that looking at their transcripts can only bias the viewing audience. Former grades should have no impact on deciding which student cheated.
    And this is coming, thanks very much, from an “A” student.

  5. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Provost tell us to hold a class meeting the day of the final, even if we have a take-home assignment? That certainly would solve the security issue — students have to give the paper in person and you know right away who didn’t do it.

  6. jbj says:

    I largely agree with Mama Anarchia that prior GPA isn’t a reliable indicator.

    And Knitting Clio is also correct about meeting students during exam time. The other option is to use Blackboard/Vista, Moodle, or as a dropbox to receive papers. (Can also use e-mail, but that’s increasingly unreliable thanks to the ^&*#%%Q spammers.)

  7. The article in today’s Courant is very disconcerting. Doesn’t the judicial officer keep records of the hearings? It seems to me that expulsion for one incidence of cheating is harsh. In contrast, I’ve heard that a student found guilty of date rape was only suspended for a year and is now back on campus. How fair is that?

  8. Mama Anarchia says:

    I agree, Knitting Clio. While I am vehemently anti-plagiarism, expulsion for one offense is extreme, especially if there’s even a possibility of the committee accusing the wrong person.
    But what bothers me significantly more is the professor’s own admission that he did not compare the final papers to other examples of the students’ writing! If I were a professor, that would be the very first thing I would do when handed identical papers by more than one student. (Unless a google search revealed they were both/all cheating.)
    To not compare the papers with other examples of their writing was an oversight of massive proportions, and I am astonished to know that neither the professor nor the committee thought of doing so.

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