December 13, 2004

Lame Excuses

Back in the day, when I was but a lowly TA riding herd on my clueless Freshmen, I encountered some clumsy attempts at plagiarism. When the students were caught, because they believed for some strange reason that TAs would never, EVER compare notes, they came up with predictable, lame excuses, like:

"...I'm not saying the ends justify the means, but maybe it's a shortcut, using someone else's words."


"Maybe it sounded good."

Or, if they were particularly brazen, they would proclaim their innocence or say that they were "confused" or the "forgot" to cite their sources.

Mm-hmm. It didn't fly with me then, and it's particularly galling now when the plagiarists are professors, not students. The quotes above are from a Chronicle article (kindly sent to me by David) dealing with the issue of un- or under-reported academic plagiarism. Read the whole thing.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect is the reluctance of academia to reveal (and revile) the plagiarists. "You could ruin careers!" runs the lament. But didn't these folks sow the seeds of their own demise? We're not talking about a paragraph or two, here.

It's called accountablilty. And it seems as though in an age where academics (particularly in the humanities) are being increasingly marginalized and dismissed, they'd want to take action to regain their credibility.

But maybe they're just "confused" about what credibility is.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at December 13, 2004 01:37 PM

``Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It closely grasps an author's sentence, uses his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.''

Lautreamont _Poesies_ p.67

This being a response to Vauvenargues, ``Old discoveries belong less to their original inventors that those who put them to use.''

Posted by: Ron Hardin at December 13, 2004 02:20 PM

I always thought that you cite sources to indicate where you get the information you used to put your paper together; the paper itself being some unique spin or conclusion or comparison or something that you have to offer. An example of forgetting to cite a source would be using a statistic and failing to indicate where it came from. Wholesale copying of somebody else's work and putting your own name on it is another issue entirely.

Posted by: Laura at December 13, 2004 09:37 PM

I've given up trying to deal with it. I'm a TA, I took something I knew was plagiarized to my boss, and she told me that the kid would have to revise. She told me that since there was no incontravertable (sp?) proof that he'd consciously plagiarized his paper (even though I knew he had), we wouldn't be doing anything about it. And this was a freaking FRESHMAN COMP CLASS!!! If the TAs can't get support, we're not going to come down on it. And if we don't come down on it, it's going to get to be a real problem later on (think Stephen Ambrose).

As I said. I caught it. I got no support on it. I give up.

Posted by: holly at December 14, 2004 11:44 AM

Well, I'm a prof, and I regularly use Google to check out things (either checking the students' citations, or, typing in a suspicious-sounding phrase to see what comes up). I've given a number of zeroes in my time. It's pretty hard for someone to protest it when you hand back their paper PLUS a printout of the website they copied wholesale from.

But as for people plagiarising papers from past semesters - I suspect it happens; I've had eerie feelings of deja vu about some things. Unfortunately, there's no way to catch that, short of not handing back the papers (which I can't do). So in that case, I just kind of say "it's their souls" and try not to be bugged by it.

Holly, I will say it's unfortunate your prof didn't back you up. I remember when I was a TA and caught a "ring" of people plagiarising last year's paper - well, the prof's reaction when they came in en masse to "complain" about me was pretty wonderful. (I was very happy to work for him and continued to do so throughout my career).

If it is a chronic problem with this student (I know, it's a little late in the semester now) you could consider taking it to Academic Affairs (or whatever your school calls it) yourself, but be prepared for a trip through Hell. (It's very hard to actually punish someone who cheats and fights the charge, even if you have good proof.)

Posted by: ricki at December 14, 2004 11:53 AM

15 years ago, I taught at large state university. Caught a student blatantly plaigerizing another student. Word for word. And even though his name and SS# were on the paper, he argued that someone else must have done it.

The committee that was set up to deal with formal complaints bought it, and exonerated him. It was a word-for-word copy of another student's work, and neither was penalized. I got the impression that perhaps the school was more interested in avoiding lawsuits from the student's parents than enforcing the honor code.

Posted by: carol at December 14, 2004 02:46 PM

Sigh. The Great Infantilization continues.

<gag>We're sorry, Johnny & Swoozie. We didn't mean to make your widdle tummies all tied up in knots! We know you're good kids who would never-ever-EVER try to cheat, isn't that right? You are SO darling.</gag>

There should be an official award (along the lines of Darwin or Bulwer-Lytton) celebrating administrative cowardice in academe. I'd have a few nominations myself, from years back.

Posted by: MisterBS at December 15, 2004 08:40 AM