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Plagiarism: You Get What You Pay For
August 22, 2004 2:08 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times' guide to plagiarism resources.
Apparently Consumer Reports is busy watching bread grow mold or something, so it's nice to see someone else addressing the consumer protection needs of today's college student.
posted by NortonDC (22 comments total)

 
Interesting article, thanks.

However, I thought this:

Considering that it takes three to four hours to read ''The Great Gatsby'' and perhaps a night to write a short paper, what's actually more amazing is that students would risk their integrity, their education, their unlimited access to sexual experimentation -- all for freeing up 10 measly hours of their already limitless college time.

pretty much missed the point. Does the author really think that most of these plagiarists are doing this because of a lack of time? I had always assumed it was a lack of brains or self-confidence.

And, probably besides the point but: who reads Gatsby in college? I had to read it for my grade nine English class.
posted by dobbs at 2:31 PM on August 22, 2004


Colleges can sign up for plagiarism-detector Web sites like Turnitin.com, which allows professors to submit papers for an originality check (incidentally, newspaper and magazine editors might be interested in checking out its publishing arm...)

Indeed. One could ask why a journalist like Mike Barnicle would risk his integrity and his job (which probably didn't place any limits on his off-hours sexual experimentation) for freeing up however much time it would have taken to write a column that didn't consist of old George Carlin jokes, but the lucrative TV gig he managed to land right afterwards makes the whole thing seem less risky.

Some interesting stuff in here, but the patronizing attitude toward college students grates a little - "limitless time"? And with this line - "Just think, your children might be spending their drinking money on this stuff" - is the Times finally giving up all pretense of appealing to a younger readership?
posted by transona5 at 3:17 PM on August 22, 2004


I had always assumed it was a lack of brains or self-confidence.

If they lack brains and self-confidence, why are they in college?

Great read, thank you.

but the patronizing attitude toward college students grates a little

Having now spent more time among the college set I thought her attitude was pretty accurate. There are many people who are working hard and producing quality material, but the majority of students do not have the skill-sets necessary for success, nor do they seem to want them. It's just my opinion, though.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:24 PM on August 22, 2004


It's just my opinion, though.

Actually, according to the article, 40% of current college students admit to internet plagiarism. I'd say that's pretty good evidence for your opinion.

who reads Gatsby in college? I had to read it for my grade nine English class.

Anyone in a class aiming to do the work some justice above the ninth-grade level, I'd guess. Since I've heard this sentiment echoed by many students, I wonder sometimes if grade-school kids ought to be kept away from decent literature on purpose, lest they think later in life that their teenage take on it was somehow exhaustive. Gatsby, I suppose, can successfully engage many ages; it's much more depressing to see the typical case of the college student who read Oedipus Rex in the 10th grade and (consequently, in part) can't or won't really take another look at Greek tragedy (or any other less instantly accessible art) with the adult eyes it demands.
posted by Zurishaddai at 3:40 PM on August 22, 2004


If they lack brains and self-confidence, why are they in college?

I'll assume you're joking.

Since I've heard this sentiment echoed by many students, I wonder sometimes if grade-school kids ought to be kept away from decent literature on purpose, lest they think later in life that their teenage take on it was somehow exhaustive.

I wasn't suggesting Gatsby isn't suitable for people to read beyond the 9th grade, but that, in my experience, books generally aren't repeated later in school. In my four years at uni, I never encountered (as a course requirement) any book I'd read at an earlier level. The exception was when one took a course specializing in that era/author/genre and, again, in my experience, these course were always taken by enthusiasts--people who wanted to read (and discuss) these works. Hardly those I would consider plagiarists.

Perhaps my problem understanding the whole plagiarism thing stems from my assumption that people who partake of it only want the diploma, not the learning. My bad.
posted by dobbs at 4:20 PM on August 22, 2004


No, actually, I wasn't. If they don't have the brains or confidence to fufill their obligations, why are they in a situation they can't handle? If they need brains they should study. If they need confidence, they should take a year off after high school and get a job, or travel, or volunteer. If someone doesn't have the brains and confidence to write a three to five page book report, they probably aren't ready for college.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:32 PM on August 22, 2004


elwood, I misread your comment as saying that because they were in college automatically meant they had self-confidence and were intelligent, which is why I thought you were joking. Your followup seems to be saying something different.

If someone doesn't have the brains and confidence to write a three to five page book report, they probably aren't ready for college.

I agree, but ready or not, they arrive in droves.
posted by dobbs at 4:44 PM on August 22, 2004


The funny thing is that GRADUATE students plagiarize and cheat on both papers and exams. Some of the excuses heard include cultural "misunderstanding". The only solution that seems to work is the simple expedient of chucking people out of their program but faculty have the fun time of dealing with people crying about how their family's future would be ruined by the expulsion. *sigh*

University of Virginia's policy of revoking degrees is another alternative but their seems to be little backbone in prosecuting cases of plagiarism and cheating since institutions are fearful of law suits. What can be done? I have no idea. My experience level? As a TA and instructor in junior college, state and university levels makes me kind of wonder about students in general.
posted by jadepearl at 4:45 PM on August 22, 2004


Cheating's gotten so much easier, but how lazy is everyone? jeez. You have to be able to write semi-coherently for many jobs anyway, so it's a good skill to have.
posted by amberglow at 5:01 PM on August 22, 2004


In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.."
posted by pokeydonut at 5:23 PM on August 22, 2004


I think the masses of college students, whom we're discussing, have confidence, in spades, but the kind of brains they lack can't be supplied by effort. Dobbs is right on the money—too many have a huge sense of entitlement plus a basic contempt for real education/learning. They want the piece of paper that will lead them to the $$$ for payments on a bigger SUV and house. They're well aware that they can get that without turning their brains on. (Yes, I was scarred by teaching at a Big Ten university a couple of years ago.)
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:27 PM on August 22, 2004


In my younger and more vulnerable years...

MetaFilter: I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.™

:)
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:53 PM on August 22, 2004


If Hansen had spoken to any instructors or professors about this, especially in journalism or English, she would have found that most departments have very clear-cut plagiarism policies that teaching staff are required (or encouraged very strongly) to explain the first day in class. At my former Big Ten teaching jobs, we had to present policy statements on the subject, and collect students' signatures vowing that they wouldn't plagiarize. Generally, as a freshman you get plagiarism explained to you in written and verbal form many times over (and often as exhaustively as seen here). That doesn't guarantee comprehension (if you're too lazy to write, you're probably too lazy to read about writing), but for most folks, I imagine it's more a willful misunderstanding.

My experience mirrors Zurishaddai's -- it was generally not the students who lacked opportunities who plagiarized most shamelessly. I taught college lit and writing (basic comp, intro to poetry and the humanities, that sort of thing), but for two years I also administrated and taught in an academic program aimed at disadvantaged students. Some were returning students who had no idea that cheating services existed, and some were from school districts so poor that internet access was limited or nonexistent. Of course, you can pick up those skills pretty fast, and some did, but in my experience, most relied on their own efforts and tutoring help. It was the already-entitled who cheated, and had learned to do so in high school; there, you'll get in a lot more trouble for bringing Tylenol or deadly trinkets to school than a plagiarized paper. Plagiarism is deeply ingrained in educational culture, and I suppose it has been since I carefully copied Britannica entries in grade school. But more tolerance for cheating coupled with technology that even the lazy can embrace (I at least had to cheat in longhand, dang it) has had fairly predictable results.
posted by melissa may at 8:55 PM on August 22, 2004


(I at least had to cheat in longhand, dang it)
I know! those lazy bastards nowadays--they can just copy and paste. : >
and welcome!
posted by amberglow at 9:02 PM on August 22, 2004


When I was teaching an intro to lit and writing class, one student actually plagiarized a short story for a fiction writing exercise. Brilliant.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:13 PM on August 22, 2004


Thanks, amber!

(and thanks, dear Languagehat!)
posted by melissa may at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2004


one student actually plagiarized a short story for a fiction writing exercise.

Sheesh. I mean, how hard is it to make stuff up?
posted by onlyconnect at 5:44 AM on August 23, 2004


one student actually plagiarized a short story for a fiction writing exercise

The worst case of academic plagiarism I was ever personally involved with was when I was editing a lit journal that traditionally showcased undergrad and grad student work. My co-editor worked with fiction and I worked with poetry, but we each read everything submitted and made final decisions together.

An undergrad, strongly encouraged by his writing instructor, submitted a story about a gay man cynically attending his ex-lover's wedding to a woman, which we printed. There were a few weirdnesses of tone and usage that I noticed, but we attributed it to lack of experience. We printed it.

Then, a few months after, the co-editor is reading along in some anthology, and lo and behold, there's the story...and it's by David Leavitt. Funnily enough, Leavitt's career has been marked by more than one serious accusation of plagiarism, the most notorious when he was charged with adapting (without credit) elements of British writer Stephen Spender's autobiography into his first novel (Leavitt's defense here, Spender's see-you-in-hell-young-whippersnapper rebuttal here). The only way it could have been worse is if the student had metaplagiarized Spender.

By then, the student had graduated, and no one went to his house to snatch his diploma out of his hands, but it was an embarrassing interlude for all. What amazes me most about plagiarism is the brass, clanging nethers it takes, especially in this instance. OK, you get away with passing off someone else's work in class. Then, your admiring teacher encourages you to submit it for publication, and so you do. I wasn't the person who handled the confrontation, but I gather he was apologetic and extremely discomfited, which is nice to know. I've known plenty of other teachers who get the sullen "wasn't me" defense, even when they confront the student with the material itself with relevant passages highlighted. With some of these folks, you'd almost have to pull the author from behind a potted plant a la Annie Hall to argue the point, and even then you might not get anywhere.
posted by melissa may at 10:45 AM on August 23, 2004


When I was in high school (which was before papers were available via the Internet) at least one teacher made it very clear at the beginning of the year that if anyone was caught plagiarizing he would personally take it upon himself to inform every college the student had applied to just what had happened. That was a pretty strong disincentive.
posted by Songdog at 11:33 AM on August 23, 2004


And a warm welcome from me! Great comments, Melissa; I'm glad you showed up in time for this thread. (And I'm glad I bailed out of academia before having to deal with this stuff.)
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on August 23, 2004


"their unlimited access to sexual experimentation"

Who here went to the wrong college?
posted by hoborg at 1:48 PM on August 23, 2004


Yeah, I know what you mean, hoborg.

Then I transferred.
posted by NortonDC at 4:04 PM on August 23, 2004


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