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Is plagiarism at universities out of control?
March 21, 2005 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Is plagiarism at universities out of control? Academic Plagiarism is a growing problem in the university world and is not just making headlines in the United States anymore. While some professors are morally opposed, the growing popularity of professors forcing students to submit works ahead of time to companies like Turnitin may be an indicator of of this growing problem. With more and more employers complaining about the writing skills of new hires, are we just cheating ourselves in the end?
posted by tozturk (56 comments total)

 
Wow, I had no idea companies like Turnitin existed. That's completely messed up.
posted by josh at 6:45 PM on March 21, 2005


I don't understand why this is a problem. I know it's hard to come up with an original argument or idea, but it's so easy to cite everyone else's work in a paper. Quotations, footnotes, and bibliographies are easy to do on the computer. I've written plenty of A papers consisting entirely of well-placed ideas from the cited work of others.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 6:52 PM on March 21, 2005


I've caught several students of mine plagiarizing over the years. (I teach ethics, for goodness sake!) I have a fairly strict policy in my syllabus from the first day saying that any plagiarism, even on the smallest assignment, will result in failure of the course. I even give unique questions and paper assignments that can't be found anywhere -- I still get irrelevant stuff copied from the web. It's almost always from a student I haven't seen that much during the semester, someone in the course for credit and credit alone who refuses to give it his or her time and interest.

It doesn't help at all that university adminstration frequently doesn't want to lose the tuition dollars and, on appeal, recommends that I simply "have them re-do the assignment for no credit". Or worse, they recommend that I simply have them re-do the assignment for credit. In my opinion this is crazy.

But as universities become more and more centered around a "business" model, I predict that we will see more of the same. My students who are clearly in my class for the knowledge are not the problem and never have been.
posted by ontic at 6:54 PM on March 21, 2005


My school makes all professors announce its zero-tolerance plagiarism policy on the first day of class, and also include it on the course syllabi, and there's been a lot of controversy at my school over the use of Turnitin, with the vast majority of students not surprisingly seeing it as demeaning and an infringement on intellectual property rights.
posted by ITheCosmos at 7:14 PM on March 21, 2005


Maybe it's just my false-accusation experience (which I've posted about before) but I have to wonder if it's really "a growing problem." We could at least look at this with as much skepticism as we do Internet-sex-solicitation-is-killing-our-kids stories. And as for Turnitin, is it really a good idea for universities to require students to put their information in the hands of any outside company? From their privacy policy: "If we transfer personally identifiable information to a third party that is acting as our agent, we will require that the third party agree to confidentiality requirements...We reserve the right to make changes to this Privacy Pledge at any time." Um, okay.
posted by transona5 at 7:19 PM on March 21, 2005


I would love to know of anyone with first-hand experience of a "no tolerance" policy leading to an actual class failure or expulsion. I've seen many instances of confirmed cheating in classes with self-professed "no tolerance" junkie profs, but none of them have ever successfully been able to kick someone out of a class.

Not even last semester, when a cheater tried to drop the class when the prof announced that he had caught "someone" cheating. That blatant abuse of the system merely led to her being able to redo the homework for credit, and this is the top school in the country within the discipline..
posted by kcm at 7:19 PM on March 21, 2005


Wow, I surprised that other schools can't successfully remove cheaters from their midst. I go to a school with Honor Boards where if they catch ya cheating and don't look really, really contrite and it was a first offense with circumstances, you will be removed from the college. Even if you don't get removed, you will still probably fail the course and other, very unpleasant effects also happen. As much as my school is weird, it is good to a have a strong policy . . . what type of professional in any discipline cheats?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:39 PM on March 21, 2005


I'm still in high school, and I paraphrased SparkNotes for class notes on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass last year in my English II Honors class. I forgot to cite the notes; I didn't think I had to, as they were my notes. About ten other students and I received zeros, a note on our high-school record (which, thankfully, will not haunt me through college if I don't do it again), and a meeting with the director of English, our teacher, and our parents.

My defense is that we didn't know what "plagiarism" exactly meant. The teachers were very vague on the subject and the sheet they gave us telling what it meant was confusing. I wrote an essay on it and sent it to the director of guidance. She sided with me, saying the whole ordeal was ludicrous and I should get the mark off my record and get full credit. Nothing happened afterward, to my dismay.

I ended up spiting myself, not doing any work in that class, because I thought I was hopeless ([sarcasm]Of course, I couldn't read the book, it would be too hard[/sarcasm]). I ended up getting a 66 in that class. Now I'm in English II College Prep (one step down from Honors) AND English III College Prep this year. I've grown up since then and sometimes cite too much to be on the safe side (daninnj 32).
posted by daninnj at 7:41 PM on March 21, 2005


I would love to know of anyone with first-hand experience of a "no tolerance" policy leading to an actual class failure or expulsion.

When I was at Virginia (88-92), there would be a few expulsions reported in the student papers every year.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:48 PM on March 21, 2005


kcm, I have failed a couple of people for instances of plagiarism in my courses (indubitable, confessed cases). They don't always leave the course -- sometimes they stick around and take in the information having learned their lesson. You can't stop them from coming to a course they are enrolled in unless they are severe behavior problems. But aside from "kicking them out", I have failed people. Of course, on appeal sometimes the administration has its way.

Also, my school allows people to retake a course they receive an F in, then delete the F from their transcripts. This option is not possible for any other grade.
posted by ontic at 7:52 PM on March 21, 2005


I remember reading an article in a newspaper magazine focusing on graduate studies that plagiarism was rampant even among professors and graduate students. Apparently it's not all that unlikely for a graduate student to find their mentor has "sampled" their work, and to be forced to accept the thievery for fear they won't be able to continue their research or get a job after they've obtained their degree.

Alas, I cannot remember the title of the magazine.
posted by schroedinger at 7:54 PM on March 21, 2005


ontic--

Amusing policy...makes it better to fail a class than receive a D. Reminds me of the class where assignments, and even the midterm didn't count unless you took it. It was a difficult subject, so most people reasoned they'd understand it best only during the final. Professor was furious when nobody, not even the smart kids, did any homework nor even showed up for the midterm.

What was he expecting? This was a class in System Optimization!
posted by effugas at 8:07 PM on March 21, 2005


I doubt this is a "growing problem" myself. Certainly more students are being caught, but that's just because there is better anti-plagiarism technology available. Plagiarism might be decreasing because it is so much riskier now.

I wonder if any of these companies have worked with Amazon, they have quite an extensive database of even quite obscure books.

And schroedinger, is this the article you were thinking of? It's a good one about professor plagiarists.
posted by bobo123 at 8:10 PM on March 21, 2005


That's it! Thanks, bobo!
posted by schroedinger at 8:14 PM on March 21, 2005


I, too, have experienced increasing numbers of bogus papers being submitted in the courses I teach.

My solution?

Students have to give oral presentations. This way, they have to know their stuff (which is what matters, in the end). Sure, they can still steal stuff off the web, but it's a different matter to be able to stand in front of the class and discuss ideas in a coherent manner.
posted by sunexplodes at 8:16 PM on March 21, 2005


Virginia and the Naval Academy, I hink both have strict one-time, out, policies. And these schools have stricter honor codes have if you know about cheating and you don't report, then you are also guilty of cheating, And if you know htat someone knows (and so on).

and on preview: an economist did a study on plagiarism in academia here's the link

In my view as long as there is incentive for cheating, either for students or full faculty/ scientists people will do it. Honor codes create moral structures against these kinds of actions, but well, competition and stress always breaks these down.
posted by stratastar at 8:19 PM on March 21, 2005


i was a TA for a class with about 800 students a few years ago. The professor required everybody to feed their final papers through turnitin.com. It was amazing how many people were caught copying massive chunks of text from websites. It seems they thought it was just a way to turn in papers electronically, and didn't realize that it had anything to do with checking for plagarism, despite a quote from our professor on the front page explaining that. Basically it was a great way to filter out the folks who couldn't be bothered to pay any attention to what was going on in class.
posted by garethspor at 8:24 PM on March 21, 2005


Here's a previous thread on the subject, and I know there have been others -- it's a fascinating topic.

kcm, in that thread I wrote about the one case of which I personally aware of outright failure as a result of plagiarism, and that was a retroactive F given to someone who ripped off a short story nearly whole cloth and submitted it for a grade in a couse, then went on to publish it in the student fiction/poetry journal of my former university's English department. The fraud was discovered postpublication. Instances like these aside, I generally agree with your opinion that the increasingly bottom-line business mentality of universities makes it far harder to fail, much less expel, a cheating student without interference from administration should the student appeal.

But really, what do most universities expect? Impersonal, often poorly taught assembly-line style courses, particularly in the first and second undergraduate years, don't exactly encourage student passion. Beyond issues of plagiarism, there's just some terrible work in general getting rubber-stamped as adequate or even exemplary; what better inducement to cheat could there be than such a profit-driven model of bodies in, bodies out?

Student cheating in such courses is far less surprising to me than when it occurs in a well-taught upper level course, or grad school -- once you're pursuing your major or postgraduate studies, you should be engaged enough to want to do your own work, but plenty of people aren't (as schroedinger pointed out). It's a huge problem for my friends still teaching in academe, and it makes me glad I'm not one of them.
posted by melissa may at 8:28 PM on March 21, 2005


My wife is student teaching right now. She caught a plagiarizer and busted him-- he directly copied a paper off the internet. He ended up getting a 0 on that assignment, and a warning that any other cases of plagiarism going forward would result in expulsion from high school.
posted by Doohickie at 8:32 PM on March 21, 2005


This discussion of plagiarism brings to mind the saga of Moorestown (NJ) High School student - Blair Hornstine.

She is memorable for having filed suit against her high school for not naming her sole valedictorian, but naming her a co-valedictorian two years ago (previously discussed here, here and here).

With the filing of her lawsuit, "[h]er acceptance [to Harvard] came under scrutiny after her local newspaper, the Courier-Post, reported that Hornstine had 'misused sources' in five stories she wrote for the paper...[having] lifted extensive material directly from speeches and papers published on the Internet." [Harvard Crimson | July 11, 2003].

Harvard regarded the repeated instances of "out-of-school" plagiarism as ethical breaches and reason enough to withdraw its earlier offer of acceptance.

"Harvard admission is contingent on five conditions enumerated for students upon their acceptance—including one which stipulates admission will be revoked 'if you engage in behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity, or moral character.'"
posted by ericb at 8:35 PM on March 21, 2005


It must be nightmare to teach Hamlet or the Catcher in the Rye or the Cuban Missile Crisis or some similarly googleable topic. Luckily I dont teach stuff like that - but, I do use a few strategies:

- as above, require oral presentations and always ask some questions.
- I usually ask for research papers to be in the form of mock research proposals. Apart from having pedagogical advantages, these are really hard to just google up, and require a different writing style that is harder to copy. They almost inherently require originality.
- I give the students exact outlines they must follow including word limits by section -- on the rationale that it is a real-world exercise to produce tight writing to someone elses's template. Also makes it hard to just cut and paste

My university requires us to place the following text in all our course syllabi. It is also in the calender and also in the acceptance papers the students must sign for admission. In reality however, the admin is very reluctant to support penalties in even clear cut cases of cheating. As noted, in a business model, the students are the customers, and the customer is always right. Intellectual honesty may be the most important thing we teach.

PLAGIARISM AND CHEATING
“Students are expected to observe the same standards of scholarly integrity as their academic and professional counterparts. Students who are found to have engaged in unethical academic behaviour, including the practices described below, are subject to penalty by the University.
In this regulation, "work" is defined as including the following: written material, laboratory and computer work, musical or art works, oral reports, audiovisual or taped presentations, lesson plans, and material in any medium submitted to an instructor for grading purposes.
A student commits plagiarism when he or she:
· submits the work of another person as original work
· gives inadequate attribution to an author or creator whose work is incorporated into the student's work, including failing to indicate clearly (through accepted practices within the discipline such as footnotes, internal references, and the crediting of all verbatim passages through indentations of longer passages or the use of quotation marks) the inclusion of another individual's work
· paraphrases material from a source without sufficient acknowledgement as described above
Students who are in doubt as to what constitutes plagiarism in a particular instance should consult their course instructor.”

posted by Rumple at 8:39 PM on March 21, 2005


But really, what do most universities expect? Impersonal, often poorly taught assembly-line style courses, particularly in the first and second undergraduate years, don't exactly encourage student passion.

Sure. But plagiarism isn't about how you feel--being bored doesn't excuse cheating. Students are supposed to have some sense of personal responsibility and ethics. Just like adults.

At my undergraduate university I knew someone who plagiarized large chunks of his senior thesis--when it was discovered post-graduation, he was stripped of his degree, which was completely appropriate. Schools really just need to expel these kids; plagiarism is usually a situation with about 0% moral ambiguity, and if you make it out as though some kinds of limited plagiarism are excusable than you're making an unambiguous issue into an ambiguous one.
posted by josh at 8:47 PM on March 21, 2005


Only one of my profs has ever mentioned turnitin or a similar agency, but he made it completely clear that we could opt out of having our papers submitted and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. If I write a paper, I own the intellectual copyright, and since plagiarism companies keep a copy of whatever is submitted through them, if I didn't want them owning a copy of my work I didn't have to agree to have it submitted.
Of course, I'm sure a prof could get by that by making permission to submit work to turnitin a requisite of the course.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:57 PM on March 21, 2005


I remember my Dad marking papers when I was a kid in the 70s. I remember him pulling a book off a shelf, flipping to the center and laying it beside the student's paper for me to see word for word copy.

I'm sure it made things easier for him in that he taught a specialized subject - only a limited number of authoritative texts in the field and (surprise surprise) he knew their content fairly well.

He handed out zeros once in a while... and in those days, I think they stuck. Not the way it works any more, I guess.
posted by login at 9:19 PM on March 21, 2005


I've always felt like my profs have been clever enough to keep students from cheating/ catch cheaters. Topics tend to be creative and specific and change every semester. If there is student discretion on what the paper will be about, the student has to describe the topic to the prof and get it approved.
On the other hand, I haven't taken an 800-member intro course in quite a while and have never been the type to think about ways to cheat. So I'm sure there are folks at this huge university who are getting away with it. There are also occasionally folks getting caught, and not by websites, just smart profs.
posted by PhatLobley at 9:32 PM on March 21, 2005


Copying from one source is plagarism. Copying from multiple sources is research. It's all in the re-mix.
posted by stbalbach at 10:00 PM on March 21, 2005


My college had a strange model of plagiarism where you couldn't even copy from a previous assignment you yourself had written. Granted, I wrote papers about Academic Freedom for about six years (had researched it wildly in high school debate, and it just stuck), but it was still an odd thing to see.
posted by effugas at 10:17 PM on March 21, 2005


My personal experience is that cheating is more common than people are willing to admit especially by school administrations. The trend in certain colleges in using adjunct faculty to cut costs creates a power issue between the teacher and student. Adjunct faculty do not get rehired if students complain in their evaluations so adjuncts are very hesitant to boot a student out because quite frankly, admin, does not support them and their department may not either.

My personal experience is that there are always students trying to seek advantage because they cannot be bothered to learn whether from a false sense of esteem or just plain laziness but quite frankly, they succeed more often than fail with their assorted strategies.
posted by jadepearl at 10:51 PM on March 21, 2005



A *ahem* friend of mine used to try really hard in the written assignments side of things at university, and then CHEAT LIKE A BASTARD in exams.

He said it was a much better way to go.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:03 PM on March 21, 2005


Re: Oral Presentations

Yeah, great idea. Punish the poor public speakers instead of the cheaters.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:21 PM on March 21, 2005


There was an incident at my school a couple of years ago where a prof flunked a grad student for plagiarizing.

Then, the student complained that it was unjust and it was just "sloppy paraphrasing" and surprise, surprise, he was the son of someone high up in university administration, so uh, they fixed it for him.

(And, uh, yeah, I have it on pretty good authority that it was totally plagiarized.)

On preview: most profs are pretty forgiving, in my experience, of poor public speaking if the work is there. There is pretty much always a written component anyway.
posted by SoftRain at 11:29 PM on March 21, 2005


Re: Oral Presentations

Yeah, great idea. Punish the poor public speakers instead of the cheaters.



Punish the poor public speakers?! Oral presentations caused their own set of problems at my university. They should have been renamed as: "easy marks to full fee paying Asians" presentations.

Y'see, my university - and particularly my course - had a huge amount of full fee paying students from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, etc etc. Most had dubious English speaking skills at best. Which is fair enough.

A local student would give a presentation and get, say, 8 out of 10. Then a full fee paying overseas student would give a GOD AWFUL talk that you couldn't understand – just a me-no-speeky-the-Engrish monotone monologue whilst staring at a piece of paper – and get 7 out of 10. Wah fah???! This is not fair enough.

But it's a similar theme to most of the above examples: Weak as piss academic staff too scared to give them the marks they deserve. There were mumblings that this was implied "orders from above", since the overseas students ponied up so much cash. Sadly, I could believe that.

(Getting a bit off topic sorry!)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:41 PM on March 21, 2005


Heh, I just brought it up because I had to do an oral presentation for a class today.

Guy after me was the overseas student you are talking about.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:20 AM on March 22, 2005



Did he/she get almost the same grade as you?! :)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:28 AM on March 22, 2005


In 1992 or so, I taught an upperclass computer science course at Stanford in which one of my students had been flunked the previous semester by a relatively hardass professor who verified his plagarism by comparing a byte-for-byte dump of his submitted code against the code of another student. Even though the cheater had modified variable names in the code, the structure was identical, and the thing that really nailed him was the matching pattern of (invisible) whitespace at the ends of the lines.

He did well the second time around, scoring in the top quarter of my batch of students.

The thing that I found frustrating, though, was when I submitted my grades. There were students who were clear standouts, the bulk were somewhere in the middle, then there were those who just got by. So I gave a spread of grades from a few A+'s, a bunch of B+'s, on down to maybe a single C+. The students (except for the A+ students) howled. The chair of the department came and had a chat with me. "Stanford students are all well above average," he explained. So I moved everyone up a grade and everyone was happy again.

That kind of grade inflation just didn't happen at my undergrad school, the University of Washington. I think it actually makes it easier for students at grade-inflated schools to get into grad schools. How is the admission committee at the grad school supposed to know that you have to absolutely not give a shit to get anything less than a B at Stanford?
posted by surlycat at 12:47 AM on March 22, 2005


I dunno if he got the same grade. I didn't exactly bust my ass on this one so it won't piss me off either way.

But at least I had a powerpoint presentation I made in five minutes instead of just mumbling into a sheet of paper like he did :P
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:55 AM on March 22, 2005


I was in the UC system in the mid-90s and Stanford was considered a laughing stock regarding their grading policy at that time. I've heard firsthand that graduates from that period have had a hard time getting into science grad programs as their transcripts are widely regarded as a joke. They can all say "I graduated from Stanford with Straight As" though so I guess that's something.


Apparently it's not all that unlikely for a graduate student to find their mentor has "sampled" their work


If by "not all that unlikely" you mean "happens all the damn time" then yes I'd have to agree. Particularly in areas where the pace is so fast and people are publishing 6, 7 papers a year and no-one can keep up with it all, like genetics or biotech. I've even seen it happen with undergrads.
posted by fshgrl at 2:02 AM on March 22, 2005


I've got a bunch of old papers sitting around from college. Pretty good grades on most of 'em, too. I certainly don't condone plagiarism, but does anyone know where I could sell them?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:32 AM on March 22, 2005


This is only a tangent, but try taking a full course load in a language you don't speak all that well--presentations in all--before you make fun of the 'me-no-speeky-the-Engrish' monologue. I've been there. I don't know whether the students in question were trying or not, but it's a situation where you can try as hard as you can and still be awful.

Which is not to suggest that grading should be based on effort, but it should recognize that people who haven't been learning a language for long enough to get really good shouldn't be penalized for that in a class on a totally different subject.
posted by Jeanne at 4:49 AM on March 22, 2005


Copying from one source is plagiarism. Copying from multiple sources is research. It's all in the re-mix.

It's still plagiarism if you don't cite your many sources.

Re: Oral Presentations: Yeah, great idea. Punish the poor public speakers instead of the cheaters.

It is not unreasonable to expect a person to be proficient enough in the language the class is taught in to write a decent paper, even if the class is not a composition class, right? At the college level, people are expected to possess a certain level of communications skills. As someone who's been in industry for 20 years, I think it is every bit as important to possess adequate oral communications skills. Schools that do not expect that are doing a great disservice to their students.

(Oh, and yeah, I work with many foreign workers; they are similarly expected to give oral presentations at technical and status reviews.)

That kind of grade inflation just didn't happen at my undergrad school, the University of Washington. Hell, at my undergrad school, RPI, there was grade deflation. Grades were routinely curved up to make the average grade into a C. I got a 54 on one test and it was a high A.
posted by Doohickie at 5:49 AM on March 22, 2005


My school had each student write a paper in each and every class, then give an hour lecture on the topic to the class.

The essays were mostly plagiarized. In all honesty, it takes too much effort to write 7 or 8 original papers per semester (about 10 weeks). That totals about one 30-40 page paper a week. It's an infernal pace to keep for two years.
The teachers understood this, and thus accepted reviews of the current literature rather than original concepts.

On the other hand, the oral presentations were quite telling. One girl burst into tears mid-way through a presentation, because, as she revealed between sobs, she never really understood the topic. (I was infuriated when she wasn't failed.)

On the whole, plagiarized or not, the student did learn about the topic. Lifting a paragraph of two doesn't necessarily mean that the student didn't /learn/ about the topic, just that the student is dishonest. Just wanted to point that out.
posted by ruelle at 5:50 AM on March 22, 2005


ericb plagiarizes himself.
posted by trharlan at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2005


I've caught several students plagiarizing. Taking it through official chanels in my University got students (on the first offence) a zero on the paper, a mandatory rewrite (they keep the zero), a note on their transcript that will follow them, and 6 credits of English above and beyond their graduation requirements.

It also gets me a boatload of paperwork and meetings.
posted by Cuke at 8:26 AM on March 22, 2005


Why can't Johnny write?

I doubt falling writing abilities stem merely from an increase in plagiarism. It might contribute to the problem, though. With the advent of word processing and the demise of the typewriter writing should be improving not declining. Revision, the key to well written essays, is now easier than ever. However, many schools fail to teach writing as a skill. They focus on the underlying subjects, not writing. Certainly, well written papers receive higher grades and many profs will provide comments on how to improve the paper, but few courses focus directly on the skill of writing itself. You had better learn that in high school. I predict that the new essay requirement on the SAT will do much to foster good writing skills in future high school graduates.

Online writing probably also contributes to poor writing skills. Rather than careful and deliberate essays, written and rewritten to perfection, online writings and emails usually comprise quickly drafted, unedited off the cuff blurbs (I embarrass myself all too often in online writings). They make writers lazy and sloppy.

We fail to teach writing and then students practice sloppy writing online and in emails and we wonder why Johnny can't write.

As for whether plagiarism gets you booted from school, it did at my undergrad school. We lived in fear of failing to properly cite someone else's work or accidentally getting their wording into our paper. Several students were kicked out every year for plagiarism.
posted by caddis at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2005


Ruelle, I think there is absolutely nothing more important in academics than honesty. Fine, the student learned something, but if they're dishonest I say fail 'em anyway. Think of how much in our society is dependent on credible research, whether it be in science or the humanities. Whether it's plagiarizing or falsifying data, if it at any point people start thinking it's OK to do that crap as long as they're "learning something", academics and trust of academics starts breaking down. Think how many people already bust scientists for creating research to satisfy personal agendas--we don't need to encourage that (I know you never said encouraging it was a good thing, I just mean we can't let up on it even if they got something out of it).

The "Gentleman's C" is a thing of the past. Does anyone remember the brou-ha-ha in Harvard a few years ago 'cause most of a class graduated with honors? Grade inflation is pretty damn common among Ivy Leagues and other "prestigious" institutions. At Johns Hopkins students complain because their grades aren't inflated enough. They see the inflation going on at other colleges and want it, too.

Few things are as disgusting to me as academic dishonesty. If you can't handle the workload, take the lower grade or go to a different college. You'll get more out of the learning experience anyway. I can see the foreign student and oral presentation thing, though, 'cause it's entirely possible they're beautiful speakers in their own language. Though making eye contact and good body language shouldn't be considered optional.
posted by schroedinger at 9:04 AM on March 22, 2005


At my college I remember one of the grad students getting into a hell of a lot of trouble because she copied a paper word-for-word.

Unfortunately for her, the paper happened to be her professor's doctoral thesis, written before she had married and changed her last name.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:26 AM on March 22, 2005


My wife is student teaching right now. She caught a plagiarizer and busted him-- he directly copied a paper off the internet. He ended up getting a 0 on that assignment, and a warning that any other cases of plagiarism going forward would result in expulsion from high school.
Here at UGA, a friend went through a similar situation where she got caught plagarizing. Turns out the source she forget to cite from was taken from an article her prof had written. Oops. She got a zero on that paper but still got a C with the rest of her grades. She also has that deal where if she doesn't get caught again, it will be taken off her transcript and in all fairness, it was just a stupid mistake on her part and not an attempt to bend the rules.

Copying from one source is plagarism. Copying from multiple sources is research. It's all in the re-mix.
As mentioned above, it is plagarism regardless of whether or not you cite it. Copying (and paraphrasing) from one source is perfectly fine so long as it is properly cited.

That kind of grade inflation just didn't happen at my undergrad school, the University of Washington. Hell, at my undergrad school, RPI, there was grade deflation. Grades were routinely curved up to make the average grade into a C. I got a 54 on one test and it was a high A.
Amen to that! In my upper-level science classes, 90% of the class would fail without a curve. My latest test was something like anything above a 45 was passing with a C.
posted by jmd82 at 10:45 AM on March 22, 2005


As mentioned above, it is plagarism regardless of whether or not you cite it.

what? how is it plagiarism if you cite your sources?
posted by juv3nal at 11:56 AM on March 22, 2005


A good friend gave me the link to Metafilter and let me know about this thread. This is fascinating to me. I’ve finishing up on writing a book about the term paper industry – which are companies which charge to write papers according to specific student requirements -- and its significance in education. Most of what I have found in researching this book is similar to what is discussed in this thread – Educators have no incentive to catch plagiarists; Students have no incentive not to plagiarize; An emphasis on high student performance at all costs results in an educational system in which the product (such as a term paper) is valued far more highly than the process which was taken to generate the product.

I’m at a point where I need to conclude the book before it goes to print and I’m at an impossible dead end. The existing academic system continues to reward people who jump through the hoops. Administration, educators, and even students all say that they want to make reform – Fraudulent (plagiarized papers which are written by a 3rd party) term papers, for example, are currently a big issue in education. Efforts to catch or discourage their submission, like TurnItIn, simply aren’t able to detect this type of work but provide a nice psychological cushion for parents and teachers who want to believe that something is being done.

The only way to create real reform, in my opinion, is to place an emphasis on the process of education as opposed to the product. There is no reason that the term paper industry should exist. Nor should there be incentive for students to cheat and for educators and administrators to look the other way. This goes beyond oral presentations… If you are looking to remove the incentives to cheat, you need take into account the relationships and the resources which are needed to ensure that the student is committed to their own educational career. There is a huge laundry list of what it takes to ensure that the student wants to learn ---- as opposed to going through the motions of learning -- and to provide the necessary resources which help them achieve their goals. I'm sure we could all write for hours on what is needed in this area. Unfortunately, this type of high-investment reform strategy is not financially feasible, and even if we tripped over a kettle of magic money we still wouldn’t have the mass numbers of dedicated, trained teachers and administrators needed to make true change. Or the parents who are willing to invest time in their children’s futures as opposed to money. Or a society which promotes a class-based educational system in which the vast majority of jobs demand an undergraduate degree at bare minimum… Now tell me, do you think educational reform is realistic?
posted by Indigootter at 11:59 AM on March 22, 2005


I'm an undergrad at Boston University, and every syllabus here has the usual section about plagiarism. Every professor goes over it quickly on the first day of class.

I've used Turnitin.com twice before - it didn't cause me any problems (actually, it didn't "catch" anyone in either of the classes I've used it in), so it's not really anything to worry about provided you don't copy your paper. It was, however, clearly explained that it was being used as a plagiarism deterrent... I agree that as you get higher up in classes, you're far less likely to plagiarize. This could be due to any combination of specificity in the topic, greater knowledge on the part of the professor, and interest in the subject. Last semester, I wrote a research paper about the Japanese agricultural economy after World War II. I don't think it would have been possible to plagiarize even if I'd tried.

Re: oral presentations. Funny that you mention that because I just watched a presentation like that yesterday. I'm not sure where I stand on this one - I don't think foreign students should be punished for their weaker English, but the presentation yesterday for example was pretty much a waste of everyone's time. The person did make a handout for it; it would have been more efficient to just hand that out and not speak at all. Note that I say this as a full fee paying student born in Hong Kong (although I admit I grew up in San Francisco).

As for grade inflation, people here are generally aware of the extreme grade inflation at certain prestigious institutions across the Charles River. I'd say there's also a bit of resentment about it. BU students kind of feel like they get the shaft here - they already get the big name diploma... how come they get higher grades too? I have no idea whether potential employers look into this at all when considering the diplomas/GPA on people's resumes.
posted by swank6 at 12:39 PM on March 22, 2005


hopefully the employers notice...

"hey look these Ivy League Schools must be great! All the applicants from them have straight A's!"
posted by Iax at 1:22 PM on March 22, 2005


a friend went through a similar situation where she got caught plagarizing. Turns out the source she forget to cite from was taken from an article her prof had written.

I obviously don't know your friend, but I honestly don't understand how someone "forgets" to cite a source. I can't imagine that someone would dump all the quotes or paraphrases in their paper and then try to figure out what came from where later.
posted by Kimberly at 1:38 PM on March 22, 2005


Here's a FAQ on plagiarism if you're interested.
posted by bobbyelliott at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2005


Forgetting to cite stretches the imagination, but I can easily imagine forgetting to put in a references entry for the source. BibTeX is your friend for that, and for deleting entries that you're no longer citing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2005


Indigootter, when do you think your book will go to print (er, after you finish it anyway). I'd like to read it.
posted by schroedinger at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2005


There was a pretty bad plagiarism/cheating scandal at RMIT a few years back that one of the lecturers involved (Justin Zobel) was nice enough to write up. The full story [PDF] makes for an amazing read, complete with duplicate assignments, substitutes sitting exams, handwriting analysis, breakins and criminal charges.

Worth reading if you've got the time and interest.
posted by blender at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2005


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