Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"I'll Take 'Dumbasses' For $100, Alex." (Where We Use the Title Bar To Give a Clever Shout-Out and Best Wishes to Monsieur Trebek.)

The first class I ever taught was an upper division anthropology seminar. One of my students, let’s call him D (for dumbass) came to class regularly (attendance was part of the grade), but sat in the back row, never participated, and often appeared to be sleeping. The couple of times I spoke to him about it he explained he had a full time job at his father’s business, a new baby at home, and a middle school teaching job lined up after he graduated that semester. (This was all true; he brought his wife and new daughter in to meet me. Isn’t that sweet?) As he was fulfilling the minimal requirements of the course, he looked poised to get a D – which is a passing grade at Coast Through Life University – and everyone seemed fine with that.

Then comes the final paper. Don’t these people realize that we get to know them, their thought processes and writing styles over the course of the semester? The paper was full of complex ideas eloquently presented, albeit a little unclear on the thesis statement, interspersed with ridiculously inane statements like “So why aren’t Africans successful?” Which I can only imagine were meant to tie the beautifully-written passages together. Something was clearly wrong.

A quick Google search revealed that the entire paper, inane insertions aside, was copied from various sources on the Internet. A consultation with the department chair concluded that I had full authority to pursue or ignore this as much as I wanted. So I met with D. He apologized profusely and explained that he hadn’t actually plagiarized the paper. He had paid someone to write it for him, and *that* guy had plagiarized. He was very contrite and so busy and tired. So I allowed him to rewrite the paper. He did, and it was original, and mediocre, and he earned his D in the course. And he went away content.

The icing on the cake? He emailed me last semester and asked me for a letter of recommendation.