Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Trish the TA, Beset by Plagiarists and Betrayed By Do-Nothing Proffies, Comes to Us For Help.

I am a first year graduate teaching assistant doing my best to tend to the demands of the professor to whom I've been assigned this year. Basically, he doesn't like to grade papers but has no problem assigning them to his undergraduate students several times throughout the semester. I fully accept that it is my responsibility to take care of all of his grading and, other than the fact that it is an arduous task, I have no complaints. That is, I didn't have any complaints until a student blatantly plagiarized last semester. The professor failed to take the appropriate action (in my opinion) and I let it pass without raising any objections, however, this semester I am faced with a similar situation and just don't know if I should let it go again.

The nature of the plagiarism last semester was such that the student literally did a "cut and paste" from a published article and incorporated several passages into his own paper. I highlighted the plagiarized passages and forwarded the paper with the published article to my professor who told me that he would take care of it. I suppose if "taking care of it" consisted of giving the student an 'A' on the paper and ignoring the plagiarized passages, then the professor did his job. However, the university has a very strict policy regarding plagiarism that requires professors to turn these students in to the Dean's Office. They even subscribe to Turnitin.com and urge professors to have students turn their work in through this site. It baffled me that the professor not only failed to turn the matter over to the Dean, but he rewarded the student with an outstanding grade. I later found out that the student was one of the professor's favorites and had been doing some research for him on the side. And...hold onto your seats...the professor is now chairing the plagiarizer's honors thesis committee.

I was extremely disillusioned but ultimately decided to let the matter go. However, in the midst of grading papers this semester I have come across a pair of students who plagiarized in tandem. I guess they thought that they were smart about it since their papers consisted of reordered versions of the copied passages. In one paper, the plagiarized work is at the beginning. In the other, it is in the middle. Of course, I have an incredible urge to confront both of these fools with their obnoxious stupidity but I realize that this would be highly unprofessional. So, what should I do?

If I turn it over to the professor, he will take no action. I don't think I'm okay with that but at the same time I feel as though it might be the best thing to do since he is the professor and I am merely an inexperienced TA. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that it is so unfair to allow this to go unpunished when most of the other students took the assignment seriously and invested their time and energy into doing a good job. Additionally, I believe that the professor has an ethical obligation to hold his students accountable for their work.

Okay. Give it to me straight. What is the best course of action? Should I turn the other way and pretend I don't see what's happening? Or do I take a more assertive stance?