Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking Plagiarism Personally.

It happens every semester as the end closes in. While some students beg for points, and others beg for extensions, there are those that take a simpler, less personal approach. They cheat. At the small community college where I work, there were seven confirmed, documented blatant cases of plagiarism in two days, and more are coming in every day. I’m not talking about the misuse of MLA, and I assume we are missing the recycling of papers from previous semesters. These are papers where students have purchased papers from the online paper mills. The students change a few words so that it is more difficult to Google, but we have caught them nonetheless (and no, we don’t have Turnitin or anything like that to help us – it’s all about the instructor and Google and digging for the phrase that will answer the burning question: how did Tommy manage to write such a good paper).

As angry, pissed off, frustrated and depressed as all this has made me, the one thing I can’t seem to get over is that the only advice my colleagues have for me is this: “there’s really not much you can do other than give the student a zero on the assignment and remember, don’t take this personally.” There’s a look of hopelessness in their eyes. And for good reason. While I can give a student a zero, the student can drop the class. Once that happens, the student is free to move on to another class and, using everything they learned not to do, try it again on another unsuspecting instructor. When I asked another professor if there was anywhere in the Almighty System where the Dean of Student Services could track and reprimand chronic plagiarizers and cheaters, he answered me, "No, and if you think about it you'll realize you wouldn't want the administration to be able to do anything to OUR students."

It seems that in order for anything a student would really be afraid of to happen like, I don’t know, expulsion or suspension or loss of tuition waivers and scholarships, one instructor has to jump into the fire armed with two documented cases of plagiarism. And, as I’ve been told, if I thought about it I’d want it that way. Therefore, no one jumps into the fire and, as we’ve seen from the response on this site about what happens when one does that, for good reason. Leaving us with chronic plagiarizers who slip from one class to another, working their way through college while we don’t take it personally.

No wonder I can’t wait for the semester to be over. If any of MY students are reading this…don’t take it personally.