Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Dear student that I have only seen once in two semesters,

You have no idea. No clue whatsoever. You have no clue about this subject I've been teaching (programming), you have no clue about how you should go about learning to program, and you have no clue about how much I know about what you've been up to. I'm not stupid.

I know what you did for that assignment. I hauled you in along with your "friend" for an investigation into possible plagiarism, and I'm not sure whether you were nervous beforehand or not, but you must have been relieved when all we could get evidence for was your "friend" stealing a copy of your assignment off your computer. But I know you didn't write that program code. You got someone else to write it for you. Oh, you wrote the explanation bit all right, it was just the program code that you hired someone else to do. You haven't the faintest idea that it is glaringly obvious when competent program code accompanied by some meaningless drivel doesn't add up. You just think I'm stupid enough to believe that that's your own work. No, I just didn't have the evidence. BIG difference. I know you hired someone. So you pay all this for tuition, and then pay even more to hire someone to do your work for you? Isn't kinda cheaper to do your own work? Why would you pay all this money and not attend?

You didn't attend, not once, all semester. I keep records, I know these things. Fortunately you did abysmally on the final exam, and failed the course. I say fortunately, because I hate to see plagiarists benefit from their plagiarism. So a few months later, there you were again, back in my course. You decided that since you didn't pass the course last time, a different tactic was needed this time. But you still think I'm an idiot. You sent me a series of emails (you didn't show up to class once, mind, just the emails), spinning me the line "Oh I'm pregnant. I can't think straight I'm having an abortion that's why I had to miss weeks and weeks of classes" and I have to say you're obviously very practiced at this sort of email. You probably couldn't manage to conjure up the right degree of emotion in person, but in writing, you're very skilled at this wheedling thing. But you don't realize the giveaway, why I know it's highly unlikely you were really in abortion troubles: there's a big difference between students who have genuine problems and those who are trying to wheedle special considerations that they don't deserve. Students who have genuine upsets and who sincerely want to make up for what they've missed are not only more mature about the issue and contact you in advance, they tend to just mention the biggest issue that is affecting them, and downplay anything else for fear of causing too much fuss, and then when they say they'll turn up the next week and/or do the work, they usually do a pretty good approximation.

Students like you, however, one of the whining lazy variety, don't contact me until very late in the day, and then one excuse is never enough. Why use one excuse when five or six can be invented/exaggerated? And then the promises. Oh the promises! They promise they will turn up for every class from now on! They will do their work on time in future! They will work hard! And do they? Is the Pope Muslim? You, my lazy absent student, fit the latter profile. Not only did you talk of abortion troubles, but you also talked of your great fear of embarrassment, your financial difficulties, of how you couldn't get to use a computer at home to send emails with, nor could you use the laboratories, nor could you attend classes because of lack of lab access (a blatant lie, classes don't need lab access). Then you promised to attend faithfully (which you didn't, I saw you only once all semester and even then I had great difficulty picking my jaw up off the floor). You also tried to lay it on really thick, saying you didn't know where else to turn and I was the only person you were speaking to about this (this contradicted several of your earlier emails).

So yes, you did get the extension on the assignment that you were angling for, as you would have had sufficient evidence to denounce me in front of my colleagues as a heartless soul if I hadn't. And I replied to you in an exemplary email, written as if I had no doubt of your truthfulness, a long screed full of concern and helpful advice on what resources there were available and how you could best make use of academic opportunities in the future when you were up to it. So you probably think I am a naive sucker as well as stupid. My only hope is that you at least felt a little guilty about the time it took me to write the lengthy caring and supportive reply.

But then, you made a mistake. No, not the bit where you handed in the late assignment when it clearly says in the instructions that I DO NOT ACCEPT LATE ASSIGNMENTS. No no, that wasn't a mistake, that was what saved you. No, the mistake was where you, once again, on this freshly unique assignment, hired someone to do the programming for you. You didn't even bother to make much of an attempt at the documentation this time. You didn't bother doing proper testing of the file you received from your friend. If you had, you might have written over the electronic evidence which revealed the equivalent of "received this code from a friend" stamped all over it. Your friend thinks one of us is stupid though, I'm not sure which, you or me or maybe both of us? See, that code you got from your friend? That code you tried to submit as your attempt at the assignment? That code looked kinda familiar. Way too familiar. It turns out that it bears substantial resemblance to some code I've seen before.... MY CODE.

Yes, my code, not from my lecture notes or anywhere in the public domain, but from my private files. This programmer must have gone searching through my files, found a relevant file, and altered it to fit the assignment. Beautifully done though, I take off my hat to your programmer friend. If you had turned in "your" assignment on time, I'd have hauled you in for plagiarism, and then you'd have had nowhere to run: do you admit that you copied a file from someone else? or pretend that you did the copying?

You have one chance left to pass this compulsory course. I have the feeling you will turn up next semester for my course yet again. And I will ask you to come and see me, because I want to talk to you, not to accuse you but to help you. Because you are a student on my course and I have a duty of care towards you, I want to tell you what is the only way to pass the course, and how plagiarism is not part of that, and that I am not stupid and I do detect plagiarism and plagiarism will not help you.

But you are the one that is stupid, not me. You cannot program, and you will keep far away from my office and my classes, which will ensure you remain unable to program. Then if you do submit an assignment it will be plagiarized yet again and I will haul you in for questioning and then finally, you will realise that I am not stupid, that I do detect plagiarism, and that it is too late. You will realize that I could have helped you, but you didn't take the help when it was offered. And as you get thrown out, twice over, both for plagiarizing and for failing to pass a compulsory course, you will no longer think I'm stupid. Instead, you will hate me and you will think it's all your fault that you didn't manage to buy yourself a degree.

Yours sincerely,
Your programming professor