Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Like Locusts, Plagiarists Emerge At Semester End

Dear Half of my Junior-level Writing Class:

You are a bright, responsibly, hardworking group of young people with whom it was a pleasure to spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons this semester. You turned in assignments on time and completed to the best of your ability, attended class regularly, and entered into the spirit of the in-class group work, taking the time to do each activity as thoroughly as possible so that you could learn from it. I wish you the best of luck.

Dear Other Half of my Junior-level Writing Class:

You stupid little shits. When I added up grades-to-date last class, I observed that almost everyone in the class--even you, you slackers who rarely come to class, text during my lectures, and hand your work in late--could get at least a C, and everyone could pass with at least a D, provided you turned in a reasonably decent long report. Apparently that wasn't good enough for you, because you decided to copy your long reports off the Internet, earning yourselves F's in the course.
  • CN, I may be the most disappointed in you. Your report on the structural design of the World Trade Center, complete with recommendations for how future skyscrapers could be built to withstand attacks such as those that occurred on September 11, 2001 was a well-written, thoroughly researched work of mature scholarship. How disappointed--but not surprised--was I to discover that it was the work of a mature scholar! Yes, it was an article, lifted lock, stock, and works cited page, from the web version of a structural engineering journal.
  • On the other hand, perhaps I should be even more disappointed in you, KS. I was initially skeptical about your topic, journalistic ethics, since it's such a broad subject. Your constant talking to your friend, along with wardrobe choices that have given me a near-gynecological acquaintance with you, had given me the impression that you were not a particularly serious student. However, when we had that long conversation in the library and you explained how your dream was to be an entertainment reporter, and the focus of your report would be the ethics of entertainment journalism--to what extent does the public have a right to know the intimate details of celebrities' lives? As an entertainment journalist, how would you balance the conflicting demands of subjects' privacy and getting a good story? I thought, after that conversation, that your paper might be all right--you would be thinking about an issue of real importance in your chosen field, and that's what the assignment was all about. How surprised I was, then, to receive, instead of the paper we discussed, my very own copy of Wikipedia's entry on the subject "Journalistic Ethics."
  • And then there's you, BP. You came to class every day, dressed nicely, participated in class....I would have assumed that you were part of the half of class I addressed at the beginning of this email. In fact, when you came into my office to hand in your paper, I even commented on how disheartening it was that so many of your classmates chose to cheat on their reports. I'll say this for you--you have an excellent poker face. That won't get you a passing grade in the course, though.

I was not born yesterday. Handing in a paper that you did not write does not just get you a grade of F in the class. It does not just cheat you out of a chance to learn. It also tells the teacher that you think s/he is a drooling moron. Recent psychological studies show that most people think others are about as intelligent as they are--so intelligent people think everyone is intelligent, and stupid people think everyone is stupid. I do not want to drive across a bridge designed by, work in a building built by, or live anywhere near a chemical plant supervised by, an engineer who is as dumb as you apparently think I am.