Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Plagiarism Policy as An Object Lesson in Customer Service.

My university's policy on plagiarism is nothing short of ridiculous. Not only does accusing a student of plagiarism cost the instructor vast amounts of time, energy, and red-tape, but we are asked never, ever to utter the word “plagiarism” to the student until we have discussed the instance of alleged improper borrowing with a department higher-up.

I have attended one such meeting (my first and last). I brought with me the student’s paper and the online article from which vast paragraphs were copied verbatim. It was a slam-dunk case. I expected to be told something like, “Well, when it’s this obvious, you don’t even have to come see us. Just nail the sucker.” Instead, I was met with questions about my integrity as a teacher: “How thoroughly have you covered the rules about plagiarism?” “How much of your class is devoted to in-depth discussion of citation?” “Did you offer the student the appropriate help with these difficult, taxing citations?” “Have you asked the student if he perhaps simply forgot to cite properly?” In short, “How are you to blame for this?” They then recommended that I return the assignment with a firm but kind comment about the need to revise the paper for a grade, and that I sit down with the student to work out every single detail of how to cite the sources and where the paper “borrowed” improperly.

So I had this conversation with the plagiarizing asshole, whom I now hated even more and who clearly knew that he was getting away with murder. He walked away with a grade he didn’t deserve and the idea that he, as a coddled and over-privileged student “paying for his education,” had all the power in the student-teacher relationship.

I guess he was right. In the interest of having happy “customers,” the department strips students of their integrity, and instructors of their authority. I now enact my own plagiarism (yes, I use the word) code. But I know that if a student ever complains, no one upstairs is going to back me.