Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hometown Haley Breaks A Heart.

Haley is my favorite student. Here, at a small college in the northeast, we've both ended up, expatriates from a small desert town. I left in the mid 80s, and she left last year. We chuckle about the same hometown diner, and the same dusty hideouts. We went to the same damn high school, 25 years apart.

On a recent essay, she was struggling. I walked her through some things to try and then a couple of days later she turned in her final version.

Haley's a smart kid, funny, but her vocabulary is "dusty small town" like mine was when I left home. And this essay had impossibly tough language that I knew she didn't write. I sat down, like I always do in these cases, chose a particularly elevated chunk of text, and typed it into Google.

Up popped an essay written by a college professor in Florida. As I checked the paragraph in question, I saw that Haley had lifted about half of her essay (with some minor changes) from the professor's piece.

As a writing instructor, I spend a good deal of time talking about plagiarism, how to avoid it, WHY to avoid it, the college's harsh stance on it, etc. Each writing assignment has careful language about how students must give credit for anything they might use from another source using standard documentation rules. So there was no chance that Haley had just used this professor's essay as a source, albeit one without quotation marks.

I saw Haley after class the next day, and as always she was cheerful. She reported that our old high school had beaten up grandly on the state rival Cougars in spring soccer. Then I told her about the paper.

What has bothered me the most about it all is her reaction. It was more "Aw, shucks, well, I got caught!" than it was, "Oh, no, I've been caught!" I tried to explain that it was academic cheating, and pointed out the evidence, the section of the syllabus, etc. But she shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, I'm sorry I did that. I just didn't have time."

I told her I was giving her an F on the assignment, but exercising my right to not elevate the incident to the Dean's office. (That's a step we normally only take with upperclassmen.)

As she got up to leave, I said, "And, I'll probably just check your earlier essays, too, just so I can be thorough."

"Oh, that's okay," she said. "The first one we did was all mine. But I did copy about half of my second one from the Internet, too. Bye!"