Plagiarism case #2 of the semester.

13 October 2013

I put a lot of work into my teaching. I don’t say that to brag, as I sometimes worry that it’s not healthy. But then you’ll read a paper that really gets it — a student has taken everything you’ve suggested and worked hard — and suddenly it seems like what we do matters after all.

And then you get the plagiarism case.

Although I’m sure a few students over the years have figured out ways to fool me, on the whole plagiarism is pretty damn obvious. Like when they use a foreign-language phrase clearly lifted from Wikipedia (my favorites are when they use something in Latin). Or when they use English terms they clearly do not understand. Or when, suddenly on p. 2, their writing goes from belabored to clean, neat, and effective.

After working this hard, I have no energy left for cheats.

I don’t want to listen to anyone apologize, offer excuses, cry, feign ignorance of the university’s rules, or deny it. I wash my hands.

Here’s my response: I find the original source, fill out a report with the university’s honor council, send them all the documents, and let that office take over. I send the student an email stating that this process has begun and that it is entirely in the hands of the Honor Council. And my university takes these offenses seriously. Their staff studies the documents I provide and meets with the student to discuss the matter. Then they contact me and we discuss any final details, as well as preferred punishments.

The typical punishment is an automatic F in the class with a notation on the student’s transcript that the F was earned due to academic dishonesty. If the student is a serial offender, they can be suspended or expelled. After five years, the student can petition to have the notation about dishonesty removed from the transcript.

Having now faced down plagiarism case #2 of the semester, I can only say that I’m tired. And I still have 20 papers left to grade.

11 Responses to “Plagiarism case #2 of the semester.”

  1. eteokretan Says:

    Picture Holly Day from Slings and Arrows working out hard on her StairMaster: “You need to spend a couple days in a real city. Traffic, tall buildings, and homeless people.”

  2. Servetus Says:


  3. Becky Says:

    I cannot imagine how frustrating and disheartening this must be for an educator. Do whatever you have to do to remember all the people who don’t indulge in plagiarism! You improve lives in ways you cannot imagine!

  4. I strongly disapprove of plagiarism. I am a college student and I do sometimes worry about accidentally plagiarizing something. But that is surely very unlikely! At our university we use an excellent software program called Turnitin ( which we can upload our essays and papers to. Then it picks out any phrases or sentences which are similar to the work of others.

    Because I have so much stuff floating around my brain which I have read in academic textbooks and journals, it reassures me that I’m not accidentally copying anything without referencing it.

    • Didion Says:

      You’re the kind of student I love — so conscientious that you fret about accidentally plagiarizing! That’s the thing about reading extensively, taking notes, and absorbing new ways of articulating thoughts about what you’re learning: you will begin to write differently.

      Plagiarism is different. It’s not that you accidentally use a phrase that doesn’t belong to you. It’s that you drop in, word for word, multiple sentences and concepts that you don’t understand because you think that’s what your professor wants. I would so much rather see an honest C paper than a brilliant paper that proves to be plagiarized.

  5. Perry Says:

    I’m surprised convicted offenders are given three chances before expulsion! I can see one warning – but three chances? How do you feel about that, as a prof?

    • Didion Says:

      I actually don’t know whether they get three chances at my university. It may run on a case-by-case basis. I’m pretty sure they get one chance to just get an F in the class. But I’m not positive about the process beyond that; my students have all been first-time offenders.

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