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June 4, 2004

Who screwed up firstest and worstest
Posted by Teresa at 05:00 AM *

A student at the University of Kent who got zapped for plagiarism right before his final exams is suing the university for negligence, on the grounds that he’s been cheating in exactly the same way throughout his studies there, and they’ve never said anything about it.

My first reaction was “Nice try, kid.” On second thought, he does have a point. It’s not enough of a point, but he has one. Here’s the story:
A student who admits downloading material from the internet for his degree plans to sue his university for negligence. Michael Gunn claims his university should have warned him his actions were against the regulations.

The Times Higher Education Supplement reports that he was told on the eve of his final exams that he would get no marks for his course work.

The University of Kent at Canterbury says students are warned about plagiarism.

Michael Gunn, a 21-year-old English student, told the Times Higher: “I hold my hands up. I did plagiarise. I never dreamt it was a problem. I can see there is evidence I have gone against the rules, but they have taken all my money for three years and pulled me up the day before I finished. If they had pulled me up with my first essay at the beginning and warned me of the problems and consequences, it would be fair enough. But all my essays were handed back with good marks, and no one spotted it.”
The school’s claiming that all students at Kent are given clear guidelines about what constitutes plagiarism. In the School of English, where Gunn studied, this information is conveyed in the faculty handbook and the departmental handbook. Students are given copies of both, and are also encouraged to attend the university’s workshops on study skills.

I’m not impressed. I’ve worked with university students. If one student in twenty sat down and read all the way through those handbooks, I’ll be surprised. It can be hard to get students to read all the way through a two-page document that explains how and why the university wants to give them money. Most students will only read a handbook if they hear other students talk about reading it.

I have to ask: Has there been a revolution in student handbooks since the 1980s? Because the last time I looked, most student handbooks were a mixture of hot air, vague benevolence, pious wishes, counsels of perfection, slabs of prose copied from earlier handbooks, stern warnings inserted by the legal department (useful only for generating FUD, since they were probably framed in response to a situation that came and went five years ago, which the current crop of students has never heard of), plus some reasonably useful advice that isn’t uniformly applicable to all the students, but isn’t unambiguously labeled in terms of which students it does apply to, and thus generates even more FUD—in the small number of students who actually read it.

Maybe they’ve gotten better.

If they haven’t, and if you therefore have an admittedly hypothetical document that mixes Ad astra per aspera (never literally true), You should approach your studies at the university as though they were a full-time job (a useful model, but not to be taken literally in all particulars), If you are having difficulties with your studies, your instructor will be available to help you during his regular office hours (true, insofar as it is translated correctly), and All coursework materials handed in must be your own original work, it may not be clear that that last one is a concrete and enforceable rule.

Let me make it clear that I’m not impressed with Mr. Gunn, either. I’m sure he knows plenty of things the university hasn’t explained to him, and I suspect that plagiarism is among them. I don’t recall ever having to have plagiarism explained to me; and I notice that the BBC news story didn’t feel it was necessary to explain the concept either.

The only place where I think he has an argument is his class work to date. That should have been the real measure of his scholarship. He says he’s been cheating like this all along, and that his instructors have been giving him passing grades all along. Now, given his evident attitude, he can’t have been a very gifted plagiarist. Few students are. Unless they’re better-than-average writers, it’s often enough just to monitor their semicolons: If they come and go, the student’s cheating. And if the student’s an English major like Mr. Gunn, sooner or later they’re bound to plagiarize something a more experienced scholar will recognize in a flash. When you spot something like that, you go back and check the student’s other work. It’s rare for someone to cheat only once.

That’s all pretty basic, so if Mr. Gunn has been openly plagiarizing online material for years, I think Kent University is not only entitled to feel embarrassed about it, but is arguably obliged to do so. They should have known. They say they’re now “running a pilot scheme which uses plagiarism detection software to analyse student work,” which I expect is how they caught Mr. Gunn in the first place; but they still should have known. The same internet that’s available to the students is available to the instructors.

Things may have changed, but that doesn’t mean they’re different. Before there was the internet there was the library, and if you thought someone was cheating but you couldn’t spot the source by eye and ear, you had to hunt for the book they got it out of. The real trick is to take plagiarism seriously when you see it happening.

And Mr. Gunn’s case? I’m all for taking him at his word. Reinstate him as a student at the University, give him three years’ free tuition, and let him re-do all that coursework he says he cheated on. He’s paid for that education. It’s only fair to see that he finally gets it.

Comments on Who screwed up firstest and worstest:
#1 ::: mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 01:43 AM:

I went to high school in the mid-90s and they made a big deal out of plagiarism then. Stern warnings delivered in person; if you took even a tiny bit from somewhere else and didn't give proper credit you were going to some secular version of hell.

I think they kept it up in college, at least to the freshmen...

Oh, they totally did. The Honor Code required professors to be absent during exams, which in turn inspired many an impromtu speech about what the code meant and the grave consequences for violating it. I got the impression it wasn't very well enforced, but it'd be very hard to claim ignorance.

#2 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:08 AM:

And Mr. Gunn’s case? I’m all for taking him at his word. Reinstate him as a student at the University, give him three years’ free tuition, and let him re-do all that coursework he says he cheated on. He’s paid for that education. It’s only fair to see that he finally gets it.

Oh my, yes, that would be a very fair way to solve the problem. :-)

#3 ::: Ty ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:14 AM:

This kinda of confuses me, but then again, I get the plagarism lecture every year, be it by the Prof. or on the syllabus. Actually, I usually get it both ways during the first day of classes, since we go over the syllabus, so they combine said lecture with telling us about the rest of the assignments.

I'm not quite sure if some Profs of mine are exaggerating how easily they can find plagarized material, but the message is always extremely clear: plagarize, we'll catch you, and you're out.

#4 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:19 AM:

I'm a uni student now, and to every assignment we have to attach a declaration that it's our own work. The declaration form contains clear definitions of plagiarism and collusion. It's also in the handbook and the student diary (I'm not sure if anyone else read them, since they're only slightly better than you described - they don't even proofread the slabs from last year's handbook to make sure the dates are changed) and they do state what the consequences are. Oh yes, and as Julia mentioned, we get the lecture verbally too.

If the University of Kent didn't do that, well, they should have, but where were his schools? Or his parents? Not that I didn't know people who cheated at the secondary school level, but they knew it wasn't OK. They wouldn't have said "I never dreamed it was a problem."

I mean, I'm the daughter of an academic, so maybe I think of plagiarism as more awful than some other students might, but I did think "don't steal" and "don't lie" were pretty basic rules.

#5 ::: vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:19 AM:

Ty, I meant, not Julia.

#6 ::: del ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 03:49 AM:

I'd be interested to see if he could in some way prove that Kent willfully ignored it to allow the university to keep collecting money from him. It's an interesting thought, and I must admit the timing - "finally" catching him right before graduation - is extremely convenient.

#7 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 03:51 AM:

Well, my son considered Kent for his university; I warned him off ferociously after giving a talk there, and spending an evening with the faculty. Instead, he went to Queen's Belfast, and I'm pretty certain that one, though only one, of the essays he did there was plagiarised. But after that he did his own work, and in his last assignment was actually interested in the question, worked damn hard, and changed his mind about the answer half way through.

But for most of the English middle classes, in most of the universities, so far as I can see, going to university is like a full-time job: a dead-end fully-pensioned job in a nationalised industry in a benevolent dictatorship. The state pretends to pay them, they pretend to work.


Teresa's line about semi-colons makes me suspect the same is true in the USA, even absent student grants.

#8 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 04:40 AM:

"I never dreamt it was a problem."

Disingenuousness, amorality or stupidity? Is there some other way to describe that statement?

#9 ::: Roger BW ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 05:42 AM:

At the University of Bristol, every essay must have an official cover sheet which includes a statement and declaration about plagiarism. This has to be signed each time.

The university system in the UK is largely used these days to reduce the cost of unemployment benefit and riot police. This is unfortunate for the small proportion of the population who would actually benefit from a real university education rather than some sort of vocational training, particularly since many modern "degrees" _are_ vocational training under another name.

#10 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:56 AM:

Michael Gunn claims his university should have warned him his actions were against the regulations.

Is that like claiming, after you've been arrested for murder (and you had actually killed the person in question), somebody should have warned you that killing people is against the law? Sounds like it to me.

I wouldn't have thought a student should even need telling that plagiarism isn't on. I would have thought something like that would be self-evidently wrong, and you'd only do it with the full awareness that you're doing the wrong thing.

Or is it the case that if you're paying for your degree it doesn't matter if you didn't earn it?

All that said, it does seem dubious of the university to only charge the kid at the end of his degree, and makes it look plainly as if the uni is more interested in the money than in the production of informed, literate young people.

My own university experience, about seven years ago doing a correspondence course here in Western Australia, was that warnings against plagiarism were decidedly hard to avoid.

#11 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:05 AM:

Heh...

Back in university, I worked as a teaching assistant for a few semesters, correcting student work.

In one course, I was assisting the department head, and 2 students handed in the same assignment, _in different fonts_.

I tried to convince the prof they deserved to be expelled for insulting our intelligence, but he wouldn't do it :)

#12 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:07 AM:

Andrew, what made Kent look bad to you?

#13 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:22 AM:

Reinstate him as a student at the University, give him three years’ free tuition, and let him re-do all that coursework he says he cheated on. He’s paid for that education. It’s only fair to see that he finally gets it.

Does that mean someone who doesn't go to classes for three years should receive free tuition for another three so they can actually attend lectures?

Okay, so he paid for his education (or did he - do students in England still go on the British taxpayer's dime these days?) - but if he wanted to receive value for his pound sterling, he should have done the work to reap the benefits from it. Alternatively, if he thought education was about shucking and jiving and he only got caught just before he was about to grab the brass ring, I'd say he got exactly what he paid for.

#14 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:33 AM:

When I moved to Ohio, and went back to school to finish my bachelor's degree (Physics), I have to say that I was utterly appalled at the work ethic of most of the other students.

It wasn't until my last year that the school instituted a honor code-- but even then, you could go into any computer lab, check the recycle bin near the printer, and find multiple downloaded term papers.

Most professors were fairly savvy about it: you never just handed in a final draft at my school, you had to hand in all your rough drafts (general rule of thumb: they looked for TWO drafts), all your notes, and copies of any sources that wouldn't be 'easily accessible' in the Wittenberg Library.

I wound up handing in a CD-ROM containing the 60 journal articles (in PDF form) I used while preparing my senior thesis.

#15 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:09 AM:

I think this incident is a marker for the transition in British education culture from awarding degrees for academic excellence to awarding degrees just because the job market demands it. In such an environment, the student engaging with the subject is less important than their simply supplying the right answers to the examination questions, or at any rate more difficult to measure.

It doesn't help that our government wants more citizens with degrees to show that we're just as clever as other nations where nearly everyone goes to university and gets a bucket-shop degree (I won't mention any particular nation, because I don't want to offend my Korean friends...).

#16 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:58 AM:

Andrew Brown, I'm at QUB at the minute. I'm glad you think us better than Kent. :-D As for fully-pension...pfft. Don't make me laugh. I dread to think of the mountain of debt I now have after my three years.

In the physics department at any rate, we have to sign a declaration with every assignment or lab paper we hand in, and the relevant sections of the University Calendar (including penalties) are photocopied and pinned on the noticeboard outside the office where we hand them in, as well as handed to us when we started uni.

#17 ::: redfox ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 09:32 AM:

Things may have changed, but that doesn’t mean they’re different. Before there was the internet there was the library, and if you thought someone was cheating but you couldn’t spot the source by eye and ear, you had to hunt for the book they got it out of.

Most students, it seems to me, don't plagiarize from books. They plagiarize from other students, or various other weird crappy sources, and it often (though certainly not always) can be difficult to track down the source.

The trouble is that the circumstance is often this: it's obvious that a student has been cheating, but an instructor can't put her hands on the source. The resulting process of accusation, righteous indignation, and disbelieving parents can make people a great deal less eager to wade into the fray.

#18 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 09:38 AM:

snerk

A couple of points though--

Mr. Gunn says he is "planning to sue." Not that he is suing. Now, I know the UK legal system is different from ours, but that strongly suggests that he is either posturing and has no intent to sue at all, or his case is so stupid that he can't find a barrister who will agree to represent him.

I'd also be surprised if he has, in fact, been plagiarizing as much as he claims he has. This probably isn't his first time, but most students who plagiarize are fairly lame about it. Of course the university ought to be looking into this, but I'm looking at Mr. Gunn's claims with more than a little skepticism.

Oh, and the handbooks? Yes, they should be more interesting, but this is university--you can't have a proctor hold them down by the scruff of the neck until they read the handbook. (I remember reading all of mine very carefully, but I'm like that.)

#19 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 09:49 AM:

I have to ask: Has there been a revolution in student handbooks since the 1980s? Because the last time I looked, most student handbooks were a mixture of hot air, vague benevolence, pious wishes, counsels of perfection, slabs of prose copied from earlier handbooks, stern warnings inserted by the legal department ...

I don't know about handbooks, but I do know that every single syllabus for every class I have attended that has writing assignments mentions the University plagarism policy, and that plagarism is grounds for expulsion. And more than half of my professors have read the entire syllabus (including that policy) aloud during the first day of class. (Yes, that is as painful as it sounds.)

In fact, I was talking to some psych students who said that they have cite references even on examinations.

Of course that doesn't mean that plagarism doesn't happen, it just means that if people get caught they can be expelled without a fight. Does this happen in reality? Not that I've heard. But it could happen.

#20 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 09:54 AM:

I'm with Adrian, up there. I don't see that a university should have to tell a student not to plagiarize. I figure that's something that you should learn by the time you're done with elementary school. High school at the latest. The way I see it, that's some pretty basic stuff.

#21 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 09:58 AM:

"If they had pulled me up with my first essay at the beginning and warned me of the problems and consequences, it would be fair enough. But all my essays were handed back with good marks, and no one spotted it."

This is almost one of those classic definitions of chutzpah, like the boy who killed his parents, then threw himself on the mercy of the court because, "I've only recently been orphaned."

At U. of Penn, all exam booklets have the little plagiarism warning in the front (generally ignored by all, but everyone knows it's there). Recently, the university has seen fit to invent an honor code, in the hope that honor might infect the student body and run rampant, like meningitis. My TA experience suggests the students are getting craftier, so I guess the word is out.

Penn has a clever trick to gauge the level of plagiarism. In the course evaluations we fill out at semester's end, there is a question, "Has there been any cheating in this course? (Y/N)"

#22 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:00 AM:

I don't know how different the British university system is from the U.S. system, but I know that with every paper assignment I've been handed there's also a warning about plagiarism. And it's in our student handbook, which is surprisingly readable. And the message is the same every time: cheat and you'll get caught and we'll kick you out straightaway.

I just don't understand how he can claim ignorance of plagiarism being wrong. It's like the occasional flare-ups in online fandom when somebody's been plagiarising another person's fanfiction. How can you not understand that taking someone else's writing and posting it under your name is wrong? Ugh.

#23 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:00 AM:

"Secular version of hell" nothing -- the Talmud states an affirmative requirement to cite one's sources.

Oh, and "planning to sue" has the same meaning, generally, as "My dad can beat up your dad", or an internet-mediated "I'm gonna come kick your ass" or "3y3 \/\/i11 h4xx0r j00!!!!!!!111!!!".

#24 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:11 AM:

Jason: I'm with Adrian, up there. I don't see that a university should have to tell a student not to plagiarize. I figure that's something that you should learn by the time you're done with elementary school. High school at the latest. The way I see it, that's some pretty basic stuff.

You'd think. I remember one idiot in my Algebra II class handing in an obviously-plagiarized paper for a fairly simple math writing assignment. (I was hardly looking for publishable math prose, I was looking for very basic investigation and reporting on four-digit palindromes.) He used extremely formal permutation notation that I'd seen at university and was pretty sure even my most mathophilic students couldn't have produced. I called him up and asked him to explain what a permutation was. He said, it's right there in the paper, just read it. I said, I know what it is. I want you to tell me. If you wrote this, you should know. Well, he couldn't explain what the heck the subscripts were doing, either, and after five minutes of this gave up and confessed he'd gotten it from the internet.

Other, even math-phobic students, managed to draft that assignment and do decently in under an hour.

As for student handbooks--I remember Cornell's orientation 101 book to be pretty lovey-dovey, and the academic policy handbook to be rather stern. Danged if I know anyone else who read 'em straight through, but given that a significant number of my friends were offspring of Cornell professors, they might be forgiven this lapse.

Don't remember much about Stanford's handbooks. I have some vague recollection of reading/skimming, but after that the teacher ed program kept me so busy it all leaked out my apertures. Suspect it was more or less the same.

And tutoring writing at university--lordy. I had to explain to some students, very gently, about proper citing and attribution for prose that was clearly not theirs. The poor children didn't realize they were doing anything wrong, but these were the ones coming in with no knowledge of the boring ol' five-paragraph essay, what a thesis was--in short, having few writing skills beyond book reports. And certainly not proper use of semicolons. I don't know what their high school English classes were accomplishing. (Mind you, there were people who wrote wonderful lovely literate papers, too, sometimes practically in front of me. Mmm.)

#25 ::: Janet Miles ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:12 AM:

This incident has shown up in the Chronicle of Higher Education and is being discussed on my office mailing list. One of my co-workers located this article which, as he says, "shows the mixed signals the British education system is currently sending".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/3598161.stm

The article begins, "Students plagiarising internet essay material in their coursework are using a form of 'self-teaching', says the director of the qualifications body."

#26 ::: gthistle ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:13 AM:

redfox, plagiarism from books and print journals certainly happens, and it happens now, too. It's slightly easier to catch the journal-skimmers than it used to be, that's all, using the same internet technology that many plagiarists use.

I'm interested to see the many indignant declarations of "They make you sign a sheet!" both here and on livejournal where the U of Kent student has been discussed. There's no sheet where I am, but not all of the students plagiarize. Some of them take the beginning-of-term announcement seriously, and oddly enough, some of them seem to have a sense of integrity.

I think that explicitly demanding a signed sheet works only when every piece for which one is accountable requires a signed sheet. The jobs that many college students go into will not. It seems more useful to me to teach students (while they're students) not to plagiarize, and why, than to extend the period during which the hand of authority shakes a forbidding finger at them as though they were five years old and caught with the cookie jar. No matter what the sanctions are, some of them will do it anyway. That isn't new, and has nothing to do with the internet or with "kids today."

#27 ::: Amy ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:17 AM:

Graythistle sent me here since I hadn't realized the comments at the LJ mirror wouldn't get to you.

I'd said:

This is a fantastic post. As a high school teacher who struggles regularly with plagiarizing students who don't think it should be a problem and with students who believe that if they once get away with something that is license and permission to continue the behavior with abandon, my colleagues in the department and I thoroughly enjoyed your comments.

#28 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:18 AM:

A word or two from the faculty viewpoint (and I want to stress that these are my own comments and opinions ONLY, and are NOT to be held as the definitive stance of my employer):

I've found to my annoyance that if I fail to give the "Thou shalt not plagiarize" lecture when I first assign written work in our introductory classes, I get back plagiarized assignments (in the form of pairs of identical lab reports). I really hate having to do this, but there you go. The rules are clearly stated in the student handbook, and also on the course syllabus and writing guide that I hand out, but that extra bit of reinforcement is needed.

Once that statement has been made, I've gotten perfectly reasonable efforts at original work. I haven't yet hit anything that was well-written enough to make me suspect that it had been lifted from the Internet or elsewhere, though I know colleagues who have. I do believe that most of the plagiarism I've seen is a matter of honest confusion about what level of collaboration is permitted, rather than malicious intent to deceive.

On the question of "How could they not catch him until just before graduation?," the detection of plagiarism is a complicated function of many variables. Among those are the faculty workload and the source of the plagiarized material.

If you have to grade a large amount of written work (as the English faculty must), the papers sort of start to run together after a while. If the student is plagiarizing from a book or other source not directly related to the course, the way they get found out is usually through the use of terms or references that weren't part of the course material, and that aren't likely to be used by students at that level. These are usually glaringly obvious, but given enough work to grade, I can easily see how a small number of these markers could slip by unnoticed.

If the student has plagiarized from another student in the same course, there aren't the same "We never talked about this topic" sort of markers (unless the syllabus is radically different from one year to the next, or one section to the next). Catching this sort of thing relies on the professor finding the paper familiar in some way, which can be really difficult to pick up, and damn near impossible if you're not the person who graded the original.

It's worth noting that one of the most high-profile plagiarism stories in recent years, which led to something on the order of a hundred honor code proceedings at the University of Virginia, was essentially mechanical. The physics professor who discovered the cases fed several year's worth of term papers into a computer, and had it search the texts for identical six-word phrases. This was terrifically effective at finding plagiarized work, but you'll note that it's not the sort of thing that humans are especially well-equipped to do. As demonstrated by the fact that the professor in question hadn't noticed the problem before he did the computer thing.

There's no reason to ascribe sinister motives to the University in this case just because they only caught him right before graduation. It's actually not all that easy to pick up on plagiarism, particularly of the "students copying other students" variety. What keeps the system from collapsing is that the papers copied are generally not all that good (A+ students don't generally allow others to copy their work), and thus the reward for plagiarism is not that great. This is true of papers downloaded from the Internet as well.

One final literary note: There's a brilliant infodump in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (which is really SF, but that's another argument) that is presented by following a student who is plagiarizing a term paper from an encyclopedia article. It includes a number of excellent observations on the psychology of plagiarists, including the point that they usually end up putting just as much work into disguising their copying as would be required to write a half-decent paper in the first place.

#29 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:25 AM:

Can someone here define what, exactly, plagiarism is? Is it the lifting of the source material word for word? Or would it also include rewriting the source material in your own words (same idea, different words used to express that idea)? Just wondering.

#30 ::: gthistle ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:27 AM:

Re: the link in Janet Miles' comment, sure, plagiarizing can be a form of self-instruction. It would work much better if the students who try it had the ability to assess what's useful to lift. Plagiarism happens for multiple reasons (as do successful assignments), but when I've seen smart people do it, often the results are just as lame as the cribbed pieces submitted by students who're struggling in the class.

I suggested in a comment to a now-locked post on lj that teaching to exams--essentially, teaching form, not content--encourages students to plagiarize. Teaching to exams, and thinking that teaching to exams is a Good Thing, and spending years being taught as though only exams (not their content) mattered, help shape a fluid sense of accountability. Increasingly "standards" and "success" are measured by passing, not by whether anyone's learned methods and facts, and students are passed if they appear to be doing all right. The students my colleagues and I see are bright--at something(s), if not English composition--and many of them know it; yet a few plagiarize anyway, submitting work which casts them and their self-assessment abilities in a distinctly unfavorable light, because they think it'll suffice.

#31 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:40 AM:

I completely agree with gthistle. I think the problem with schools nowadays is that people think of them like corporations, so they need a "results" based model. But results don't tell the whole story.

Of course, I'm speaking from an elementary school teacher point of view, but those "results" have been creeping into the lower grades for years (especially thanks to bush). Administrators think that there have to be standards for measurement, that kids should be at this point at this time, or the system isn't working (as if they're answering to shareholders). The simple fact of the matter is that everyone learns in different ways and that an overall standard cannot be applied to everyone.

There needs to be a revolution in the field of education because the way it has been done for years simply doesn't work in the world that in which we live today.

#32 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:41 AM:

Virge said:

"I never dreamt it was a problem."

Disingenuousness, amorality or stupidity? Is there some other way to describe that statement?

My thoughts exactly -- particularly the "stupidity" part. I may not be that bright, and I've never once read a school handbook (for the reasons TNH cited) but I still know what plagarism is. I've known what it is, that it is cheating, and that you will be failed/suspended/smited for it, since I was in the seventh grade. I can't imagine anybody not knowing these facts by the time they reach college. I hope this guy gets laughed out of the courtroom.

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:52 AM:

Randall P., I suspect not. That's the problem.

Teresa, I agree with your whole post except the last paragraph. I think he should get nothing.

He knew or should have known that plagiarism is unacceptable. Ignorance of the law is no excuse - else intentional criminals would be as ignorant as possible. He's pleading "I always got away with it before." This is absurd.

The grades he's received so far are in effect stolen property. While there is no rightful owner to return them to, confiscating them from him seems completely appropriate. (If I pay $3000 to someone to torch a house, and he gets caught and rats me out, should the state refund my money?) Moreover there's a social good in treating him harshly; it discourages other students from plagiarizing.

Swift and certain punishment is a better deterrent than harshness, to be sure. But he's admitted to multiple counts, which makes him a career criminal! Catching more students would be good. Any student so caught should be given an averageable F in the course (I'm not sure there's an equivalent in the British system); this is a permanent penalty to their grade average, as is appropriate.

All that said, I certainly think all student orientations should include a talk on what constitutes plagiarism (even if, as stated above, it can't be precisely defined); a talk, not a section in a handbook. With examples of students who were caught and penalized, perhaps with shots of them in greasy coveralls at the body shop after their promising academic careers are cut tragically short. Scare tactics, in other words.

That we should come to this! No wonder so many people with fancy degrees are ignorant morons. I've worked with a number of Harvard MBAs who were complete idiots, for example...the phrase "bet he bought his term papers" hovers unspoken in the air as they pass. (Or she/her. The women are no better IME.) (Oh, and: not ALL Harvard MBAs, of course.)

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:56 AM:

Note: my "I suspect not" was in response to Randall P.'s "Can someone here define what, exactly, plagiarism is?" rather than to his subsequent comment, which came in while I was ranting - that is, typing my comment.

#35 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:04 AM:

I know my students can't possibly use ignorance as an excuse for plagiarism. They're exposed right from the start to various workshops, lectures, handouts, etc. The UCLA English department Style Sheet, a pamphlet they buy with their textbooks, includes citation and plagiarism discussions. I have very clear statements about it in my syllabus, which I go over in class at least twice, on handouts about how to write papers, and on the assignment sheet. And for most of the classes I teach, which focus on close analysis of text, there's no need for outside research, and indeed, the assignment sheet prohibits outside research (aside from dictionaries and similar references).

They still plagiarize. UCLA has just started licensing http://www.turnitin.com, an anti-plagiarism site that you submit papers to, and the papers are compared to a digital database, and then to materials on the web. The paper is returned to the submitter (a faculty member or TA) with color-coded markup indicating what was found elsewhere, and what percentage of the paper the text represents. It's not a requirement that faculty use it.

I really really hate Turnitin. I hate the whole concept, I think it's a violation of student rights, and I think it's our job, as teachers and apprentice teachers, to spot plagiarism. And the methods used by Turnitin are not exactly helpful--I suspect many faculty will not understand the information in the report, and will then not use it correctly.

#36 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:15 AM:

I am studying abroad in Germany. For my course on Middle High German the professor has a website with PFD materials that are password-protected and available to current students only. He said he hated having to do this, but that his material had showed up in the papers of students at the university for other courses. One of the students who plagarised his work had wanted to write her thesis with him. Now, he said, she's "dead" to him. A real secular hell for an aspiring academic.

#37 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:20 AM:

Randall P. asks:

Can someone here define what, exactly, plagiarism is? Is it the lifting of the source material word for word? Or would it also include rewriting the source material in your own words (same idea, different words used to express that idea)? Just wondering.

In crude terms, plagiarism is the use of another's words or ideas as if they were your own.


Those are crude terms. Relying on excessive paraphrase, even with a citation to "cover" yourself, is plagiarism. If you want the nitty-gritty, I link to the official UCLA Dean of Students site on "academic integrity" for students, below. Here's a fairly typical syllabus statement from the class I taught last quarter:

I am exceedingly interested in what you have to say, in what you think, and in helping you improve your writing. I am not interested in what your room mate or a published scholar or family member, or a web site author thinks, in terms of what should be your work. I will report any suspected incidence of plagiarism or cheating to the Dean of Students office. You can read about UCLA’s policies here:

http://www.deanofstudents.ucla.edu/studentconduct.htm

You will note the English department’s view of plagiarism in the English Department Style Sheet. If you are worried, sick, nervous, afraid, contact me. I can offer all sorts of help before you do something you shouldn’t and that you know is stupid, and nothing afterward, since it’s out of my hands.


Talk to me before you have a problem. I can’t help you once the Dean of Students is involved.

And yes, I still had a plagiarism case.

#38 ::: Jane ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:26 AM:

"I never dreamt it was a problem."

Perhaps this fellow comes from Harry Potter fandom?

#39 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:34 AM:

Don't know UK schools but I'll wager the Uni screwed up first in time - the Uni not the teacher. In US schools where I have experience the school will strongly discourage faculty action against cheaters no matter how blatant. There is weak support for action against cheating - for technical solutions to the issue - make it harder to cheat and more impersonal to get caught. I also had some advice from students on how to proctor around particular seats in the classroom.

In this case I'll wager individual faculty members chose/were encouraged not to raise the issue in hopes it would go away. (allow the student to cheat in a class or two but not all the time) Instead it apparently grew. For remedy I'd argue the student got what he paid for and is entitled to nothing more. Should every student doing paid remedial work in community colleges be allowed and encouraged back in free high school until adequate? Actually I'd say yes.

#40 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:53 AM:

Nacy Lebovitz asked what made Kent look bad to me. I can't remember the detail: only the strong impression I got, after a night talking with them, that the faculty were not very clever (with one exception) not very highly motivated; and resigned to very low standards among their students. Since I had attended conferences on the campus, and so know all _its_ disadvantages, that was enough.

As for the pension line: I know that students leave uni burdened with debt. But most of them go there in the expectation of finding jobs that wil pay this debt off. This is unlikely to be true of physics students, I know. But it was a sloppy analogy. The real point is that they are hanging on for a reward at the end, as people with nasty jobs and nice pensions used to, back in the days when there were nice pensions.

#41 ::: Mary Anne Mohanraj ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 12:26 PM:

When I taught at Utah, we flunked students caught plagiarizing, and put them on academic probation. If they were caught twice, they were expelled. I know of multiple cases of the first case, and none of the second.

I always gave a strict lecture on plagiarism the first day of class, including telling them just how easy it was for me to catch them. If I caught someone, I gave them one warning if I thought they were honestly clueless; otherwise, or on the second offense, they would have been sent straight to the dean and flunked out of my course.

#42 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 12:33 PM:

My dad (who was a university lecturer for over 40 years) had his favourite horror story about a plagiarist: a student who turned in an essay that my dad only spotted as plagiarism because he just happened to find the book in the library that the student had stolen it from. (He said that most plagiarists were caught out because they had borrowed chunks and pieces, and written interlinking copy, and it was obvious that the same person had not written the whole essay.) Because this student had simply taken the whole essay and condensed it to fit the required wordcount, no one had spotted it as a fraud.

He was hauled up in front of his head of department, lectured about it, his mark for that essay removed, and told to do it again. I cannot recall if my dad mentioned any other penalty, but he said that the student's defense was that he'd plagiarised (he was a good student otherwise, with no record of plagiarism) because he hated that topic, and hadn't wanted to do the essay: he asked if he could do an essay on any other topic, and was told no.

I think the student got exactly what he deserved, by the way, if he had been plagiarising regularly: claims that he "didn't know it was wrong" are almost certainly unfounded. Plagiarism is something most lecturers specifically warn against, even if he hadn't read the handbook.

#43 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 12:48 PM:

I work for a college and actually sit in on cases of Academic Dishonesty. Students use that very excuse case after case! "You should have stopped me!" Please, you should have enough common sense! At seventeen/eighteen (at the very least) you're old enough to know better. Legally, you're an adult. Mentally, I don't know much of what's going on in their minds. If you have to cheat to get by, maybe you don't deserve to be in college. I'm struggling just to earn my BA, so I appreciate getting an education. I galls me to watch these kids throw away their education because they are too lazy to do the work themselves.

Suing the university because they should have stopped him sooner? Oh jeez. Sad thing is, he'll probably win!

#44 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 01:05 PM:

I'm in the home stretch on my BSB at University of Phoenix, Tucson campus. The introductory course there (GEN 300) has assignments that theoretically teach how not to plagiarize. There are exercises in citation, paraphrasing, and writing lots of papers with Works Cited pages. Even at that, a few of my fellow students didn't quite get the concept. Those students didn't last long in the program, anyway, on grounds of general competency.

A later course (in Business Law) started with an extensive discussion of the instructor's experiences with student plagiarism. Rosalie told us she uses plagiarism software that spits out a percentage of words copied from known source material. A low score means the student probably kept to the straight and narrow. It sounded shockingly arbitrary to me, but there was no trouble in our class with plagiarism accusations.

According to what we were taught, Randall P., if it's a direct quote of the source, it goes in quotation marks (of course) followed by a citation. If it's a paraphrase of a fact or concept from the source, it gets just the citation (Brown 611). That was specifically for the MLA style of academic papers, but the principle is sound. Common knowledge and personal, experiential knowledge from no single source don't need citations.

Re this particular case: in this CYA era of "Caution: peanut butter may contain peanuts" notices, I find it difficult to believe that this shmoe was never told not to cheat. The university staff may have failed to say it repeatedly in person and in detail, which is probably a mistake, and failed to detect the cheating earlier; but that in no way gets the kid off the hook IMO.

#45 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 01:21 PM:

I've been discussing this with the Academic VP and the Dean of Faculty at a university where I teach. I'm on the Academic Honesty Board, and we are taking this lawsuit VERY seriously.

Thank you for such an enlightened discussion. You are all helping to save many students' careers!

#46 ::: Julie ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 01:53 PM:

I teach freshman comp at a state university in CA. Every member of the English faculty puts some sort of plagiarism statement on the syllabus and then makes a point to call attention to it on the first day of class. If caught, the student automatically fails the course and is referred to the University for discipline (which amounts to little more than a paper trail being initiated on the student's honesty). The next time they're caught, it's a much bigger deal, sometimes leading to expulsion.

My department gets probably 5-6 plagiarism cases a semester in 1A (the first semester course), and often they're easy to prove since the student googled for it. I think our favorite plagiarism case was the one last year when the student didn't even bother to change the font to black to match the rest of his paper instead of the website where he found it.

#47 ::: B. B. Kristopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 01:53 PM:

I'm a college student right now. I attend a community college in Georgia. Right now, I'm taking my twelfth class. Of those, I've had exactly one professor who didn't start with the "Thou shalt not plagiarize speech." The level of threat has ranged from "Yeah, verily, thought shall receive a zero," to "Yeah, verily, I will drag thine arse before the student court and have ye expelled with mine boot inserted there in."

So far, I've seen one case of plagiarism of the 'I'm to stupid to cite my sources in a research paper' variety get rewarded with a zero. Knowing the professor, she figured he was just to stupid to follow instructions rather than actually trying to pass off other people's work as his own. She was lenient. She gave him a zero on the assignment instead of an F for the course. Of course, since the research paper made up 30 percent of the grade, and this guy wasn't exactly a rocket scientist, in practical terms, there wasn't much difference.

My history professor last semester assigns rather obscure novel specifically to avoid plagiarism on the writing assignments. He uses a novel for two semesters. He said, invariably, the second semester he has to flunk someone for turning in a paper from the previous semester. Sure enough, it happened when I was in his class. Since the writing assignment made up 25 percent of their grade, unless they made a 100 on every test, they wouldn't have scored highly enough in his class for the credit to count towards their degree. Given that they couldn't be bothered to write their paper, somehow I doubt these were the kind of students who pulled down perfect scores on their tests.

From what I've seen, plagiarism is something most professors take extremely seriously, and do there best to monitor for.

If fact, from my standpoint, the issue gets just a bit frustrating. Personally, I find the idea of plagiarizing someone else's work incredibly stupid. I'm paying money to go to school and get an education. If I cheat, I'm basically throwing my money way for no good reason. It's not like my history degree is going to get me a job.

But you got these yahoos who will cheat even when they could do the work without much problem. Those of us who are honest suffer for it. A lot of the professors have started requiring students to submit their papers to websites that check it against a database to make sure it isn't plagiarized. A lot of these sites then make the papers publicly available. Effectively, in order to prevent plagiarism, students are being forced to publish their work without compensation.

Now, I don't expect an academic paper I write at the undergraduate level to ever bring me financial gain, but, the idea of being required to give away my work because of someone else's dishonesty is a serious annoyance.

So, I look at Mr. Gunn and feel absolutely nothing other than deep and abiding contempt. I currently have a 4.0 average. I got it by busting my butt from day one. I'll get my degree by busting my butt. Mr. Gunn got what credits he has by cheating. He, and those like him have deprived themselves of the benefits to be earned by actual education, while securing the benefits that the degree confers without putting forth the effort to acquire the actual skills that possession of the degree suggests they have. Because of people like Mr. Gunn, those of us who are honest have to go through contortions to prove we are honest. Also, the degrees we earn aren't sufficient evidence of our possession of the skills associated with the degree, which places a greater burden on potential employers who must evaluate our skills instead of simply taking the degree as proof of them.

Now, I don't know about the English higher education system, but I do know that in the US, the average student tuition pays for roughly 1/10th the total cost of the student's education. 1/10th. The idea that a school makes a profit from the tuition its students pay is about as accurate as the idea that the Earth is flat. They actually lose money on students. (There are exceptions to this. Placed like ITT Tech and Devry, but those are run in an entirely different manner than a real college).

The rest comes from grants, donations and government funding. So, a student who attends a school with a $1000 per semester tuition for four years and cheats his way through to a degree has not only deprived himself on an education, deprived society as a whole of the benefits of an educated citizen, received credentials through fraud, devalued the work and accomplishments of his fellow students and devalued the very degree he attainted through fraud, he has done so to the tune of roughly 72,000 dollars in other people's money, assuming he paid for his tuition out of pocket. Assuming the tuition came in the form of grants and scholarships that number jumps to 80,000 (again, assuming $1K per semester). That number does not include fees and books either. Now, when you take into account that $1000 dollars is actually a low estimate for anything other than a community college, and I've seen colleges where tuition can break $12K a *semester* you begin to get an idea of the true severity of this crime.

The idea of giving Gunn a free ride through three more years, which he will undoubtedly waste by continuing to cheat, is not just throwing good money after bad, it is throwing a lot of good money, likely including a lot of good tax payer money, after bad, on someone who's already proven himself a pitiful excuse for a human being.

I think a far more appropriate response would be to strip him of all his credits, and put a freeze his transcript requests permanently. I'm not sure about the English higher educational system, but in the US, this would very effectively bar him from ever entering college again.

Which is about what the little sack of feces deserves.

#48 ::: Daniel Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:08 PM:

I remember struggling to write a history paper in high school, about why Eisenhower sent the CIA into Guatemala (which had a socialist leader at the time) to overthrow the government.

What was most difficult was trying to say something original, or making some new connection between all of my sources. My first draft was pretty weak, as I remember it, and probably contained innumerable uncredited paraphrases.

I suppose that is a more nebulous form of plagiarism, but it can be hard to create a personal judgment using lots of expert information, especially when you are young or still learning your discipline. My teacher noticed and just said I needed a major rewrite.

Lisa Spangenberg also wrote:

And for most of the classes I teach, which focus on close analysis of text, there's no need for outside research, and indeed, the assignment sheet prohibits outside research (aside from dictionaries and similar references).

The same year as that history paper, I wrote a paper on Madame Bovary. (The theme was "the color blue".) Later, I picked up a book of criticism on the novel, and found a section on a glaringly obvious detail I had left out of my paper. It would have tied everything together perfectly, and I wish I had noticed it and used it.

If I had read the book before I wrote the paper, I would have been plagiarizing to add the detail, even though that detail was always in Madame Bovary. Now, years later, every time I explain that idea, is it plagiarism? Do I just need to reread the book and have the idea for myself, or do I have to go on a quest for a citation if I ever want to use the idea?

I think the Kent student was dealing in a more malignant plagiarism than these near-misses of mine.

#49 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:19 PM:

Now, I don't know about the English higher education system, but I do know that in the US, the average student tuition pays for roughly 1/10th the total cost of the student's education. 1/10th. The idea that a school makes a profit from the tuition its students pay is about as accurate as the idea that the Earth is flat. They actually lose money on students. (There are exceptions to this. Placed like ITT Tech and Devry, but those are run in an entirely different manner than a real college).

Although not exactly false this sort of statistics is not exactly true either. If one compares the total cost of the university to the number of paid student hours then tuition does not cover the cost of the university. This is sort of taking cost as average total cost. It should be obvious that taking cost as marginal cost many students more than cover their own marginal cost. Finally many schools, especially business schools and law schools cover their own expenses and contribute half or more of their collections to the university.

#50 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:21 PM:

Count me as one who laughed aloud at "I never dreamt it was a problem". I admire chutzpah, but that's just bald-faced cheek and a dirty lie besides.

And I agree with Jill and (I think it was) Xopher: he should get nothing, because he's already had his money's worth of education if he's learned an aversion to cheating (it seems too much to hope that he will ever understand why it's a bad idea apart from what can happen if you get caught).

Tip o' the hat also to those commenters (too lazy to scroll back up) who pointed out the link between widespread plagiarism and teaching-to-the-exam. When the whole bloody exercise is a sham, and you're just doing it to get the piece of paper that everyone says you must get, little things like integrity and self respect tend to be left out of considerations.

#51 ::: Aiglet ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:21 PM:

I've gotten the plagiarism speech every year I was in school, starting from the first year I had to write a paper with sources other than my classroom notes (which was probably 8th grade or so [age 13]). I refuse to believe that any self-respecting school system doesn't include the same sorts of warnings about it.

Now, it'd be one thing if what they're calling "plagiarism" is "I had person X read over my papers and help me with the spelling and grammar and we talked over the ideas when I was writing it", but I suspect it's more of the "I pulled parts (or all) of my essay from some other source with no credit." I've actually been called up to hearings on the first sort of case -- I was helping someone else write a paper in a class I'd already taken, basically letting them bounce ideas off me and then helping them edit. Fortunately, since we'd chosen to take our ideas in very different directions, the profs decided that it wasn't plagiarism, but we still got very stiff lectures about how narrowly we missed being expelled.

There is a grey area, but I doubt this guy falls into it.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:35 PM:

Daniel, you could have added it to the paper without plagiarizing. "Schneemaier (1962) points out that..." and properly cite Schneemaier.

If you read it a long time ago and cannot remember Schneemaier's name (OK, bad example, but say it was Smith or Anderson or something) you could start with "It's been pointed out that..." and explain in the footnote that you have been unable to refind the source. Not a proper citation; possibly points off the paper; definitely not plagiarism (in an academic context).

#53 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:51 PM:

I have a few friends who have taught composition, and every one of them has had at least one plagiarism problem. The quality of the university seems to be directly reflected in how much it backs its instructors when they have evidence of this sort of thing -- or maybe the difference is in how much they expect of students.

My best girl friend said that the worst time she caught someone cheating was when a girl who had steadily improved from a B- to a B to a B+ all of a sudden cheated on her fourth paper. She couldn't find any indication that the first three weren't genuine improvement, and the fact that it didn't continue was particularly disheartening.

All of this made me understand why I got to hear repetitive lectures about how to cite sources, though.

#54 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 02:53 PM:

<waves to Karen from Tucson>

---L.

#55 ::: Daniel Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 03:28 PM:

"you could start with 'It's been pointed out that...' and explain in the footnote that you have been unable to refind the source."

Xopher, I am also curious about how original the idea has to be to require citation. I have been writing similar English papers lately with sources in the Norton Anthology, and when I use their footnotes or commentary, I have to write, "As the NAEL editors point out..." No problem; at least on the first time through, I try to read the texts without all the information (this battle was over before it started with The Faerie Queene though). Hopefully, I can then notice when I am talking and when they are talking, as I write my papers.

The less clear case is this detail from the commentary about Madame Bovary. I almost got the same idea several years ago; if I read the book again, I would surely note it this time in the normal course of my reading. (I also hope I am a sufficiently better reader now that I would note this detail if I came to it cold.) When is an idea obvious enough that it falls into a sort of public domain for free use, or trivial enough not to worry about citing? I suppose each discipline has to decide what is common knowledge and what is original.

#56 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 04:29 PM:

In terms of Daniel Lewis' Madame Bovary question, no, it would not have been plagiarism if you included a citation, and if you indicated when and if you were quoting. One doesn't, generally speaking, get in trouble for citing, and we all eventually find ourselves citing a source for a particular idea or reference, even though we ourselves had the idea independently. I've find that when I read deeply in the work others have written about a text, I rediscover that I'm really not all that original (sniff). But I console myself by thinking I'm thinking even deeper than those I cite and still have something to contribute . . .

When I teach the "Norton Anthology of English Literature" classes for prospective English majors I try to make them see themselves participating in a twelve hundred year old scholarly community, and that citing their fellow community members is both a courtesy and a badge of honor, as well as a sign that they are "members" themselves.

#57 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 04:41 PM:

For those who think that giving Mr Gunn the opportunity to do the three years of work over again is being nice to him - note that Teresa specified doing the coursework over again and said nothing about reimbursing his living expenses. He'd have to sit through three years of the course, with no money to live on. He doesn't get to just sit down and frantically scribble replacement essays over the next couple of months.

It would certainly sort out how serious he was about wanting to do it properly, rather than just whining because he got caught but wants his degree anyway - now.

#58 ::: Pippin Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 04:54 PM:

If you wish it, I will try to find my student handbook for you. It's probably sitting in my locker, having never been read.

#59 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 04:55 PM:

Regarding Daniel Lewis's Madame Bovary question: Daniel, one of the marks of a brilliant idea is that it seems so obvious once it's pointed out. You "almost" had the same idea, independently -- but you didn't have it. Nor have you found that others have had the idea independently, nor that the idea is now widely known. The circumstances therefore call for a citation.

#60 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 05:03 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg:

"When I teach ... English majors I try to make them see themselves participating in a twelve hundred year old scholarly community, and that citing their fellow community members is both a courtesy and a badge of honor, as well as a sign that they are 'members' themselves."

Amen!

#61 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 05:44 PM:

OK, Teresa, I surrender. I've been thinking about it all day and I still can't figure it out.

Why semicolons?

Alex

#62 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:08 PM:

Why semicolons?

Because in high school many students are taught to Avoid the Semicolon. (I'm not kidding. I have two high school style/usage guides right here that say that.) Then, they get to college, and think, well, this is college. I'll use a semicolon! I'll get bonus points! Using a semicolon is even better than using three syllable words from the thesaurus and much better than using lots of exclamation points to emphasize my emotional sincerity!!

Many undergraduates think a semicolon is sort of like a fancy comma. I spend a fair amount of time trying to show students that sentences have shape, that they occur in time, and that they have rhythm and meter. That, of course, necessitates explaining the semicolon and the independent clause (many students think the phrase "independent clause" is a semantic value judgment).

That said, one of the people reading my dissertation draft wrote in a marginal comment that "I'm only on p. 75, and this is the third semicolon you've used. This is not a sign of academic writing. Avoid using the semicolon." "Avoid using the semicolon" is underlined.

This person also doesn't like the dash, ("the dash is not a legitimate punctuation mark") even though I only use it twice, both times in translated passages.

#63 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:10 PM:

Quoted from Bill Blum, from the weblog of Theresa Nielsen Hayden, written 6/4/04, cited 6/4/04 (full citation available upon request): "Most professors were fairly savvy about it: you never just handed in a final draft at my school, you had to hand in all your rough drafts (general rule of thumb: they looked for TWO drafts)"

Ahhhh. Suddenly this policy makes so much more sense... I always hated handing in multiple drafts at the end, since if I really wanted to hand in a lousy version of something without getting advice, I'd just leave it there and get some sleep. Editing for me rarely breaks down into discrete drafts; I usually just change a few annoying things each day until the deadline. I've been known to retroengineer a rough draft from my final version. I've also been known to write/engineer a draft paper for an (intro) writing class specifically to see if I could get it chosen as one of those to be workshopped: just the right number of problems, readily apparent, nice and easy to fix, but not such that they strained credibility. (It worked, which I probably should be embarassed about.)

#64 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:43 PM:

Alex, find "Eats, Shoots & Leaves " by Lynne Truss, Gotham Press., 2004 (US printing, first published 2003 in the UK). The subtitle is "A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation." I had to scamper upstairs to Jim's lair to find our newly-purchaed copy. Now I want one at my desk to refer to.... sigh. Great fun to read, great help too. It has a whole chapter explaining semicolon and colon usage.

#65 ::: Matt Mikalatos ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:48 PM:

A high school student in one of my American Lit classes turned in a term paper that started with a line about how the smell of horsehide reminded him of his youth playing baseball thirty years earlier. A long reminiscence about his memories of ancient baseball players followed.

I gave the student a vocabulary quiz with words taken from his own paper, which, of course, he failed. His first excuse was that he had been "quoting" the book, though when asked why it wasn't included in his bibliography he said, "I was afraid that you would go to the library and see that I had copied it out."

Later I asked him why he had chosen that particular book, since baseball wasn't the assigned topic. He shrugged and said, "I thought you were just going to make sure that we had written enough pages. I didn't think you were going to read it."

Bah. I let him write a new one as a punishment.

He hadn't turned in his first draft or notecards before that. I imagine he hadn't read the assigned novel.

#66 ::: gthistle ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 06:53 PM:

The most significant problem I see with having Mr. Gunn redo his degree properly(tm) is that another student could have those resources (classroom/instructor time, library access, etc.). I'm not enough of a cynic to assume that the other student would be of similarly opportunistic ilk.

#67 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:13 PM:

Julia Jones: For those who think that giving Mr Gunn the opportunity to do the three years of work over again is being nice to him

Certainly being considerably nicer to him than booting him out. And really, what Gunn needs is not niceness, nor confirmation that he was right to complain that the college never specifically told him he couldn't plagiarise: what Gunn needs is to learn how to do his own work.

#68 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:14 PM:

Most professors were fairly savvy about it: you never just handed in a final draft at my school, you had to hand in all your rough drafts (general rule of thumb: they looked for TWO drafts), all your notes, and copies of any sources that wouldn't be 'easily accessible' in the Wittenberg Library.

Ah, yes. The old "two draft" rule. I taught Political Science for a semester at Brooklyn College back in the day, and as I recall I went one better--I required every stage of research paper writing: A 1-paragraph statement of subject, a list of subject research sources, a 1-page description of subject, a 1-paragraph description of thesis, a list of thesis research sources (all of which much be in addition to and, thus, not the same as, the first source list), an informal outline (in any form), and the final paper. Each of these hand-ins had a deadline. I can't swear there was no plagiarism, but I figured that if anyone had copied or purchased a paper and had to back-create all this stuff, he or she would have done a hell of a lot more work than just writing the paper would have required.

I also handled the cheat-sheet problem on tests by having an open-book final. The final consisted of one thought question (they had a choice of three). Anyone who didn't know the material already would have quickly discovered that trying to look up the facts they needed to answer the question intelligently wouldn't leave enough time to actually write the answer.

All of this made a lot of work for me, but one way or another, everyone learned something.

Happily, now the only teaching I do is introductory t'ai chi. There are no papers, and the final consists of doing the form solo. Cheating not possible.

#69 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:38 PM:

The warning to students should read: "If you found it [the plagiarized content] by Googling, we can find it by Googling." Or do they think we "old" folks (I am 33 and have taught on and off since 2000) don't know how to use the Internet?

Though my academic career to date is quite short, I have already encountered plagiarists. The worst case involved a student's paper not on any of the assigned topics and that was clearly a professional book review. I Googled phrases and this review was the first thing that appeared, from a well-known (in my field) on-line academic review journal.

I since have been advised to give students several long essay examinations instead of term papers. As a TA A.B.D. I corrected essay exams in a large class (60 or more students). The worst essay I saw, I opened up the blue book and found only meaningless dense black scribble.

Apparently the student, stoned on what I know not, had come to the exam and answered question after question. . .without remembering to turn the pages.

#70 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 07:42 PM:

From Matt M.'s comment:
"I thought you were just going to make sure that we had written enough pages. I didn't think you were going to read it."

When I'm wearing my TA hat, I hear that all the time. Sometimes it's the truth-- I saw one of my fellow TAs grading one day, going through thick lab reports at a rate of about one a minute. I asked him how he was grading them, and he told me he just checks to see that all the sections (abstract, procedure, etc.) are there, and then he spot checks some random detail, and if whatever he checks is right— A+. He rarely writes any comments on the lab. How can he? He hasn't read it. Grading is easy for him.

When students don't get feedback, sometimes they get lazy and plagiarize. Obviously that is far from the only reason for plagiarism, but I think this feeling that the work somehow doesn't matter is very common. Why put effort into work that will go straight to the dumpster?

#71 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:19 PM:

Sara said: The warning to students should read: "If you found it [the plagiarized content] by Googling, we can find it by Googling." Or do they think we "old" folks (I am 33 and have taught on and off since 2000) don't know how to use the Internet?

Not only can the wrinklies Google, they often have LiveJournals to which they post stuff they're suspicious of, asking if anyone else recognises this because it looks fishy but didn't turn up in Google. As one of my friends did last month. :-)

And then, of course, there are the teachers who set assignments that they can check against the carefully designed gotcha sites set up by various newsgroups who are tired of "please do my homework for me" posts.

#72 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:45 PM:

>That said, one of the people reading my
>dissertation draft wrote in a marginal comment
>that "I'm only on p. 75, and this is the third
>semicolon you've used."

Naturally, the comment neglects to put one after the '75.' (I've been house trained to put those semicolons in, when I do tech writing.)

Someone on, or close to, the Electrolite blogroll was just ranting savagely about "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation," -- I can't remember who. (The title of the book conjoins the words "zero" and "tolerance" as an adjective modifier and omits the hyphen between them.)

#73 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 08:49 PM:

"I’d be interested to see if he could in some way prove that Kent willfully ignored it to allow the university to keep collecting money from him. It’s an interesting thought, and I must admit the timing – “finally” catching him right before graduation – is extremely convenient."

I've thought about this with both hands, and stil can't quite figure out what benefit there would be to the university in taking this guy's money for 3+ years and allowing him (or even encouraging him) to learn nothing. They're still paying the faculty, however badly. They're still paying overhead and benefits, and the kid, if he lives on campus, is still taking up space another, more academically engaged student, might be using.

I dunno. I am getting older by the minute, and my use of the phrase "in my day" becomes depressingly frequent, but my college had an honor code, and we all knew that plagiarism was a no- no.

For that matter, my 14 year old daughter has heard from her teachers, her school, and her Big Mean Parents that plagiarism is a no-no. Wonder what this guy's parents have to say about all this.

#74 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 09:58 PM:

The president of the college from which I graduated only a couple of weeks ago was... erm... politely nudged out the door for plagiarism. In the incident for which he was caught, he had taken part of a speech from a book review on Amazon.com. At dear Hamilton, we heard endlessly from day one of orientation that Plagiarism Is the Greatest Academic Evil, and that plagiarists will be caught. (As one professor put it last semester, "We have access to the same materials you do. One of them is called Google. Don't be stupid.") Despite constant warnings and the looming threat of the Honor Court, students still plagiarize. I'm sure some of them even get away with it. Our former president did for, he eventually admitted, seven years before one of the professors caught him at it. He probably wouldn't have had to resign if the story hadn't been leaked to the press.

Being constantly informed of how terrible plagiarism is (and I, at least, knew by the time I'd finished my first project in elementary school that it's terrible) doesn't stop those who are determined to make their lives easier. Gunn consciously decided to misuse the time and resources for which he or his parents had paid. He should get nothing--no diploma, and no second chance. [/soapbox]

#75 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:14 PM:

[I'm going to try to make a link work here. If I fail, please forgive the effort.]

Sara (June 4) said: "The warning to students should read: "If you found it [the plagiarized content] by Googling, we can find it by Googling." Or do they think we "old" folks (I am 33 and have taught on and off since 2000) don't know how to use the Internet?"

I maintain an online bibliography to the work of Madeleine L'Engle at http://hometown.aol.com/kfbofpql/LEngl.html. I get lots of email from kids with questions that are obviously from some schoool assignment:

"What is the exact theme of the book?"

"What does the Black Thing represent?"

"What is IT?"

Many of the questions are ones the students could answer by just reading the book, and that's mostly what I tell them. I find it especially annoying that most of the emails are in text messaging style with abbreviated words, no caps or punctuation, and that they often refer to "the book" as if A Wrinkle in Time were the only book written by Madeleine L'Engle.

#76 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:26 PM:

sara, in fact they do.

My spouse tutors high school kids who are taking the SAT. He was chatting about computers with one of his students. The kid mentioned something about wanting to fix up his computer, to which my spouse said "Oh, modding? My wife does that." The kid's eyes bugged out. The idea that old people--you know, over 30s--might actually understand computers, much less understand them well, was shocking to him.

I'm on the Academic Honesty Board, and we are taking this lawsuit VERY seriously.

This proposed lawsuit. Before you panic, have a chat with your in-house legal squad. I think you don't have a lot to worry about, as long as you have a clear and routinely enforced plagiarism policy.

See, when you sue, you have to sue about something. It's called the cause of action. I'm wondering what Mr. Gunn thinks he can sue for--infliction of emotional distress? Libel? (Darn, truth is an absolute defense.) Failing to have caught and stopped him before? (Right, that's why we have to let burglars go free if they get away with robbing a certain number of houses.)

#77 ::: PZ Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:30 PM:

We had an interesting example of something similarly ironic on our university faculty e-mail list. We had a creationist giving a talk on campus, and I had sent out some scathing information on the guy to my fellow faculty. Another faculty member, a vocal creationist himself (yes, they do exist on college faculty. He was a coach, of course.) fired off an impassioned defense.

Another faculty member was suspicious and gave the e-mail the google test. You guessed it -- it was plagiarized.

#78 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:43 PM:

Lisa said:

That said, one of the people reading my dissertation draft wrote in a marginal comment that "I'm only on p. 75, and this is the third semicolon you've used. This is not a sign of academic writing. Avoid using the semicolon." "Avoid using the semicolon" is underlined.

This person also doesn't like the dash, ("the dash is not a legitimate punctuation mark") even though I only use it twice, both times in translated passages.

This person would hate my writing. I am a heavy user of both the dash and the semi-colon. (Parentheses, too, but since I'm not discussing them at the moment I feel less self-conscious using them....)


Sara said:

I since have been advised to give students several long essay examinations instead of term papers. As a TA A.B.D. I corrected essay exams in a large class (60 or more students). The worst essay I saw, I opened up the blue book and found only meaningless dense black scribble.

Apparently the student, stoned on what I know not, had come to the exam and answered question after question. . .without remembering to turn the pages.

Good heavens. I've heard similar stories before, but I thought it was an urban legend.

#79 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:43 PM:

mythago: My spouse tutors high school kids who are taking the SAT. He was chatting about computers with one of his students. The kid mentioned something about wanting to fix up his computer, to which my spouse said "Oh, modding? My wife does that." The kid's eyes bugged out. The idea that old people--you know, over 30s--might actually understand computers, much less understand them well, was shocking to him.

LOL. I once had to substitute-teach kids in a programming class for which they needed computer time. Look, I said, I don't want to see web-browsers open to ESPN.com, I don't want to see Flash games or Unreal Tournament or whatever you have snuck onto these hard drives. This was a tactical error. "Dude, UT's on these machines? Where?" It was just a theoretical example, I said.

They behaved, more or less. It helps that I am a complete peripatetic in classrooms. Amazing how many kids couldn't hit alt-tab fast enough--or don't realize that I'm just as capable of hitting alt-tab to see what else is there. Still--behaved, more or less. Just had to tell 'em up front.

#80 ::: Rob M ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 11:30 PM:

One of the surprising things about this story is that Kent at Canterbury actually care that he was plagiarising.

Not so long ago, when I was an RA, I had the job of marking lab reports from physics students at a university in London, it usually was pretty easy to tell the cheats. Those were the people I'd seen for about 10 minutes out of the 4 hours they were supposed to be in lab, and who couldn't explain anything specific about the topic at their assessment interview (if they even bothered to turn up, that is). Generally you could guess they'd have copied the report from someone else.

Even easier to spot were the ones who's lab report was yet another rough paraphrase of some "model report" for that experiment that apparently got passed down from student year to student year (this was especially fun when you'd see the same misspellings repeated, and write-ups of sections of the experiment that weren't done anymore).

So I'd hand in my marks to the lecturer in charge (zero, if they'd copied and didn't turn up for the interview) but mysteriously they'd often turn into 33% (pass mark) when I bothered to check the list. Under that system, if you failed lab, you failed the year (essentially you couldn't continue your degree without repeating the year's work). Failing too many students looked bad, so the department simply wouldn't do it, except in the most egregious cases.

#81 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 02:01 AM:

Clark Myer debunks B. B. Khristopher's claim that tuition is 10% of cost partly by talking about apportionment. Even if you apportion, 10% is unbelievable; the lowest I've ever heard any university have the nerve to claim was something like 1/3. I also suspect it's not linear, i.e. a $12K/semester Vine-Covered U isn't \spending/ 12x as much as a $1K/semester community college -- the latter tend to be heavily subsidized (at least for in-area students) by the local govt.)

And I expect some schools are in fact making money off undergraduates, or coming close. I've been reading of a trend towards dropping tenured slots and handing ever more actual teaching to "adjunct faculty" who are paid so badly that they can't possibly do a decent job grading if they teach enough courses to make a living.

NB to mythago: I'm wondering what Mr. Gunn thinks he can sue for--infliction of emotional distress? Libel? (Darn, truth is an absolute defense.) Not in the UK as I understand it, and I've been told that publishing an irrelevant damaging fact about someone can be libelous even in the US. Note also that anyone can try to sue, seriously inconveniencing a defendant, possibly at no cost to the plaintiff -- does the UK bar contingency fees for lawyers?

wrt the original topic: I'm not \totally/ boggled because I've been hearing so much about the trend towards plagiarism for so long; this seems almost inevitable -- like a stock market crash after a bubble -- but not something I would have predicted to happen at any specific time.

#82 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 03:12 AM:

"Avoid the semicolon"?

I hope the text or teacher preaching that rule tells the student how to punctuate a sentence which includes: a list following a colon; a joined set of subordinate clauses, which already have commas, and which therefore need something other than commas to separate them from the rest of the sentence; or a "reconsideration" (I don't know what else to call it; on the other hand, an example may convey my meaning), clarification, amplification, or slightly rephrased restatement of a point.

Sometimes neither a full stop (.) nor a comma meets the needs of a sentence: the full stop because it "breaks" the sentence; the comma because it muddles where list items begin and end, vs. where they simply pause.

On to the main topic: plagiarism; or, rather, when a duplication of text is or is not plagiarism.

There are only so many ways to say "The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776." Once those are used up, must everyone afterward either avoid saying it, or duly credit the specific person who first used the particular phrasing now being re-used? (I have no idea who first wrote the sentence quoted earlier in this praragraph. I apologize to that person, or that person's shade, for my lapse in this regard.)

Well, no, we see above that plagiarism and the anti-plagiarism rules of citation do not apply to "common knowledge".

The problem is that there are only so many ways to say anything at all. A very large number of ways, in some cases; but even a very large number is not infinite.

Eventually, by the limits of possibility, let alone the higher probability of certain phrasings compared to others, phrases will recur even in texts that truly were written independently.

What if Daniel Lewis actually had had the insight into Madame Bovary that tied his paper together, in time to incorporate it? And later, either he or one of his teachers found that insight in the pre-existing book of criticism? Would Daniel have been charged with plagiarism? (Assume whatever similarity of phrasing would trigger the charge.)

Spider Robinson's short story "Melancholy Elephant" (included in his collection, By Any Other Name) discusses exactly this issue. Above, I have paraphrased — without due credit, until this paragraph — his comment about the difference between very large numbers and infinity, with regard to how many ways there are to say something. He applies the same observation to visual art (there are only so many colors) and music (there are only so many notes; only so many possible combinations, i.e. melodies; and only so many bearable melodies). Eventually all the (bearable) possibilities will be be used up. What do we do then?

#83 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 04:16 AM:

I'm with you, Raven, on the semicolons. I probably couldn't get through two pages without them. There are several good reasons that mark exists, and you just demonstrated them. To the best of my memory, I've never been told not to use semicolons. If anything, I would think a sloppy plagiarist would have semicolons in the copied text, and nothing but fragments and misused commas in the original connecting sentences.

You also clarified what I was trying to get at earlier in mentioning the plagiarism detection software. I've gone to a lot of trouble, from time to time, twisting sentences to get the words (or their thesaurus-generated equivalents) in a different order. Even then, I'm sure the software knows that at some other time, another writer also mentioned the words "Declaration of Independence" and "1776" in that order.

There's an odd little community cable channel here in Tucson that occasionally shows a BBC programme on music hosted by George Martin. Among the people interviewed is Billy Joel, who talks about the just-so-many-notes problem. The punchline to his commentary and demonstration is, "Oh my God! Mozart wrote Uptown Girl!"

Oh, and I forgot to wave back at LNHammer earlier.

#84 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 05:51 AM:

I'm a little surprised how seriously universities elsewhere appear to be taking plagiarism. When I was marking first-year undergrad maths assignments at Nottingham, I'd usually find a couple of identically-wrong answers (obviously you expect identically-correct answers, there are usually only two or three ways to do the problem correctly); I'd tell the lecturer, and the lecturer would ignore it entirely.

This wasn't work whose scoring contributed to the course mark, usually (though I think I had one or two identically-wrong answers turn up on the one piece of formally-assessed work I handled), but I was a little surprised how casually it was all taken.

#85 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 07:36 AM:

CHip:

Anyone can sue, but AFAIK the British legal system routinely makes unsuccessful plaintiffs pay defendants' attorneys' fees. It is a nice deterrent, as it renders the U.S.-style "If we win, I take a chunk out of the winnings; if we lose, I get nothing" contingency lawyers' pitch a lot less compelling.

In fact, I'm not even sure the contingency approach is legal in the U.K. - the unsure-ness comes because it's been at least 10 years since I've looked at U.K/U.S. comparative law.

#86 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 08:16 AM:

A couple of comments about other comments. First, from G. Jules:
Quoted from Bill Blum, from the weblog of Theresa Nielsen Hayden, written 6/4/04, cited 6/4/04 (full citation available upon request): "Most professors were fairly savvy about it: you never just handed in a final draft at my school, you had to hand in all your rough drafts (general rule of thumb: they looked for TWO drafts)"

Ahhhh. Suddenly this policy makes so much more sense...

Please note that there are, in fact, good pedagogical reasons for having students hand in multiple drafts of a paper or project. While it may be an anti-plagiarism measure for some professors or institutions, it's not necessarily an anti-plagiarism tactic.

Multiple drafts and frequent feedback are the main elements suggested in every description of effective writing instruction that I've ever seen. The only way to write well is to revise, and the best way to learn how to revise your work is to go through multiple drafts of something getting feedback from someone else at each step.

Now, if the rough drafts and so on are handed in at the same time as the final draft, that's probably either an anti-plagiarism tactic, or a stupid make-work assignment (I vividly recall several junior high and high school teachers who required the handing in of formal outlines for big term papers. I usually drew these up after the final draft was finished...). But requiring one or even two rough drafts before the final draft is good pedagogical practice.

Later, Tom Womack adds:
I'm a little surprised how seriously universities elsewhere appear to be taking plagiarism. When I was marking first-year undergrad maths assignments at Nottingham, I'd usually find a couple of identically-wrong answers (obviously you expect identically-correct answers, there are usually only two or three ways to do the problem correctly); I'd tell the lecturer, and the lecturer would ignore it entirely.

In math and science, identically-wrong answers are not necessarily a cause for concern. I actually encourage my freshman physics students to work together on their homework sets, because I found as a student that it was much more productive to work as a group, and be able to complete most of the assignment (with the aid of others who understood bits that I didn't), than it was to struggle with it on my own, and end up not being able to finish any of the problems.

This process will produce identically-wrong answers, but that's unavoidable, and having students work together on the problems may actually lead to them learning more of the material than if they did it all themselves. Your lecturer may have shared this belief.

If I start getting identically-wrong answers on exam papers, that's another issue. But on homeworks, I don't worry about it at all.

#87 ::: Alyc Helms ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 11:46 AM:

As a grad student in Anthropology, I've sat on both sides of this issue in a non-English Dept. setting. I've had plagiarism and plagiarism policies explained to me in some (but not all) of the classes I've taken. I've worried and fretted over the balance between citing other people's ideas and overciting every idea and observation that might or might not be originally mine (because most ideas and observations I've had at some point intersect with the research I've done). After all of my work and sweat and concern, I have to vehemently protest the possibility that this kid might be allowed to redo his degree free-of-charge. I'm already dealing with a society that views my undergraduate degree as not worth all that much because of public perceptions regarding grade inflation and lax standards and policies. How much more will my work (and the work of other students who *earned* their degrees properly the first time!) be devalued if this course is pursued. An undergraduate degree is perceived as being not "worth" what it used to be. Do we want it to become even more worthless?

On the other side of the issue, as a graduate student I work as an AI (associate instructor). This often means that I act as the "grader" for courses. Because I've worked with professors who believe that writing is cross-disciplinarily important (i.e., not just for English classes), I've done a *lot* of paper grading. The typical load would be 4 or 5 short (3-5 pages) papers over the course of a semester for an 80-100 student class, each on a particular topic, with a one-to-two week turnaround. That's a whole lot of papers, not a lot of time to grade them, not a whole lot of monetary compensation involved, and all on top of my normal graduate courseload. Because I believe in feedback as a pedagogical necessity, I would spend more time than was recommended by my department in grading these papers. So far, not a semester has gone by that I haven't caught cases of plagiarism (paragraphs -- rather than entire papers -- lifted from online sites being the most common). I'm *certain* that I've missed more than I've caught.

Catching plagiarism can be difficult if you have to grade high volumes in a short amount of time when you have several other criteria for evaluation that you are attempting to employ simultaneously. I don't know how it is in the world of publishing, but I'd hazard that there are similarities between grading undergrad papers and rooting through the slush pile. You have loads of text, most of it poorly written, a lot of it very similar and derivative, not much time to devote to reading it, and very little encouragement (either monetary or professional) to go beyond the expected minimum effort. If you choose do so it is most likely because the quality of the product of your labor has an excess value for you beyond any monetary compensation that you are being offered (a la Marx -- I had to get a cited idea in there somewhere!)

So I don't necessarily find it hard to believe that the faculty never caught this kid in his plagiarizing. I do find his claim that he was never warned about plagiarizing rather suspect, and I don't think the fact that he got away with it for so long should result in him getting away with it this time. A thief who has stolen for several years, and whose thefts are only discovered after he is caught the first time is still responsible for those previous thefts, and if they could be proven he would still face the penalties for them. I'm hesitant to view this situation as all that different.

#88 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 12:31 PM:

"the only way to write well is to revise", Chad?

Some folks revise entirely in their heads (Kate Wilhelm comes to mind -- if you think she doesn't write well, I disagree.).

Universal statements like that make me crazy. There are nine and sixty ways of writing well.

#89 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 12:44 PM:

mythago and CHip and Jill Smith:

Whether or not a lawsuit comes from this absurdity, my university wants to protect itself against this category of lawsuits, whether or not we a priori see them as frivolous.

In particular, people who sit on Academic Honesty Boards, or the equivalent, find some combatitive/defensive students who are quite likely to appeal any plagiarism ruling against them.

Chad and Tom Whitmore:

Vladimir Nabokov famously wrote his novels on a fat stack of large-sized index cards, then sequenced them, as part of a rewrite process, by shuffling the cards (nonrandomly) into what he aesthetically judged to be a most effective order.

There are nine to the power of 60 ways to ensure that a novel pays.

#90 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 01:35 PM:

"the only way to write well is to revise", Chad?

Some folks revise entirely in their heads (Kate Wilhelm comes to mind -- if you think she doesn't write well, I disagree.).

They may revise entirely in their heads, but they revise nonetheless. I don't always do a formal draft-markup-new draft sequence myself, but I don't write so much as a blog comment without changing the words around a few times before the final version.

I'll stick with that statement. There may be people who don't need to go through multiple drafts of their work on paper, but the number of people who really and truly turn out flawless first drafts is vanishingly small.

(The number of people who think they write flawless first drafts is, sadly, quite a big larger...)

#91 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 02:57 PM:

I guess a lot of that depends on one's definition of Draft, Chad.

In the context of having to _turn in_ drafts of papers, doing multiple drafts in one's head doesn't help very much.

#92 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 03:00 PM:

I don't revise. At least, I do, I tweak things, but I do it as I'm writing or right after, I don't do discrete drafts. Every time I've been required to produce drafts, I've found it easier to write the thing and fake "earlier" versions than to do what they seem to expect normal people do.

#93 ::: Simon Bradshaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 03:40 PM:

In response to Jill, 'conditional fee agreements' as they are called over here were introduced a few years ago. They are strictly regulated, not available for some sorts of legal action (e.g. libel) and work somewhat differently from the US version. In particular, rather than getting a percentage of the damages if successful, a lawyer gets to add an 'uplift' (typically 40-100%) to his or her standard fees, thus removing some of the incentive to ambulance-chase. (Also, damages in most civil cases in the UK are set by the judge, not a jury, so tend to be a lot lower than in the US. Libel is an exception in both respects.)

#94 ::: Daniel Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 04:03 PM:

Lisa, Raven (hopefully the discussion hasn't moved too far along):

I am content with the possibility that I may never be original, especially as a literary critic. Every possibility has probably been mined in some areas, like Dante studies and Hamlet. This is not humiliating to me; "there is nothing new under the sun." I too am part of that timeless community of writers and interpreters.

As I see it, the moral of the story is that I need to keep careful track of the commentaries and criticism I read when I am writing an essay.

I still think there are ideas that don't need a citation, like "Shakespeare wrote King Lear." And then there are ideas that do, major re-interpretations like "Shakespeare never existed." Somewhere in between these two extremes of obvious fact and extreme insight (or crackpot-ism, depending) is a line, beyond which citation begins. But as someone posted, upthread, probably no one can say where that line is.

#95 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 07:26 PM:

Daniel Lewis wrote:
I still think there are ideas that don't need a citation, like "Shakespeare wrote King Lear." And then there are ideas that do, major re-interpretations like "Shakespeare never existed." Somewhere in between these two extremes of obvious fact and extreme insight (or crackpot-ism, depending) is a line, beyond which citation begins. But as someone posted, upthread, probably no one can say where that line is.

Sure, there are lots of things that don't need a citation. One way to know when to cite is to ask yourself if it's likely that your reader might possibly want to know where to find out more about whatever. Sometimes, especially in academic writing, the citation is serving more than one purpose; it's a courtesy to your reader (go here to Read All About It) and, it's a way of stacking up your argumentative ammunition. Look, see, I'm not alone in this idea; I have several other Really Smart people who agree/think similarly/have the opposite opinion and are hopelessly, hopelessly wrong-headed. And then there are times when a citation is nothing more than name-dropping. (I, of course, am above all such petty concerns).

Sometimes, too, you have to simply acknowledge that the ideas of someone else are similar enough that they must be cited—so you do, and have a short footnote explaining why your idea is better/slightly different, or whatever. It's not like ideas get worn out from sharing them.

#96 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 07:40 PM:

Chad, believe it or not, I frequently write (and publicly post) stuff in first draft -- unless you count correcting typos on the fly as re-drafting.

And I've been known to hand in entire books that haven't been dumped to hardcopy before the email hits my agent's inbox.

#97 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 07:50 PM:

Citations can be a really handy weapon.

Would anyone believe me if I said that my manager and I did not take evil pleasure in including a 150-year-old paper in our citation list when we trashed^W refereed someone's grant proposal?

No, thought not.

(We didn't like the guy's proposal anyway. But he'd come up a mathematical proposition that he thought would be extremely useful in the work he wanted to do, and he wanted an extra chunk of grant money to do lots of meaurements to prove it empirically before proceeding to use it in his main experiment. It is indeed a useful proposition, and has been used by mineralogists ever since it was first proposed in that paper, and possibly before. It was proven mathematically a long time ago, and in fact I first met it as an "isn't this interesting!" in an undergraduate maths course. We didn't spell this out *explicitly* in the main text of our commentary, we just footnoted this ancient paper in our comment that the empirical proof bit of the proposed experiment was unnecessary.)

#98 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 09:26 PM:

I guess a lot of that depends on one's definition of Draft, Chad.

In the context of having to _turn in_ drafts of papers, doing multiple drafts in one's head doesn't help very much.

No, but forcing those few individuals who really can effectively revise as they go along to generate early drafts is a small sacrifice to make for teaching the vast majority of students that handing in first drafts isn't a Good Idea.

Or, to paraphrase Kate's comment about this off-line: Revising in your head or as you go is a perfectly acceptable way to write, but it's not the sort of thing you want to trust college students to know how to do.

I got through college by handing in a lot of papers that were generated with no formal drafts or anything of the sort. On one occasion, I wrote a ten-page history paper in under two and a half hours, because there was a party I wanted to go to, and I got a decent grade on it, too.

I didn't really learn to write well until grad school, though. In my research group, all the research articles we published were put through a process affectionately known as "Paper Torture," in which one person would generate a draft, and then have to defend every single word of that draft from the criticisms of the other co-authors.

That was a brutal experience the first time around, and it didn't get much better. It did teach me the importance of revision, though, and how to make sure that what you write is saying what you really mean to say.

Most of the stuff I write these days (blog posts, comments, class assignments, etc.) still consists of only a single formal draft. But it's not written without revision-- the paragraph above starting with "I got through college" has taken at least five different forms in the short time I've been typing this, and it may get changed again before I'm done.

I count that as "revising," whether it generates multiple draft copies or not. What Jo describes counts as well.

#99 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 09:54 PM:

Chad wrote: There may be people who don't need to go through multiple drafts of their work on paper, but the number of people who really and truly turn out flawless first drafts is vanishingly small.

Oh, granted, few, but there must be some. The names of three authors who claimed to use the one-draft-only technique leap instantly to mind: Rex Stout, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.

They all admitted to making corrections, but not to writng more than one draft, and never (after reaching a certain point in their respective careers) major rewrites.

Wish I could write like that (any of 'em) after several drafts, never mind one!

#100 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 11:24 PM:

Stout, Asimov, and Heinlein wrote one-draft-only as novelists at the top of their game.   This is not the same situation as students showing their work to teachers.

The students may someday reach that point — some may even conceivably have reached that point, perhaps as child prodigies à la Mozart — but the object of their taking the course is to see that they have the skill of revision, in case that ever is needed (as it will be, for the vast majority).

It would be educational malpractice to omit teaching that skill, on the grounds that they should — in their student years — be like Stout, Asimov, and Heinlein in their prime.

#101 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 11:25 PM:

... urrrrr, one object of their taking the course...

#102 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 11:32 PM:

... And this is hardly the only case where students learn to do something on paper, first, that they can do in their heads, later.

Composing grammatical sentences, for one example. (Remember diagramming?)

Composing verse to metre, for another. (Labóriously cóunting and márking sýllables.)

#103 ::: Ryan Sarver ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 12:13 AM:

I have to agree with Teresa about the department's obvious lack of competence. I'm an undergrad English major at my university. I'm also employed as a tutor for the university writing center, and I've caught people plagiarising myself. It's not a difficult thing to do. It's ridiculous that it took them this long to find Gunn out.

On the other hand, Gunn's defense is ridiculous. He acts like he had no idea what plagiarism was when he began, and after he realized he was doing something wrong, continued doing it simply because it was never brought to his attention as a problem. This is just impossible to believe. It's almost like he's been under the impression that the university was making a special exception for him.

I would like to agree with Teresa about the free three years thing, but I kind of enjoy the outcome of this particular situation. I do, however, believe the university should have to publicly admit it has been lazy and foolish. Perhaps a restaffing of the English department would be useful as well. When you need software just to pick up a line-for-line habitual plagiarist things are getting a bit unbelievable.

#104 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 09:01 AM:

The names of three authors who claimed to use the one-draft-only technique leap instantly to mind: Rex Stout, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.

They all admitted to making corrections, but not to writng more than one draft, and never (after reaching a certain point in their respective careers) major rewrites.

I've added emphasis to what I feel are the really important qualifiers here. As Raven notes, authors as prolific as those three writing single drafts at the peak of their careers are not really comparable to college students writing papers for class.

(One might also suggest that the quality of late Asimov and late Heinlein novels indicates that this might not be the best way for even an accomplished professional author to operate...)

More important, though, is the qualifier in the first paragraph: "claimed to use." I don't want to impugn the character of any of those authors, but I'm also not prepared to take that claim at face value.

#105 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 10:51 AM:

Raven, Chad:

I wasn't suggesting that students can, in general, turn out even good-enough, much less flawless, first drafts. I was the one, after all, that inserted those qualifiers, and I did so most intentionally.

If you will note my earlier post, as a college and grad school instructor, I required far more evidence of process than rough drafts--subject descriptions, source lists, thesis statements, expanded source lists, outlines--before a final draft was handed in. But even before computers (and therefore on-the-fly self-editing), I could see the futility of demanding rough drafts from students who could claim, however unpersuasively, that they didn't have rough drafts. I know it's more work to shepherd fifty undergraduates through the full paper-writing process (I did it, I know) than to collect multiple drafts at the end of the semester, but at least I had a fair shot at actually teaching them how to write papers, and I was being paid to teach them something!

Of course, then I went into publishing, and from there to book design, and now I just try not to catch any errors, it only annoys the editors when I catch errors they miss or don't recognize. I got into a job-endangering brouhaha at an earlier point in my career (pre-freelancing) by pointing out that neither the author nor the editor knew the difference between "flout" and "flaunt." So for overworked TAs to miss plagiarism is not surprising, to me at least.

#106 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 12:30 PM:

Whether or not a lawsuit comes from this absurdity, my university wants to protect itself against this category of lawsuits, whether or not we a priori see them as frivolous.

Absolutely. To clarify, I'm not saying "Oh, don't worry your pretty little head about them." I'm saying that they are extremely unlikely to happen and would be frivolous if they do--so please think of them as a headache, rather than developing ulcers over them.

You can't, on a practical level, eliminate completely frivolous lawsuits. You can make sure that that 99% of the lawsuits you get are going to be the frivolous ones.

#107 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 09:07 PM:

Tom W: Some folks revise entirely in their heads (Kate Wilhelm comes to mind

Evidence?

Counterexample:
Let me describe a perfect day.... Realize I've written 8-10 pages that don't need a thing done to them. (Wilhelm, introduction to Better Than One, 1979/80).
No argument that she has written extremely well for several decades -- but has she more recently gotten to the stage where she can do clean first drafts? (And if so, see preceding posts about exceedingly experienced writers.)

others: I'm not surprised by some of the other examples of writers who don't revise; Asimov and Heinlein wrote pedestrian (not to say formulaic) prose. (I haven't read enough Stout to speak firmly, but let's not talk about L. Ron 35,000-words-in-a-week Hubbard....) I also note that RAH's famous 6 rules don't include -"never rewrite"-, just -"declare it done and send it out"-. And I wonder how much of the work of the writers of that era was ~single-draft because they spent a lot of time talking stories and could concentrate on clear prose when they finally committed something to paper; how many students today seriously work out their arguments, even against each other, before writing?

I'm with the several who have noted the difference between paper and electronic drafts: individual drafts aren't as needed when you can edit on the fly. Being able to put down words to review more easily than a manual typewriter allows also helps.

#108 ::: Matt Mikalatos ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 09:43 PM:

I currently live in China, where teachers lose face if they have under-performing students. I've often had my instructors quietly write exam answers on the blackboard if they see we are struggling during a test. Anyway, in addition to plagiarism being ignored it leads to spectacular events like this:

Teachers are Jailed for Leaking Questions in National English Test (June 3, 2004, South China Morning Post)

Three teachers have been convicted of disclosing state secrets after they leaked an English exam paper ahead of a national test in September. In a ruling handed down by the Beijing Municipal No1 Intermediate People's Court, Shi Xiaolong and Cao Yu were each sentenced to three years' imprisonment, while Liu Zhen received a two-year term. The three conspired to illegally provide questions from the National Level Four English Exam to students taking the test. A Xinhua report said Cao and Liu, who worked as instructors for an English tutorial programme at Lang Fang University City and Oriental University City's joint Space Flight Training Academy, had enlisted Shi's help in obtaining the exam questions in August as a way of boosting student enrolment. Shi, a deputy division chief at the Chinese People's University of Public Security, was in charge of securing the exam papers. On September 19, the eve of the exam, Cao copied the exam questions from Shi and disclosed them to his students. He also posted the questions on the internet. The scandal was exposed the day after the exam by the Jinhua Times newspaper. Shi, Cao and Liu were taken into custody in October.

#109 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2004, 09:47 PM:

Rachel Reiss wrote:

... neither the author nor the editor knew the difference between "flout" and "flaunt."

It occurs to me that this thread's topic could be explained as a case of the same problem: the University of Kent wanted to flaunt its academic-integrity rules, and [pick a patsy: Michael Gunn / the student body / the faculty] thought that meant "flout".

#110 ::: SorchaRei ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 01:56 PM:

Coming sort of late to this party, but...

Many years ago, I was teaching a course on probability and statistics for humanities majors. Students were required to write a paper for 10% of the term's mark.

So I was sitting there reading papers one day near the end of the quarter when I ran across a paper submitted by a C- student, in which he correctly explained the contributions of Sophus Lie to the body of knowledge about groups, using words I was reasonably sure he could not pronounce, let alone define.

I went immediately to the math reference librarian and showed it to her, saying, "I know he copied it, but I don't know from where" and she said, "Go to the Science Library, walk in the east entrance, walk to the third row of stacks, turn left, it will be on the bottom shelf on your right, volume whatever..." Damned if she was not totally correct.

Anyway, I was required by University policy to make a documented attempt to discuss it with him before filing charges. I called his number from the office of the Dean of Academic Affairs. His mother answered. I asked that she have him call his math prof, here's the number, blah blah blahcakes. She said, "Oh, did you know he's graduating tomorrow? We're so proud of him."

Well, he didn't graduate, When he finally realized that he was not going to graduate, he came to see me. He said a number of things in that conversation:

-- I didn't know you would catch me
-- I didn't know you could keep me from graduating if I failed the class
-- I have a job in San Francisco, but it requires me to graduate, so you *have* to pass me
-- Why are you being such a bitch about this?

Whatever.

The worst part was that even after the student took another math course and passed it and thus graduated, he never really thought he had done anything wrong. So I made note of the name of company that had hired him, and have scrupulously avoided doing business with them ever since.

#111 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2004, 04:09 PM:

Why are you being such a bitch about this?

Right - because, after all, this isn't about ME and what I did, it's about YOUR reaction to it.... Which is totally overblown because it's not like I'm hurting you or anything.... What's it to you anyway?

grrrrrr........

- Pay no attention to the raving Smith. Just today, she's been turned down for a job, the application process for which required approximately seventeen interviews and many compliments to her abilities and her past work (all of which she now fears are B.S.), and said Smith is feeling particularly irritable today. Especially irritable when she considers her career-to-date of hard work and moral rectitude and hears about gits like that who are gainfully employed.

[/rant]

Teresa, if you want to send slush DC-ward, I have time on my hands (though you probably wouldn't want to run the expense of all that extra postage).

#112 ::: David Goldfarb finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2004, 05:30 AM:

More artificial names plugging web pages. Sigh.

When the comment spam gets zapped, how about zapping these flags too? It's not like they add to the ongoing conversation.

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