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Methods of Persuasion, not limited to beating with a stick

So, I wonder about this: is there any way for a University to effectively convince its students that it is serious about plagiarism? Or to put it another way, is it possible to convince eighteen- and nineteen-year old college kids that screwing up can get them kicked out?

At the moment, it seems like a lot of places have some sort of mandatory session, held during orientation or shortly thereafter, which makes little to no impression on the incoming freshfolk. As with much of the orientation stuff. These kids are away from home for the first time (many of them), and although you will reach the ones that are easy to reach, those students are (a) likely to be the ones who you don’t really need to reach anyway, because they are sufficiently worried to be paying attention to things like University Policies on Academic Honesty, and (2) also likely to put whatever those policies out of their heads once the real stress of the semester comes in.

And of course I could be wrong about students, generally. But is seems to me from what I’m seeing that there are a big chunk of students who think that they can paraphrase big chunks out of web sites with impunity. That they won’t get caught, or that if they do get caught, there won’t be any lasting consequence to it. Most students, of course, won’t plagiarize on most papers, because they don’t want to. But when it comes time to cut corners, I’d like the students to think it’s not worth the risk.

I really don’t have any ideas. They presumably tell the freshfolk that there were fourteen people expelled for plagiarism in the last four years (or whatever it is), along with however many were put on probation and so on. But part of being eighteen is (at least for many, many people) holding off the belief that things that can happen to other people can happen to you. So making examples of other people is only going to persuade the most responsible students.

The other way, I suppose, is just to not kick out people who do get caught plagiarizing; the University could bring its actions in line with expectations that way, and give a break to some immature saps. I have a vague sense that a couple of generations ago, it was unusual for a University to kick anybody out for cheating of any kind, but then I don’t have any real data on that. And I have a vague sense that a couple of generations before that, it was usual for Universities to kick people out for the most minor infractions, and I don’t have any real data on that, either. Hm.

Still. Given that I really think college students should learn about plagiarism, and should be motivated to learn the rules and keep to them, it would make me feel better if I had some sort of clue how they should go about doing that. Even if it wasn’t properly instituted at the place that employs me, I would rather believe that it was just the wrongheaded Administration screwing up the obvious thing again, rather than an intractable problem. Or that the intractable problem was the Administration, rather than the students. I’m fond of the students, really, particularly now that they’re about to leave for the summer.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'm sorry, do universities kick people out for anything at all these days? Given the number of stories I hear about a student plagiarizing on a report or paper, the TA or professor complains, and NOTHING HAPPENS AT ALL, I didn't think any university was doing other than paying lip service to it. Usually the dean or chair sits on it, rather than cause a fuss and risk a lawsuit from the student. If you know of any universities actually kicking students out for plagiarizing, more power to them, I'd say.

I'm sorry, do universities kick people out for anything at all these days?

Oh, sorry. That should be: "I'm sorry, do universities kick people out for anything at all these days?" (textjunkie).

The severity of punishments seems to be partially related to the severity of the offense. Many schools seem to have a tiered program dealing with the first offense with a relatively light reprimand (as opposed to probation or expulsion) and students often have the opportunity to appeal the charge of plagiarism to a a committee.

A friend of mine had this happen to her-it was a case of "accidental plagiarism" (though I cannot be sure of the details of what constitutes "accidental" in this sense-I was not privy to the all the facts). She had the opportunity to appeal, which she ultimately lost; the plagiarism stayed on her record. But given the professor's knowledge of her work and their professor-student relationship, her punishment was light as there was legitimate reason to believe that it was a sincere mistake.

The issue of plagiarism is something to be dealt with seriously, yes. But perhaps it must also be addressed case-by-case. I don't doubt that there are students out there trying to work around the system, but I doubt there is a one-size fits all sort of solution. As you said, Vardibidian, the students who are easy to reach probably don't really need reaching in the first place.

I don't know what the trend is at your place of employment regarding the accessibility of the Academic Honesty Policy, but as a student, I remember that it was in my face all the time and that helped. It was on every syllabus, linked on every departmental home page, the subject of part of the first class and discussed right before the first paper for any class was assigned.

At the college I attended 20 years ago, many students were caught plagiarizing or otherwise cheating. The school had strict policies for dealing with such offenses, and the professors I knew refused to follow those policies.

I believe the first offense should result in the course being failed, second offense results in a semester off, third offense is expulsion. The problem with expulsion for the first offense is that the offender is not still present to tell their friends that plagiarizing or cheating is a really bad idea. I'm also not a big fan in general of zero-tolerance policies that result in expulsion.

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