Thursday, August 15, 2013

Plagiarism's Repeat Offenders: Three Strikes or Two?

There is surely overlap, but I thought it better to just put together all the recent posts about plagiarism, and they are to be found a few postings earlier than this one. I worried that I was obsessed by this, but the university people who are concerned about plagiarism assure me that I am OK--it hurts the university and the student (their degree could be rescinded) if their work is discovered to be copied. That so many are unaware of the rules of the game is striking.

I have discovered that you are best off having the university experts take over for students who do not hear the message. Not to penalize the students, but to make sure they do not become repeat offenders. In effect there is a three-strikes rule, but it may well be only be two strikes.

Earlier this year, after the end of the semester, I received the following note:

"I've received numerous emails from students about your correspondences to them regarding their final exam papers being filtered through Turn-it-In [Turnitin]after the semester has ended and final course grades submitted. Some students are very upset, even frightened.  

I know your intention is to raise the bar on student writing.
Some students will seek you out to mentor them.  Others want to go on with their summer.
Please stop emailing students in your classes now that the semester is over.  
Let them feel free to contact you."

I would think that the students should be upset or frightened if they plagiarized, and reassured if they had not. 

That I discovered the plagiarism after the grades were submitted does not free students from the concern of the University Judicial Committee. And the rules are that I consult with students about such discoveries on the way to reporting the problem, which it would seem to be mandatory. In effect this note was telling me to violate university policy. (By the way, I was not about raising the bar on student writing, nor about mentoring. It was about plagiarism.) And the students have no option about communicating with me about this sort of problem. So I take this note to be a form deliberate obstruction of university rules and procedures.  I ignored the note, by the way.

IN GENERAL, SUCH NOTES, AND RANTS, TOO, ARE BEST TREATED AS PRE-TRASH: READ ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE THEM AS SUCH AND TRASH. Otherwise the sender is setting themselves up for university trouble, and one's goal is to "include me out."

But never assume it will stop...

I understand you have reported several of our students to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for plagiarism.

After your Spring 2013 courses ended, after you submitted final semester grades to the registrar, you ran papers through Turn-it-In.

On 6/18/13, you then sent this email to all students:
I will be sending Turnitin Originality Scores to you in the next week. Higher scores mean more similarity with other sources. (I was advised not to send you any more messages this summer. Think of this as a message from your oncologist six months after having had a "clean" bill of health post-surgery and chemo, now with the six month MRI. There are now cancers throughout your body. Miraculously, you can now excise them with a simple pill. I figured you'd want to know immediately.)

I will not be changing grades or going to the university committee. This is what they call a teachable moment. Be grateful for it.

What began as a teachable moment has become an ongoing drama. You did submit formal complaints to the university Student Judicial Affairs Committee.

In addition, today, you sent yet another email blast announcing to all students that you filed complaints against some students with Student Judicial Affairs. To that end, I have receive panic phone calls and multiple concerns. You’ve left my office yet again with cleaning up chaos and confusion.
Please stop all your email blasts to  students from this point on and moving forward.

Thank you,
Actually, after a while I did consult the University Judicial Affairs people, and they took over. So in this sense, I changed my mind. But it turns out to be mandatory to report plagiarism...