Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Feels Like the First Time

Posted by Gerald on July 15, 2008

I’ve probably gotten a plagiarized paper once per semester – and usually more than once – ever since I started teaching.  Still, each time I feel exactly the same sense of surprise, disappointment, betrayal, and anger.  The disappointment comes from the ongoing realization that many of my students share this culture’s lack of concern about honesty, let alone honor.  The betrayal comes from the realization that something I think is important just isn’t to most of them.  The anger comes from the evidence that these kids think I’m a fucking idiot.  I actually do know what it means when I see dozens of embedded hyperlinks to Encarta or Wikipedia articles in a supposedly “original” essay.  I’m even likely to notice when a student who has shown at best mediocre language skills is suddenly using words like “zeitgeist”.

It is the surprise I don’t understand.  This is not new.  I’ve gotten plagiarized work more times than I can count and I seem to get more per semester with each passing year.  I know it is coming, yet somehow I’m always surprised – and then disappointed, betrayed, and angry.


5 Responses to “Feels Like the First Time”

  1. bridgett said

    Shoot. I thought I left a comment here last night. I too get this every semester and get hit with the rage each time. I tell students each semester that there’s only one thing that they can do to transform me from a pro-student, supportive, enthusiastic ally…and every semester, at least one of them opens up a big can of whupass on themselves by doing exactly what you describe. One kid bounced back from his probation/Dean’s visit to ask to be my advisee. He’s either a glutton for punishment or he’s determined that he’s got to redeem himself. Either way, I was surprised and I’m going to try to act as if he’s learned his lesson until he gives me a reason not to do so.

  2. bridgett said

    Hey, what’s the ratio of men/women in your plagiarism pool? Our school’s enrollment is overwhelmingly female (28% men) but my plagiarists are nearly always male. I’ve had two women (both exceptionally obvious and exceptionally combative when they got caught redhanded) and a couple dozen guys. Most of our guys are on athletic scholarships and are more likely to fall in the category of “academically underprepared,” but I am reluctant to draw what might be the obvious conclusion. I wonder if it isn’t a boy vs girl social maturity thing — most of my plagiarists exhibit a lot of other signals of being just not ready to do college work and needing to grow up a little bit. (Along those lines, I’ve only ever had one non-trad adult — a female grad student — plagiarize.)

  3. Gerald said

    My impression is that the ratio pretty much tracks with the ratio of students in my classes, which would be slightly more female than male.

    My most aggressive plagiarizers (in the sense of seeming to have done it deliberately and have no sense they did anything wrong) have been female non-traditional students. I think it is because we get a lot of non-traditional female students who want to go into nursing because they hear there is money in it, but who have unrealistic expectations about the amount of effort it takes to do well.

    The ones in the actual two-year degree programs are carefully screened because there are limited slots available, but those who are just getting a college-transfer degree so they can go on to one of the nearby four-year institutions are not. We are a community college, so we have open enrollment. If someone isn’t academically qualified (say about 35% of our admissions) they are tracked into developmental classes until they are.

    The best step up and dig in, but many start doing what I assume they probably do in other areas of life – look for reasons why nothing is ever their fault and they shouldn’t have to do all of this work. Those are my plagiarizers.

    Now, I should make clear I’m not counting mistakes here. Despite my efforts, basic college English is not a prerequisite for our history survey courses (I have had a battle just getting it as one for my history of Africa – which is a sophomore-level course by definition). Most of my students haven’t had a “freshman comp” course, and many are in developmental writing (another battle – and one I’m still losing). As a result, I’m teaching the basics along with my subject matter and so many of my students do not really understand what plagiarism is. Those people receive mercy and help. I’m referring to the folks who know better and do this deliberately.

  4. bridgett said

    My most nutazoidal plagiarist ever was a female non-trad who had bragged to other students about how she never read any of the books and submitted three reviews transcribed word for word out of the AHR. When confronted, she went berserk and threatened a lawsuit, egged my house, and punctured a tire on my car — and then I had to get the cops involved. She got expelled. If she hadn’t been such a head case, I might have tried to work with her…but I think I probably did the profession a favor by getting her out of the classroom.

  5. Gerald said

    Not just the profession – you probably saved any number of potential students from intellectual, psychological, and possibly physical, harm.

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