Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In Which Persecuted Pete Presents his Portfolio

I have been placed into the role of Acting Chair for my Department, which makes me the go-to gal for student complaints.  Pete, you came to see me in quite a dither. You had been treated unfairly.  You got a C- on your portfolio, and thus in the class.  That won't transfer.    Your professor had not marked all the errors on your drafts, so you could not correct them.  You only corrected the 40,000 errors he did mark.  How were you supposed to know that those other errors were even there?  It was not fair.

I was going to go into a little dissertation on editing, on marking patterns of errors, on student responsibility to re-edit, perhaps even with a tutor, when something about that first essay on the pile caught my eye.

It was on Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry" .....wait....what?

Guy de Maupassant wrote an often anthologized story called "The Necklace."

"What's that....what's that title?  That's not the story's title.  That story is called 'The Necklace.'" I was seriously confused for a minute.  Pete, you went into another outraged dither.  How could you learn, when your professor gave you stories with the wrong title?  That's the title he used when he lectured on it!  You remembered it perfectly! This was an outrage.  How could we employ professors of such low quality!  You were going to complain to the Dean!   I pointed out that he did circle the title with an accompanying question mark.

"Where did you get the idea that was the title?" I asked.  Your textbook, you replied, the subpar one your professor used for the class.    "Hmmmmm. That's very interesting.  Let me see it," I said.  Oh, you never actually bought the textbook.  "How did you do the reading then?" I asked.  Pete, you looked downright martyred when you told me you had to do all your reading at the library, as you had run out of financial aid.  "So....a book at the library had a story in it called "The Jewelry" by Guy de.....wait, let me just google it, and see what comes up," I said.

What came up, Pete, was a smattering of cheat essays by very stupid students, writing about a non existent story called "The Jewelry."  Google itself was confused, and also gave me student cheat essays about that other pesky story, the real one, called "The Necklace."  The Wikipedia article that also came up was only on "The Necklace."  Wikipedia had nothing on "The Jewelry" on account of the fact that's the wrong title, dumbass.  In this case, Pete, Wikipedia would have served you well.

"Pete, it looks like you were influenced by these student cheat essays," I said, looking you in the eye.  "That's never a good idea, to get your ideas from student cheat essays.   Often, they contain wrong information.  You need to rely on your textbook, your notes, any of the materials found in the library in support of students reading these types of stories, or educational sites sponsored by colleges and universities."  Pete, you never missed a beat, complaining that your professor was so unclear, who could blame you for looking for more information about the stories online.  And how were you, a poor student without the training to know better, supposed to tell a student cheat website from a legitimate website? 

I was suddenly very done with you.  "Well, If you want to challenge your grade, you need to leave this portfolio here, so I can look through it carefully.  I'll want to make sure, of course, that you were not too heavily influenced by the cheat essays.  If I find that you have plagiarized, I'll have to change your grade to an F and make a permanent notation on your transcript."  I was bluffing about the permanent notation.  It's in the student handbook, but the admins would never let me actually do it.

None of this, Pete, was even worth your time.  Forget it, you said, gathering your papers and leaving in a huff.

I made a mental note to have a talk with that prof to encourage him to grade a little tougher.

23 comments:

  1. Why does Pete get to complain about his grade in someone else's course to you?

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    1. I am acting Chair for a while. Lucky me!

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  2. This is beautiful, Bella. I had a similar situation this semester with a paper that included a factoid about a work of literature--like, for instance, mentioning Hamlet's Coca-Cola consumption--so totally outlandish that it glowed like a neon sign saying "I'm so dumb I can't even plagiarize competently!" If nothing else, you've given the student a valuable lesson in evaluating sources.

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    1. Beautiful post, Bella. But speaking of red flags that a student can't even plagiarize properly, the very first class I ever marked for in grad school, a student who was otherwise on track for a high B/low A turned in a final paper that was extracted from the second chapter of a grad student's Master's thesis. It literally cut off mid-thought, because of course the length of the paper assigned was nowhere near long enough to contain the whole chapter. And, of course, it was the second chapter. So it was already picking up mid-stream, anyway.

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  3. Hurray for supportive department chairs!

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  4. Three cheers for a well-played meeting. If only all chairs (acting and otherwise) were so engaged!

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  5. Oh no, Bella. This is bad, very bad. If you wanted to be full time chair then acting this way has ended that dream. Because, I'm sorry to say, you did everything correctly.

    If you want to be chair you need to put the student's demands first and forget about the high quality of instruction. You must throw the prof under the wheels of incompetency and use terms like 'student centered learning'. Only then will the deans realize you're one of them.

    Sorry Bella, but you may not be chair material. You're one of us instead.

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    1. You're one of us instead.

      That's cold, dude. Funny, but cold...

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  6. Maybe it's his English that's the problem: he just couldn't find the right word for "la parure"!

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  7. Pete's a dumbass and this was beautiful. Brava, Bella!

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  8. And next week, Pete tackles Shakespeare's "Village".
    Great post, Bella!

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  9. You're a model for us all, Bella. I hope Pete complains about you on the quad to Flirtatious Frank.

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    1. No I'm not.....I am just "one of us" as Sarcastic Bastard said above. When a regular prof becomes DC, even for a little while, this is what happens.

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  10. Pre-written essays with a couple of obvious things like the title slightly tweaked so that it won't trip a dumb mechanical scan for identical essays?!?

    I suppose I should have expected that, and I'm glad I am in a mathy discipline.

    So, a hearty "Well played!" to Bella and for Peat I'll quote the immortal play Hank the Fifth with
    "Scorn and defiance, slight regard, contempt,
    And anything that may not misbecome
    The mighty sender, doth [she] prize you at."


    I mean, would it have been so hard to cheat well?

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    1. Ooh, a mathy prof who quotes Shakespeare. Hubba hubba. If you're male.

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    2. That's what my hubba hubba husband said!

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  11. This explains all the typos of main character names and titles of literature!

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  12. I have the sudden urge to write a bunch of really stupid, really obviously fake essays on classic texts and upload them to cheat sites. Or just ones with lots and lots of mistakes. If only I could get paid to do shit like that. Maybe it would even be possible to insert a sentence or two to more ordinary essays alerting the prof to the plagiarism: "This essay is the intellectual property of cheatessays.com" or whatever. Assuming students who c&p often don't read the details...

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  13. YES, Magical, I had the very same thought. Wouldn't it be fun to screw students who use those cheat sites by flooding them with terrible essays? And I love the idea of a faculty-wide "this is plagiarized" code.

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  14. This seems an apt moment to recall Henchminion's delicious post on his "Trojan Horse" paper about Magna Carta:
    http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2011/12/henchminion-sends-in-tale-of-magna.html

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  15. For shits and giggles, I just checked the googelz for Guy de Maupassant's "The Jewelry". Apparently some (ahem) "help sites" use that title as an alternate for "The False Gems", another of de Maupassant's short stories.

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    1. That is, it's still the wrong title, and it's still likely that Pernicious Pete did plagiarize, but the story in question may not have been "The Necklace" after all.

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