Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Emails I Wish I Could Send: Academic Integrity Office Edition

Dear Staffer at Academic Integrity Office,

I hope you felt at least the teensiest little twinge of embarrassment when I replied to your request that I highlight the relevant plagiarized passages in a student's homework response because you quote, "couldn't see the plagiarism," by sending you back the entire original document highlighted with the two paragraphs from the Gradesaver article which I helpfully included in my original report fully highlighted right beneath them.

Literally googling any 4 consecutive words from the student's original response should have easily confirmed that they copy and pasted 2 paragraphs into a Word doc, verbatim, and stuck hir name at the top, if actually skimming the article I included proved too difficult. Perhaps the Office of Academic Integrity isn't used to handling such thorny issues as 'The student copied and pasted two full paragraphs from the link I included in my report into the homework document I included in my report,' and the fault lies with me. But then again, comparing those two things might have taken you an extra few seconds, so I'm glad my additional involvement was required to help clear up that mystery.

As an adjunct, I already lose money every time I spend an unpaid hour or two preparing an Academic Integrity report (which, for reasons some Associate Vice Assistant Dean somewhere must have once found compelling, combines every possible Academic, Personal Conduct, Mental Health, and Campus Crime report into a single online form. 'Check this box to report if a student has plagiarized. Check this box to report if a student has expressed depressive or suicidal thoughts. Check this box to report if a student has assaulted you. Check this box to report if a student speaks to invisible demons in class.' Must be a real timesaver whenever a student decides to play for bingo!). But one thing I've always prided myself on is being a real stickler for upholding the standards of Academic Integrity and coming down hard on cheaters, even when it makes my life harder or threatens to drop my numbers on the Student Evals. Thank you for doing your best to make sure that maintaining that rigor remains juuust inconvenient enough to make me question precisely how dedicated I should remain the next time I bust a less egregious plagiarist than this doofus.

Hugs and Kisses,
Doc Slash


  1. The semester after I stopped adjuncting was bad for me. I was very sick for a few weeks and was unable to work, so I was sleeping in late and trying to recover before my meager savings disappeared. But, sadly, every morning, starting at 9 am, my phone would ring. I still used an answering machine, so even with the ringer off, the machine clicking would still wake me. I received 3-4 of these calls all morning long, which I was never able to answer because I 1/ was exhausted, and 2/ had the machine set to 2 rings to minimize interrupting my sleep. NO MESSAGE WAS EVER LEFT.

    Then, somewhere around week 2, I was super-pissed. After being awakened the first time, I decided to stay up and answer the phone. Eventually, the phone rang, I answered it, and it was someone from that school's "Office of Student Helpfulness" - apparently that office was acting as an advocate for a student who flunked due to plagiarism.

    I politely explained to the woman on the phone that the student in question was a plagiarist (whose paper was like 80% stolen from online sources and had ZERO citations or references). This student had also violated the school's prohibition about using papers recycled from other courses without permission (which on its own would have earned the student an F). Helpful Woman seemed perplexed.

    I also explained that this whole issue had been approved and sanctioned by the Office of Student Affairs, which acts as the final arbiter of the appropriate sanction. She seemed to challenge me on every single thing I told her. Eventually, I just told her the issue was settled, the student's grade was not being changed by me, and that I did not even work at that school any more. After hanging up, I started to wonder if it was the student (or someone else) pretending to be an agent of the school because WHY ON EARTH would a representative of the school not understand that if the Dean of Students says "Give her an F" then the student gets an F??!?!?!

    And, although I have no definitive proof, I am convinced this was the person who called me 3-4 times a day for nearly 2 weeks because the phone calls stopped immediately after this phone conversation! Why no message? Why no e-mail? Why no letter on official letterhead????

    Oh, and that student? She wanted to be a schoolteacher. I hope it never happened.

    -- Anon y Mouse

    1. When I was a grad student I TA'd for couple of sophomore- and junior-level courses that were primarily attended by undergrad majors in my field *and* undergrad education majors. As the primary grader for the class, I was appalled at the high level of cheating among the education majors. I always hoped that those were the ones who rapidly washed out of the career.

  2. "Thank you for doing your best to make sure that maintaining that rigor remains juuust inconvenient enough..."

    This is the modus operandi of every service department at my uni. Physical plant, (die) IT (die), you name it.

  3. What happened to the days of "I caught you cheating, here's your F"? All these fucking offices with ever changing titles that basically just keep enabling bad behavior. They just seem to undermine the authority of the instructor.

    I just give the F - I haven't been called out on it....yet.

  4. I think there's something to be said for the centralized office, mostly because it enables the institution to say, after several offenses, "you've been caught cheating multiple times; you know it's wrong and yet you keep doing it; here are your walking papers."

    We've got a pretty good centralized office, about which I'm learning more because I recently joined a newly-expanded (to over 100 student and faculty members, if I'm remembering correctly) honor council. The whole thing seems to be pretty well organized, with chances for students to "accept responsibility" and receive appropriate consequences (usually grade deduction or failure and an "academic integrity seminar" for early offenses) after a fairly quick conversation with someone in the academic integrity office, with more involved hearings reserved for more difficult cases (in my limited experience so far, these tend to involve multiple students, with the key question being who deliberately cheated or knowingly abetted cheating, and who is a truly innocent bystander or victim of theft). While written work (including homework and extra credit work (!)) is one major source of cases, computer code is another, and I'm going to learn some new concepts and vocabulary from those cases.

    So I guess the academic integrity office (like IT and the facilities/physical plant folks) strikes me as a reasonably useful part of the ever-growing administration (the sad thing is that, once I find out what they're up to in any detail, I end up thinking that about many parts of the ever-growing administration. I do have my doubts about the current provost, however, who seems to have perfected the art of writing very long emails which, when examined carefully, are curiously devoid of actual content. I always read them for fear that (s)he's announcing some momentous, quite possibly disastrous, change hidden in all the verbiage, but so far that doesn't seem to be the case.)

    Of course, that's only true if the job is done well, and it's quite clear that the academic integrity officer Doc Slash encountered isn't even minimally competent (this is also, of course, the problem with many IT and facilities departments; they're very useful if they do their jobs, and incredibly frustrating if they don't).

    It also points to yet another corollary to Murphy's Law: the very offices that might manage to make adjuncts' lives marginally easier, by making ordinary processes work smoothly and taking the handling of any outside-the-ordinary-routine issues off their hands as quickly and completely as possible, often do the exact opposite.

  5. The centralized office used to be housed with the Dean. Records were kept (paper and electronic) about students who continually cheated, and it was very easy to deal with repeat offenders.

    Pretty soon, the people who staff the Academic Integrity Office will somehow graduate to having some titles like "Director" or "Senior Integrity Coordinator" and change the role of the office - they will become the dictators of policy and punishment, and the actual instructor who caught the student cheating will have no say in the outcome.

    Why, yes, I am a bit jaded. I have seen this type of "purview creep" occur many times in my 24 year tenure.


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