Monday, October 25, 2010

I'd Prefer Not To

So. My university supposedly has the highest standards possible when it comes to plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Yes, indeedy. We demand the honesty from our students, and so help us God if they don’t play by the rules there. Will. Be. Consequences. Serious fucking consequences.

Now here at Shithole U it is up to the stalwart faculty to hunt down the plagiarist, compile a file with all the relevant information, and compose a letter to the chair charting the plagiarism and exposing it, along with any outrageous lies about said plagiarism that the student commits along the way (and there are plenty).

This, dear reader, takes a lot of time, and is also demoralizing. We don’t subscribe to those nifty plagiarism detection sites. That costs money. No, the onus is on us, the faculty members, to make sure we have every bit of evidence necessary to see to it that the student gets what they deserve.

To that end there is also a large university committee whose task it is to oversee these cases as they come up, and adjudicate the proper punishment. Many, many hours are spent by the aforementioned committee members, going over the evidence. In addition the student and professor are brought into the same room at the same time and each is questioned by the committee, which is at best uncomfortable and at worst possibly fatal, so this is no fun for anyone as you can imagine.

As a Humanities professor, I see my share of plagiarism cases. I document every one. Every semester I get them. Every semester I chase down the sources, write the letters, etc. Because it’s my job. Or, rather, it was. Because after what happened regarding my most egregious plagiarist, I have recently come to the conclusion that the entire process is useless.

Consider the following:

1. I as a faculty member cannot know the history of the student, other than the fact that I have accused them of plagiarism.
2. The committee knows the entire context of the student’s history, but cannot share that with me.
3. The committee after long deliberation makes their recommendation to the dean as to punishment, but they do not report that decision to me.
4. The dean is not responsible to the committee to report her final decision. She informs me, who, of course, is not supposed to know what the committee recommended, or why.

Can you see what’s happening here? Hours and hours of faculty time and effort expended on citing and reviewing and punishing dishonest students, but the dean can do whatever she wants, because the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, or has done. I don’t ever know what the committee decides. I only know what the dean finally decides. The committee never knows what the dean decides; they only know what they have recommended. I know what the dean decides, but I don’t have the full context of her judgment, nor am I informed of the committee’s recommendation.

All this is “confidential,” which serves the dean herself very well. But, well…we all know “confidentiality” is a joke on college campuses, don’t we? I know people on that committee. And people talk. The particular student in question plagiarized flagrantly four times in the same semester, only once with me. That was only the number that was actually turned in by faculty members—and you can see how the system is geared towards faculty members not reporting plagiarism in the first place, because it is onerous and is bound to provoke anxiety.

The committee met for hours to consider the evidence and determine punishment—think of it! There are at least ten people on that committee. Probably a week of man hours for that one meeting. And they basically said that if this wasn’t a case for expulsion, nothing was. That if we did not expel this student for egregious, repeated violations of academic conduct, there were no grounds to ever expel anyone. The student himself had no excuse. He was near to graduating, and had been reported for plagiarism before, but chose to plagiarize yet again four times within one semester.

Because of my connections, I knew about this before the dean made her final decision. So you can imagine my pique when I got a memo stating that the student was suspended for spring semester and could enroll again in the summer of 2011.

What? The? Fuck? Why are you wasting our time, Dean Fucker? Why? Why do you put all the work on faculty members and then piss in their faces and do whatever the fuck you want anyway?

Because, of course, Dean Fucker doesn’t care about how much work we fucking do. Dean Fucker doesn’t think we work at all. Dean Fucker doesn’t want trouble from the student, and wants the money the student will pump into the university trying to get his degree, and wants to be able to mark that student graduated so our graduation rate won’t suck so hard.

It’s you that suck so hard, Dean Fucker. You suck so very, very hard.

And after this semester I am never again turning in a student for plagiarism. Never. I am going to punish them in my own terrible way, and enforce that punishment with signatures written in blood. And if no one else on campus knows that they plagiarized, I can’t imagine that it will much matter, can you?

Because Dean Fucker will do whatever she wants anyway.


  1. I agree with you 100%, and can totally relate.

    We have the same policy on my campus. All of this FERPA HORSESHIT prevents us from knowing much of anything about our students' past violations of the code of conduct, so we could have a fucking murderer in our class and would NEVER know, and in fact CANNOT know, unless some bureaucrat/administrator maybe decides that we must know for our own safety, and I think even that's not allowed.

    So yes, I used to bust students for plagiarism left and right, but I don't even really give a fuck anymore, because, like you said, it's a huge waste of time and you never really get any satisfying result from it.

    When they pay me more, I'll do more work, because the work we do to catch plagiarists results in so much bureaucratic bungling and wimpiness that all it does is piss me off.

    In Chinese high schools, by contrast, they put a notice of your violations (of any kind) on the outdoor bulletin board right at the gate to the school, so EVERYONE sees it and knows about it as they enter the campus.

    And you know what? THAT APPROACH WORKS.

  2. Yeah, the safety thing--no one told me when a student was making death threats about me to other students. Not one word. I found out from a friend who'd heard it through the grapevine, only after the student was institutionalized.

  3. The Chinese solution only works in a culture where the individual is subordinate to the group and shame has real consequences. America in 2010 doesn't work like that; only fines make an impression. But if you want to live in a shame/guilt society run by the most chickenshit excuse for a Communist Party outside of North Korea, go right ahead No Cookies.

  4. I think shame would make a difference, actually. Right now no one gives a shit because no one else knows -- make everyone know and peer pressure will say "You got what on your paper? I got double that and I wrote it the night before...Maybe you should pay more attention instead of sleeping in class."

  5. The real culprits here (besides the plagiarizing fuckers) are the administrators who set up a system that creates a deliberate disincentive for reporting plagiarism. You can see it working very well right here.

    My last school was equally horrible about enforcing violations of academic dishonesty (no one got expelled, EVER, no matter how bad the violation, and the punishment for most plagiarism was a rewrite), but at least we didn't have this secrecy bullshit to deal with. FERPA meant no sharing grades, but it had nothing to do with whether the prof and the committee and the Dean could or couldn't know the outcome of an accusation of plagiarism. The secrecy takes a broken system and makes it even worse.

  6. Until this year, our faculty could police cheating on our own. If the student admitted to it, we could just administer the penalty and be done with it. There was an appeals process, but the student had to initiate it.

    Now there's a form we have to fill out regardless of what happens. And there's another level of bureaucracy that includes an academic integrity committee. Members on that committee include people from our staff. I greatly respect our staff, but Sally Secretary and Carla Custodian should not get a vote on academic matters. Like our OP's situation, everything is done in a silo. The only information we get back is whether a grade we recorded will stand or not.

  7. I feel your pain, Stella, since I went through similar bullshit years ago. And this little fucker brought in his lawyer, because we were going to ruin his chances at med school. When the Dean said that he was going to change the kid's grade, I told him that I hoped the kid would someday treat him.

  8. I love our Ministry of Few Consequences, because they do gather the evidence and tell us the decision and the consequences. To my eye, the latter are never enough--why the hell they don't just fail a class in which they plagiarize is beyond me -- but it spares me from all that bloody work, which I would never do.

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