Saturday, February 26, 2011

Questioning Quinn Queries With A Weekend Thirsty on Plagiarism.

So the situation is this: a student cheated on his senior thesis. He completely plagiarized pages and pages worth in the final draft. I was his thesis consultant/advisor. The final draft that was submitted did not look anything like the drafts I had tried to work on with this student. I say "tried," because he rarely showed up for meetings. He always had a sporting event ("We have an away game today") or a family crisis ("My cousin's child drowned") to use as an excuse to not come to his meetings or to respond to feedback I provided him. Nevertheless, he cheated. Because of FERPA, no one in the department can acknowledge to his fellow classmates that he is being expelled because of this plagiarism, which is said student's fourth major infraction with academic dishonesty this year. Last semester he plagiarized two essays and cheated on a take-home final exam (by paying a friend to write the exam for him).

The problem is this: the student is telling all of his friends that I failed him because he did not show up to meetings and because I have always secretly hated him. He claims that I 'planted' the 12 pages of plagiarized text into his thesis and deleted what he'd originally written. Since all the professors (and our dean) know this student to be a pathological liar, I am not worried about anyone other than students believing these lies. However, students do not know the truth behind this student's behavior. All of his classmates are giving me the evil eye, some have stopped coming to class, and others are spreading rumors that I am hateful and out to seek revenge on this student because I hate him (which would be a good reason for him to have selected me as his thesis consultant/advisor, right?). I cannot reveal the true nature of his academic dishonesty because of FERPA.

What do I do?



  1. FERPA enjoins you from explaining this to students, but doesn't prevent you from making the situation clear to other employees of the university, and you should make sure that every member of the department - tenure-track, adjunct, secretarial (they count) - knows the truth of the matter. They can't tell students, either, but at least they can squelch the rumors if they hear them.

  2. Al long as the folks at your department and the dean support you, relax.
    The lovechild may try to create a bad tone in the class. But spring is coming. Half of your students will fall in love, and the dateless ones will start trying to train their very own pet squirrel.
    When the noise dies, there will only remain a certain aura around you, an aura that will tell your future little bastards that you are a tough cookie, not to be messed with on pain of pain. Treasure and cultivate that aura.

  3. This kid is not just a snowflake and a fucktard, he is stupid. Get a good lawyer. It will not be hard, considering how stupid this kid has been. There are laws against libel, slander, defamation, etc.... Your lawyer will know how to compel the kid and his friends to participate in the discover process. Your lawyer will also know how to get the university to help you sort through any of the campus emails or other internet software the kid used to libel you. Your lawyer will be eager to take this case and win. He/she will enjoy consulting with you about creative ways to shaft the kid. The kid's lawyer will ultimately advise the kid to settle with you for a buttload of money. You will then have to choose between the buttload of money (and silence re: the kid) or having your day in court and letting all the kid's friends realize what a fuckflake he is and what a wonderful person you are.

    This is not a problem. This is a goddamn lottery ticket waiting to be cashed in. I envy you.

  4. What do you care what a well-documented pathological liar and anyone dumb enough to believe him think? As long as you are square with your fellow faculty, I don't see a problem. If any students really do think ill of you (and how can you even be sure of that: mine give me the evil eye no matter what I do), observe their classroom behavior: they have the collective attention span of a gnat.

  5. Quinn, I really do envy you. Some proffies have all the luck.

  6. If the students give you shit about Plagarist Pete just say "The college had good reason to get rid of him, but I am legally prohibited from saying why." If they persist, remain silent. I agree with Southern Bubba on the lawyer thing, but watch out that you don't hire Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe. Don't worry about the cheaters; they hang themselves on their own words sooner or later.

  7. If you're really worried that the students think you're a @-hole, I'd do a little "re-teaching" lesson on plagiarism -- noting recent incidents (without naming names, 'natch) and your "zero tolerance" policy on plagiarism.
    I might even toss in some comments about the pitfalls of blowing off scheduled meetings.
    Leave no doubt in their minds that you are dead serious about honest scholarship and keeping your commitments.
    That's a pretty good rep to have.
    - FRP

  8. A quick perusal of the interwebs doesn't turn up successful Prof-on-flake lawsuits. My guess is that flakes are rarely worth it, monetarily speaking. That said, my understanding of modern customs is that lawyers rarely hurt one's standing, and the mere threat of a lawyer may encourage tight lips. It may also escalate, and much like the threat of "all options on the table" against Saddam Hussein, don't bring a lawyer if you're not willing to use it and be happy with the consequences.

    Lawyers aside, I'm not sure there are significant long-term consequences for you. Yeah, it'd be nice for all the kiddo's buddies to be, "Like, He's a plagiarist? I never knew. He was always so nice. Such a terrible thing to do." The smart ones are much more likely to respond thusly: "He got caught? Dumbshit." The stupid ones will hate you because he's their friend (or more so than you ever had a hope of being), he tried hard, and you are expelling him. I do not think any amount of facts will significantly alter those perceptions.

    It may be worth it to have this round of student reviews struck from records for whatever they might be used for. It might also be useful for a generic, but specifically-referencing-current-events reminder about not plagiarizing to come from higher-ups (not you).

    Whatever the flakes perceptions of you and the events, I doubt you can say much, publicly, to change them. I think you can only protest too much. Ignore the revoltings, or enjoin the fight with modern weaponry, while keeping your own fingers clean. But do not engage, there is no winning in that.

  9. Are you tenured? If so, consider your new status as a marked woman a gift. The students that hate you don't know you or the cheater. If they avoid you, you are well rid of them. The students that know better will not believe the idiot student.

    I don't know about a lawsuit. That seems like an awful lot of mental anguish for probably very little return financially. You probably will have to prove the little shit did you damage. And being avoided by students is not technically damage. Neither is getting the stinkeye.

    If you are untenured, that's a much more problematic situation, as if this incident can affect your tenure case, it's obviously more worrisome. And suing students probably isn't going to make you friends on the tenure committee either.

    If you're untenured, take the high road, document everything, with a dispassionate narrative to the chair cc-ed to the dean, head of student affairs/whoever detailing in writing everything that has gone on. Let the dust settle a bit.

    No faculty member one would ever believe you'd "frame" a student, simply because that's ludicrous. That's not the kind of thing faculty members do for fun. It takes too much effort, and the dumbshits always do themselves in anyway.

    Some friends of his might believe that. But many other friends probably already are aware of his plagiarism (including the one that cheated with him), because no doubt he's bragged about it, because that's how stupid shits like that operate. So the number of students that will believe his crap is probably less than you think.

    You are doubtless feeling vulnerable and you may be sensing animosity from them that doesn't exist. But if they hate you, so what? If you're tenured, anyway. Your job isn't to be liked. And you didn't do anything wrong. Haters gonna hate.

  10. I always feel like the flakes who threaten to sue are the ones with the worst case against me. Like they believe in this fancy justice system and they CLEARLY have no idea what is involved. My focus involves legal basketweaving, so let's just say, openly: you have no case. (and my expertise makes me laugh for days any time a flake suggests that a judge would side with them)

    But presenting a lecture (or email, if the flakes have stopped showing) referencing "recent events" and the "heartbreak of working with students" for their very own "success" only to realize plagiarism abounds FORCES you to review the plagiarism policy.

    No names, no identifiers. Hell, you can even pretend it's an anniversary of something completely different. But if you look them in the eye as you give the details of why plagiarism is bad, they'll know what's up.

  11. "Last semester he plagiarized two essays and cheated on a take-home final exam (by paying a friend to write the exam for him)."

    Yeah....wait wtf???

    Would it be against the law to tell the students that the plagiarist was expelled for sheer stupidity?

  12. Tell everyone you know, including students, that he was throw out for cheating. Be the honest prof. Then let him know you welcome the upcoming lawsuit that will make sure any google search on his name will show he was tossed for cheating. FERPA only protects his records, not your opinions.

  13. Here is something you could consider: the perspective of time. Snowflakes melt, but colleagues are with you forever. As long as your colleagues and admin knows what really happened, it does not matter a damn to you what students think. They will be gone soon.

    Students aren't coming to class? This time of year attendance always falls off anyway. They're glaring at you? At least they're not dozing and surfing Facebook.

    Now might well be a good time for a refresher lecture on plagiarism. You don't need to make any comments at all about why you think it's appropriate; they know damn well why.

    If this little moron is actually admitting to his friends that there was twelve pages of plagiarized material in his paper, only the stupidest will believe that you put it there. And, let's be honest: were they the ones you were teaching to?

    Don't bother with the lawsuit. You haven't got a case (he was saying mean things about me! really? that's all?) and the university wouldn't want the publicity.

    It will be spring soon, and all the little snowflakes will melt and run away. Next year nobody will remember any of this - except that, if you're lucky, you'll have a lingering reputation as a hardass. As someone else said, treasure that.

  14. Tell your students that FERPA doesn't allow you to tell them that he was kicked out for cheating. So, you can't answer any of their questions about it.

  15. Here at Humpshack, we have a very stringent no-tolerance policy on cheating. In fact, it's so strict that we pillory offenders so that the other wee flakes can lob spoiled cans of Natural Light at them on the college common. I would suggest something like "Expelled Eddie violated a central tenet of university policy, but FERPA prevents me from discussing it further. Let us turn our attention now to YOU GUYS finishing the semester WITHOUT fucking up like Expelled Eddie."

  16. I suspect his fellow students don't believe him. He probably has a reputation as a liar and a cheat and many of his fellow students are happy he got busted...

  17. My thoughts are along the same lines as Alan's and Stella's: it doesn't really matter what the students think *unless* they're in a position to influence tenure, promotion, and/or salary decisions via evaluations (or anything else). If that's the case, then, yes, document, document, document, to anyone who might ever make a decision based on this semester's evaluations, and seek to have those evaluations stricken from the record -- which, at least at my institution, I suspect might be very difficult; I could receive permission not to submit them with something, but getting them removed from every excel spreadsheet everywhere once they had been run would be tough. So I guess I'd try to be proactive: if evaluations matter for you, and they're still on paper, don't give them out at all (with permission of your chair, or whoever else you think will support the decision; if there's a separate Dean/Assistant Dean in charge of enforcing the honor code, I'd try to get him/her on your side). If the forms are online, try the same approaches to see if your classes can be excluded from the survey. But be prepared for students to be outraged that they don't get a chance to ravage you on the darn things (which is why the decision should really be made in concert with all the people they might complain to, and well documented). They'll still make a hullabaloo on the site which shall not be named, but hopefully that will be so over-the-top as to undermine itself.

    Realistically, there probably are fewer of them who really hate you now than you think, and, yes, they'll soon be distracted by other things. But even a few per class can make for an unpleasant semester. I'm sorry. And good for you and your colleagues for not unleashing this idiot on the world with a Bachelor's degree.


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