Nabbed a Cheater!

My cyber-friend, fellow blogger and educator, Clay Morgan, recently wrote a very funny blog about how we teachers notice when our students cheat. And I laughed because it was true: There are “peekers” and “sneakers” and “giraffers” and folks who try to write everything they can on their pencils and their shoes and their arms.

And then yesterday, I busted one of my students for some crazy, overt plagiarism, and suddenly it isn’t so very funny anymore. Well, it’s a little funny because the person copied from Wikipedia and left in the hyperlinks. But still, when you get down to it, it’s not that funny.

I hate this part. I hate this part. I hate this part. I hate this part of being an educator.

Let’s assume for the sake of ease that the cheater is male. Then I can avoid all the he/she stuff.

My thought is to have The Despicable One take a look at his paper along with a copy of the Plagiarism Contract which he signed earlier in the semester and ask him to respond in writing to three questions: 1) Why did he choose to copy directly from the source rather than paraphrase or summarize it? 2) Why didn’t he use in-text citation and include a Works Cited page at the end of his paper? 3) What does he think the most appropriate course of action would be in this situation?

When he is done writing (read: documenting the offense in his own handwriting), I will listen to what he has to say, explain to him how serious an offense this is, (because it is serious), and then I will think about it for a while.

So today I’m feeling a little snarky. A little annoyed, even.

Why? I guess because I feel plagiarism is just so dang silly. It is the laziest of all academic infractions. I can predict The Plagiarizer will say something like: “I didn’t know how do to it the right way, so I just didn’t do it.” That is what lazy people say. I guess I’m noting something of a character flaw in plagiarizers (as if other flaws aren’t obvious enough). I keep thinking, if I didn’t know how to do something, I would do my damndest to figure it out.

In this specific instance, for example, if I didn’t know how to cite properly, I would have called a classmate for assistance. I would have stopped playing BeJewelled on Facebook and looked online for tips of how to cite a paper. (There are a zillion free websites offering advice.) I might have looked in the style book which I was assigned to purchase at the beginning of the semester. If all that failed, I would have tried to indicate that I knew I was taking information from an outside source. I could have written:

Dear Professor-In-Charge-Of-My-Grade:

I am getting this information from, but I’m not sure how to cite it properly. (*hangs head in shame*)

When you get a chance, can you show me? I hope you won’t deduct too many points. (*lame attempt at humor*)

So so so sincerely,

Ashamed One

If I knew in advance that I were going to be in trouble with citation, I would have made at least one appointment with the folks at the college’s Writing Center (where one can schedule a free 30-minute tutoring session to really get some help on a paper). I might have even asked my teacher to meet with me. Because teachers want to help their students. Some will even skip lunch or blow off grocery shopping to help their students.

So I can tell this student started really, really late on this paper.

Like eleven o’clock at night: too late for phone calls or in-person tutoring sessions.

And, frankly, because of his procrastination and poor decision-making, I now have to make difficult moral decisions. And now, depending on how far I want to go with this, I will have a boatload of extra paperwork to handle. And copies to be made in triplicate. Because my Department Chair will need a copy. And so will Student Services. And I’ll probably have to hold on to this paper for the rest of my life. (Hubby, I have another important document for the fire safe…)

I guess you can tell that I have strong beliefs about integrity and honor and honesty. Basic values which everyone agrees seem to be on the decline. Interestingly enough, judging from the reaction that I’m getting from some of my students, they don’t see plagiarism as a big deal. I’ve tried to explain that it is a big deal. A very big deal. Because when you turn in something with your name on it, you are claiming to have authored those words and, when you haven’t, it is a lie.

In my eyes, The Despicable One is a liar and a cheater. Does he understand that I think of him as a person who steals ideas? That I can’t trust him or anything that he says? Ever? That I would never vouch for him for anything? How could I? He signed a banana-yellow piece of paper promising not to plagiarize, but he did.

I’m worried about this generation. So maybe my tone is annoyance with a side order of panic.

There have to be consequences for this transgression. This is not kindergarten, folks. I teach at the college level. This is where people learn life lessons. And sometimes people have to learn the hard way; after all, you don’t always get a second chance when you screw up.

So I have options.

Put on your thinking caps for a moment and consider this.

If you were me, would you:

a) Allow the aforementioned student to write a new paper with proper citation by a certain date for a maximum grade of D. (If the paper doesn’t come in, or there is evidence of future plagiarism, the student would be failed.)

b) Not allow the student to rewrite the paper. Give him a zero, but allow him to stay in the class with the warning that if this happens again, he will be failed.

c) Tell the student that he has done irreparable damage to the student-teacher relationship and fail him from the course as well as report him to Student Services. (This could impact his entire financial aid package, but he might learn a lesson.)

d) Make him babysit my child every Saturday for free from now until the end of the semester.

e) Ask him what he thinks should happen.

I’m definitely leaning in a particular direction, but I’m open to suggestions.

What would you do if you were in my shoes? Can anyone think of other options?

10/17/2010: ***Note: Read the  interesting, varied and intelligent comments to learn the difficult decision that I had to make, and the thought processes that teachers have to have to consider every day above and beyond our course material!***

67 thoughts on “Nabbed a Cheater!

  1. My vote is for Option A…

    I’m not a teacher, but I’m very good at procrastinating! I’m also the mom/stepmom of procrastinating children, most of whom have yet to comprehend the seriousness of plagiarism (junior high/high school age)…I’ve tried to tell them that they need to put things in their own words, but they don’t see that as important! AARGH!


  2. I think it depends on what the consequences were in the writing contract. I would at least give him a zero if not turn him in. But it really depends on what consequences were laid out in the contract he signed.

  3. First, thank him! He has provided you with a terrific Friday topic!

    I’d go with “A” as well. This way he its required to do the work, and he can still theoretically fail!

  4. I vote for option B. Option A is just going to make him feel more of the same way he felt before cheating. As if it’s a no-win task, as if no matter what he does he’s going to get a bad grade.

    The way I see it, cheaters don’t think that going to the teacher is an option. The teacher is the enemy, the jerk who assigned this stupid paper that no normal person would know how to do on their own. It’s everyone else’s fault but his own that the cheater can’t do the work by himself. I said “can’t” because that’s the way he sees it, he can’t, it’s just impossible for him to manage. That’s why he plagiarized, because he doesn’t see any of the options you outlined above; all he sees is this big task which fills him with resentment. Deep, deep below the resentment is a sense of inadequacy, the feeling that he is not good enough to do it on his own, but all he feels and notices is resentment. So he did what he presumes any normal person would do, since no normal person could do the work on their own: he stole.

    But I agree with Betsy that it depends on what the paper he signed says will happen if he cheats.

    1. I don’t think I have enough information to know what I would do. I would want to know what the contract said and what the kid says when confronted. That would help me decide how to handle the situation.

      1. Kid straight-out admitted to plagiarizing. Did not cite. Did not attempt to paraphrase. Cut and paste. Simple as that. Kid said he started the paper late. It was not his #1 priority. He knew he signed a Plagiarism Contract which clearly indicates the consequences could range from redoing the paper to being failed. He didn’t think he would get caught.

        How’s that? 🙁

  5. Make him write a paper about the history of plagiarism. Explain that he must site his sources and some number (4 or 5?) of them must be actual physical books from the library.

    I agree with much of what’s been said above – that it often involves a mix of procrastination and feelings of inadequacy and resentment. Who knows — he may have real learning problems or other issues that are preventing him from Doing The Right Thing.

    Grading him: If he does *really* well on the plagiarism history paper, give him a decent grade. Capping it at a D will not solve the problem he has or the annoyance you have. It will only increase his resentment. If he knows he can atone for his mistake (and get a half-way decent grade) by doing a bang-up job on this new assignment, he might surprise you and really step up and LEARN something!

    Make sure to protect yourself though. If you deviate from the enforcement required by the contract, get permission from the administration first.

  6. i’m inclined to go with option “A” initially. what does the banana-yellow piece of paper promising not to plagiarize that he signed say about plagiarizing? does it say “if caught, you fail”? if so fail him. give him the option to drop the class and that he can repeat it next semester / year, or he fails. Plain and simple.

  7. Unfortunately I have to say we had to cheat (late 1960’s). Can you imagine having the midterm a week ahead of test day and with 6 guys working full steam, we could find only enough answers for 80%? Or not cheating and getting second highest grade, a 92%, out of 200 students and getting a B because it was not a 93%? Or tests with a curve where a 90% earned you a D? The midterm for Shakespeare was 50 quotes: who said what to whom and in what context spoken. Who could be ready for an exam like that?

    The professors were screwing us well, dontcha think? They were flunking us out left and right and below 2.0 = 1A for draft = off to Vietnam! Plus my ever-working parents gave every dime they had to send me to college. History of Ante Bellum South had a required 800-page text, 6 paperbacks plus a term paper. This taught me everything NOT to do with testing when I became a teacher. I gave my students all the essay questions ahead of time. My job was not to fail them, but to enable them to go learn it and get a A.

  8. My sympathies! Your annoyance is probably partly due to the fact that the student thought he could get away with it in YOUR class. That was how I used to feel, LOL! Credit to you for showing that he cannot! Now go make him pay! That will be a life lesson he will have learned for the future!

    Rex Raymond

    1. My friend suggested that I felt betrayed. I really don’t. It’s not personal. Mostly, I feel annoyed at the paper trail that I have to enlist in to deal with a cut and dry case of plagiarism.

      We have created a climate and culture where it is not easy to “bust people” for this obvious transgression. I imagine a lot of professors don’t bother to follow through with these things, simply because of the extra work involved.

      If that is the case, then America deserves to keep falling in the ranks when it comes to education. The number one thing a student needs to possess in order to succeed in school is a willingness to work hard to learn. I have non-native speakers of English who are willing to work crazy hard, knowing their English is weak, knowing they may not pass, but they still want to do their best. They come for extra help. They go meet with the tutors. They make use of all the resources available to them. They are not sitting in their dorm rooms playing video-games. They are working.

      Starting a paper at 11 pm, the night before it is due, is something a few people can pull off. Most people can’t. Only a few, talented people are firecrackers, able to pop off an amazing paper in one quick draft. Plagiarizers are like dead sparklers. No fo’shizzle. Just a lot of disappointment.

  9. I would give one mark for getting the information….at least he tried. A second mark for originality or plagarism. We are a nation always quoting somebody.

    1. Mom? Are you serious? (This is my mother, people.) Points for “trying”? Really mom? This is college. We don’t do “points for trying.” (This is why I believe in enforcing rules.) Thanks for weighing in on morals and ethics, honesty and integrity, she who steals the “S’s” out of the Scrabble bag.

      Maybe put dad on the ‘puter.

  10. Bummer. Although I did laugh at the part where the hyperlinks were left in. You make the right connection about stealing. We wouldn’t brush this type of thing under the carpet if the student had stolen jewelry or a car, especially if the item had more than just financial value. Ideas and creative products are born from hard work. My writings are like little kids that I breathe life into. Quote and cite me all you want, but don’t steal a part of me and try to slink away.

    As for your dilemma, here’s my answer. I immediately go to option B at first. Yes you get a zero for this assignment, but yes I believe in grace. Now get back at it and do right by the world and your word this time. Here’s one last thought though. In grad school I caught three students who cheated on an exam. My boss confronted them and told them to admit it if true. They did. He said, okay zeroes for you on this and see you next time. He told me that if they had lied he might have gone after them more.

    You’re already doing what’s right. I’m sure you won’t get this wrong. I do believe in second chances though.

    1. The brilliant Clay Morgan wrote:

      “My writings are like little kids that I breathe life into. Quote and cite me all you want, but don’t steal a part of me and try to slink away.”

      Morgan, Clay. Response to “Nabbed a Cheater!” Lessons From Teachers and Twits. 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 15. Oct. 2010.

      I wish I could have used hanging format, but the computer doesn’t seem to allow it. But thank you Diana Hacker Style Book. Because, ya know what? I didn’t know how to quote a comment from a blog. I had to look it up! It took 25 seconds.

      1. Ah, you have sated the citation gods. I also admired your clever use of descriptive introduction to quote me as your source. Most of all though, let me just say that my very favorite thing about today so far is reading this banter between you and your mom. I seriously can’t stop laughing and I am at work with someone else around. (*puts mouth inside sweater hoping to mask the sound*)

  11. I, of course, would explain what plagiarism means and what exactly a student has to do with the written word to make it his own. You would be amazed how difficult that can be for a student. The thought process must be taught.

  12. Hi, Renee! Sorry about the loads of paperwork looming before you.

    Yes, it’s true that when a student plagiarizes he is lying and cheating. What upsets me the *MOST* about plagiarism is the fact that the plagiarizer is essentially agreeing to be voiceless, cutting out his own tongue, agreeing on my levels that his voice and his ideas will not be heard. THAT drives me nuts.


    1. I know. I agree with you 100%. If there is one thing that I have said over and over again: I’d rather have them have errors all over their papers than have them turn in someone else ideas or verbiage. Do you think that this generation is almost paralyzed by hovercraft parenting? Parents who are required to sign this test or quiz, expected to lurk through cyber-portals, required to help with homework at home so that these folks are more prone to learned helplessness? Like without mom and dad to help, they kind of shut down and try to cut and paste together the ideas of others and actually come to believe that the words are their own? Or could it be that this generation doesn’t think it is a big deal to “borrow” the ideas of others? After all, they “share” everything online: texts, computer clips, bits from YouTube. I’m not sure they get the distinction of cobbling together a paper that isn’t filled with their own ideas.

      Of course, there’s Carl up there saying he used to cheat in the 60s. I guess there have always been and will always be cheaters, huh?

      1. I think helicopter parents and the “sharing” nature of Web 2.0 are contributing factors – majorly good call there – but dishonesty is what it is, and in any generation there are going to be dishonest kids. And in any generation, by the time a kid hits college, he should know when it’s appropriate to do his own work.

  13. I would ask, if your education is not a priority, what are you wasting your/ your parents money for? If the option is there for a re-do, let him have at it in a very small window. Make him sweat and work. Scare the **** out of him/her. If he has any ambition at all of doing anything in Communications fields, he needs to change course. Wikipedia is so not an authority on anything! Make them understand that this will be a part of their transcripts and will jump off the paper when future potential employers look into their background. I have no sympathy for this type of thievery as the ‘me’ generation is well aware of plagiarizing. Mom with high school kids with no clue above, needs to crack the whip as it is the way of the world now. Instant fail and end of career in the real world. Isn’t that part of the higher educational lesson after all?

  14. I kind of feel like a combination of A and C would work. Obviously, the student shouldn’t be rewarded with the opportunity to get a good grade on the paper OR with getting out of doing the work altogether. I also find that knowing someone is disappointed in me is the fastest way for me to want to repair the damage. Reporting to Student Services seems so…final.

    Rather than have them sit in front of a computer typing, could you have a graded discussion with the student? Using the example of Ordinary People, maybe have one-hour discourse (with the majority of the talking done by the student) on the significance of the colors blue and grey. Said student could have the book with them for reference, but not as a crutch.

    This approach would allow you to gauge whether they actually did the reading AND give them the benefit of LEARNING something…and maybe show the student that thinking about a book or piece of writing actually can be interesting.

    1. Marcail (a most beloved former student now entering a fabulous new decade in life):

      This is not a literature class like in high school, although you get gold stars for your reference to color symbolism in Ordinary People. It is a writing class (Comp-101) where students have to write papers. Every single student has to take the course. It is a prerequisite course, necessary to earn one’s 2 year diploma, so there isn’t really an issue of did the person read the literature. It’s more like I caught the person cutting and pasting chunks of text from an outside source without citation or explanation. And when the student wrote me a letter, I can now tell you, there was little remorse. (I started late. I was busy. This wasn’t my highest priority. I had bad teachers in high school so I never learned how to do this. Blah blah blah.)

      In addition, students have been doing citation for the past 5 weeks on their reading journals (remember those? 😉 ), so student was either content with grades of 10/20 or just didn’t care to make time to meet to learn to do things properly.

      So, having said all that, my big feeling is even without that information is: the student cheated. CHEATED. Think about what would have happened at MPCDS. It would have been an Honor Offense. What would have happened?

      1. Ah. Totally different. I can understand feeling overwhelmed by an analytical assignment, but “this is how you write a paper” seems pretty straightforward.

        Interestingly, I DID get accused of cheating at MPCDS. I started, didn’t understand and didn’t finish a chemistry assignment. Rather than admit that I didn’t understand how to balance chemical equations, I said I lost my assignment. The next week, our teacher came by my desk and saw my attempts and assumed that I was waiting for my classmates to get their graded assignments back so I could copy and turn mine in. She hauled me in front of the Honor Court and I ended up suspended for a day– maybe two. Thirteen years later, I’m still embarassed by the whole incident. I remember who was on the Honor Court (Curtis, Mike Marsiglia, Mr. G, Mr. Wagner) and I’m still annoyed that I was totally alone in that room and that the presumption of cheating was enough to get me suspended.

        With your additional insight into the situation, I say give them the zero…and make them rewrite the paper. If laziness was the driving force behind his plagiarism/cheating, there’s no sense in “rewarding” him with not having to do the same work as his peers.

        1. I remember that teacher. But look, the Honor Court came through, right? She had no evidence.

          I have to admit, I’m curious, knowing I had hard evidence – a hard copy of the source material printed from the internet along with the paper where it is copied verbatim in the same font with the hyperlinks – why would you give the student another chance? Why wouldn’t you just say buh-bye?

      2. I don’t know if the Honor Court came through. Granted, I wasn’t honest about why I hadn’t handed in the work, but I was prepared to take the zero on the assignment rather than struggle through the equations. To be honest, my suspension was like something out of “Minority Report”– sentenced because someone THOUGHT I was going to do something wrong.

        As for your student…I don’t know why I say that they deserve a second chance. It’s partly because I’ve made up a story about him in my head and how you could be the first person to show him kindness and the satisfaction of hard work. Of course, it’s equally possible that he’s entitled and lazy and would walk out of a meeting with you, high five his friends and say “Pulled another one over on her!”

  15. When I was at university plagiarism got you a big fat ZERO on that piece of work. You could get a minimum pass mark if you resubmitted the piece of work sans plagiarism. That is how lessons are learned. Only one person did it (plagiarising from the set textbook which the lecturer himself had written) and he never did it again. Noone had any sympathy for him as I recall.

    As for citations: a student should have learend how to present quotes and citations at school (high school). It was certainly drummed into me by the age of 16. Even if you have not been taught how to do it it really isn’t that difficult to figure out. Of course there are different ways of doing citations but so long as you are consistent it should be fine to use any method for an essay that is not being published. I favour “experiments were done which proved conclusively that x is equal to y (Smith and Jones 1999). But he numbering method is okay too.

    What a student also needs to realise is that if you cite someone you had damn well better have READ the work you are citing. Years ago when I was doing my PhD one of the students made a comment along the lines of “noone reads every paper in their references do they?”
    There were about 12 of us in the room and everyone was stunned. A very brisk exchange took place in which all of us declared that we did, in fact, read every paper we cited. Personally I had around 400 references by the time I finished my PhD thesis and I read every one. I even went so far as to track down a paper from 1924. It didn’t take long, I asked the director of my project, he had it in his filing cabinet. Probably because he had READ it. (insert grouchy face here). There was no way I was citing the seminal paper on my subject without reading it, even though I knew the scientific community regarded the work highly and would not argue about its credibility.

    BTW: The girl who didn’t read all the references she cited failed her PhD. Three hours with two of the best professors in the world picking her her thesis apart sentence by sentence proved too much for her. She couldn’t defend her work. Sad eh?

  16. … and another thing! 🙂

    University/college is not that stressful if you are committed. If you are not committed you should not be there. It’s a waste of time and money. Wait until you are ready. I started university at 21.

    My first degree was in biology with analytical chemistry. We had 37 hours of lectures a week. We had a 3000 word essay to do most weeks which had to be handed in three weeks later. A late piece of work would recieve a maximum of 40%. We were expected to find references (thank god for computer searches), find and photocopy the references, take them home and read them, then use them. Many were discarded as irrelevant. The average 3000 word essay contained references to thirty published papers. Quotes are not permitted in science so each paper had to be analysed and presented (in your own words) as evidence to support an argument/hypothesis.

    We also had two or three practical write ups a week plus a shitload of reading. In years two and three there were dissertations. The practical work for the dissertation had to be fitted in around lectures and the write up took months. And it was fun! We lived and breathed biology and chemistry.

    The degree had to be completed in three years as courses were not modular. You could not drop any classes. You could resit one or two exams in your first or second year (if your other results were satisfactory). If you failed any one of your final exams you did not get your degree. No re-sits. Good bye. No pressure eh?

    I did this with bipolar disorder. They were the most stable, structured and happiest days of my life.

    1. I am in love with you, Penny. Because Penny discusses a work ethic that is absolutely missing from so many of our students today. I’m not saying all students, but many students do not seem to understand what it means to work hard. REALLY HARD!

      Related yet unrelated rant: Even on Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model last night, a girl complained because her shoes were “really, really uncomfortable” so she “almost couldn’t walk.”

      Are you kidding me? I was DYING. This 18-year-old has a chance at one million dollars, and she is so entitled that she thinks modeling is supposed to be a breeze. She is confused. She is there to shut up and look good and sell a product, no matter how uncomfortable she is.

      Somehow, we have sent our kids a weird, entitled message. Guess what? We’re in for a long period of austerity, and only the best of the best are going to be employable. It helps when someone can vouch for your character and say you are an honest person, a good person, a wise person. A person who is hard-working. Those people always get jobs.

  17. Now that I know what the writing contract says I would still fail him on the paper and tell him if it ever happens again you will fail him the course. I believe that it should be a serious consequence for a serious offense. And letting them re-write the paper, no matter what grade you give them, tells them there is a do-over option, when in the real world, there is not.

    1. So you believe in the ole second chance? I am FASCINATED at the Americans who are willing to give CHEATERS a second chance. FASCINATED! Have we not had enough with the liars and cheaters. Where do you think they come from? They are being cultivated in our homes, our colleges with this mind-set. We have created a climate and culture in which they can thrive, like nasty little weeds. Ick.

  18. When in doubt, follow policy. That will save you in the end. The student can make up a class but it is your career.
    I had a paper handed into me with “WTF?” as the answer to a question he didn’t know.

    Sometimes I click my heels hoping to end up in Oz.

  19. If you check my site in the September archive and read “Dishonesty = Disappointment,” you’ll read my experience with a cheater.

    Regarding your student, I think you should flunk his little ass out of the class and report him.

    Freshman or not (I don’t believe you said?) this student should know by now that there are resources and people available to help him. And, I’m betting that in your course syllabus you talk about the evils of plagiarism and what the penalties are. I’m sure that topic is also covered in the student handbook or college catalog or whatever the heck it’s called these days, whether it’s online or an actual hand-held, hard copy.

    If nothing else, this person will realize what his laziness has cost him: 3 – 4 credit hours of his college semester, the respect of his professor and classmates, and the knowledge that taking a shortcut isn’t always the best route to go.

    I am completely fed up with cheaters, too. Kids who write book reports by copying text from the back of the book or the jacket’s inside flap. Kids who cheat on spelling tests – this is a funny one. Maybe this will make you laugh. My students used to have definitions along with their spelling words. I would compose a test with ten blank lines, for the written spelling word. Next to the long blank lines was a shorter blank, big enough for a letter of the alphabet. Letters A – J were next to the definitions, which were at the bottom of the test. After the words were given (and written down by the students), they would then write the letter of the definition next to its word.

    Well, I had one kid who always cheated and he was so obvious about it – and I was sick and tired of it. So I composed 1 different spelling test, moving the definitions around. I saw to it that Asshole would have a test that was different. Sure enough, Asshole had to copy the definition letters because he hadn’t bothered to study – let alone read the definitions. So, I decided that day the kids could correct their own tests just for chuckles and grins. I read the first word, then gave the letter for the definition. Asshole’s hand went up. “That’s not the right answer, it’s ‘B,'” he said. I read he definition aloud and said, “No, the correct definition is letter J.” The other students looked puzzled. I read the 2nd word, and gave the corresponding letter. Again, Asshole’s hand went up. “That’s not it,” he said, sounding really smug and annoyed with me, “It’s ‘F.'” I calmly replied, “No, the correct letter for that definition and word is ‘C.'” By this time, the rest of the class is giving me a look, like, “We don’t get what she’s up to, but whatever it is, it’s gonna be good.”

    So this continued for a couple more words, and then Asshole finally gets mad enough to make a really big stink. I said to him, “Read the definition for the letter you have next to your spelling word. Is that what that spelling word really means?” He read it aloud, then said, stupefied, “No.” I said, “Read the next one.” He did. Then, he looked at the papers on either side of him, and said, “But THEY have the same letters, how come THEIRS aren’t wrong?” I said, “Because YOU have a different test. Same words, but YOUR definitions are in a different order.”

    The lightbulb went on over the heads of his classmates, and even Asshole gave a rueful laugh – admitting he’d been had. Though I’m sure he kept cheating, regardless of that little exercise. This student thought he was just that handsome and could count on his girlfriend to get him through English class because she always got the right answers. He was lazy, and made no effort to learn anything.

    You know your cheating student. Does his personality/behavior/previous work indicate a level of maturity that would tell you that he really was ignorant of what plagiarism is, and ignorant of how to properly cite a paper? If you feel the student would be truly mortified and repentant over his action, then give him another chance. Fail him for that assignment, but allow him to stay in the class. Reinforce to him how lucky his little ass is that he’s not being expelled. If your student is a royally lazy person who does the bare minimum and doesn’t seem to care otherwise about being in your class, then flunk his lazy-assed self and maybe he’ll be inspired to do the right thing next time.

  20. Oh, and “another thing,” 🙂 as one previous post put it, if this kid is in ROTC, definitely notify his Commanding Officer. Same if he’s involved in a Criminal Justice program, or anything that requires good moral character.

  21. “or anything that requires good moral character.”

    Which courses these days don’t require good moral character?

    Frankly, I’m a bit shocked by the teacher versus student mentality. It seems to me that yes, some students will cheat and might be very slow recognize why that’s self-destructive and destructive to the community but how does public humiliation (or an attempt to publicly humiliate) solve the problem? My guess is that the student walked away even less interested learning.

  22. “Plagiarizers are sparkless” is the quote of the year. Ugh, I’m such an idealist. I just want to walk around with a box of magic matches and fire up all those unlit sparks…The question is: Is this kid ‘teachable’? Or able to get to the place where he recognizes many of the points so many people in this thread have made: working hard matters, school is supposed to difficult/challenging, having poor time management skills does not earn you a get-out-of jail free card and so on?

    Is it his job alone to get to that place? I got there alone, obviously people commenting here got there alone, or did we? Not sure. Does the teacher have no role in making him aware of just how wrong this is? Too romantic? Super obvious I’m not a teacher?

    I worked with several deans at an open university and many academic dishonesty cases crossed our desks. Basically, I saw all the lame, pathetic, infuriating excuses students made–and they were often made in incoherent prose. It was maddening, bang-your-head-against-the-wall infuriating, but also a bit like watching someone kill himself a little–put out his own spark.

    I’m into SPARK!

    1. Okay, but if you are going to quote me, you’d better cite me. LOL! 😉

      Baby, I’m all about spark. And glitter and shine.

      And hard work. And mad skills.

      And I want them all to succeed.

      There is no joy in this for me. None.

      1. Is it at all possible that this kid saw you in your new reading glasses and decided, Pish! She won’t see a THING.

        You have my word, I will absolutely cite you. lol 😉

        I love your blog. Well done!

  23. Sorry for getting in to the discussion late. At this point, there’s a lot to read through 🙂 There have been some excellent points made and I’ve enjoyed reading this thread. Hopefully, I am adding something worthy.

    For the moment, let’s leave out the idea students must be willing to be active participants in their own education. It seems you are now in a position to have to teach something you weren’t counting on as part of your regular Comp-101 class. It seems to me you are asking us two things specific to the situation: what do I really want to teach this student and how?

    So what do you want to teach him? Do you want to teach him the all important, far-reaching, life-lessons of Comp-101 or do you want to teach him the consequences of breaking the rules and possibly break *him* before he even gets a chance to be out in the real world?

    How do you want to teach him? Do you want to teach him by becoming a trusted resource/coach/mentor or by being an enforcer of the system? I think the difficulty of being a teacher is you need to be a little of all of that.

    It seems from what you shared about the signed contract that you certainly have the discretion to choose how. Sure it means extra work for you, its just a matter of which work you choose to embark upon and the attitude you will bring to it.

    Of the choices you posted above, I would definitely have a discussion with the student and include option E and, pending results of that discussion, offer a modified option A. What would I modify? I would not limit his grade to D. In fact, if the makeup assignment he turns in (on time with the new deadline) is worthy of an A, I would give it to him (academic incentive). However, I would still average in a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ with the final marking period results (academic consequence of plagiarizing).

    And that’s the rub. This will probably only be useful if the student cares at all and actually takes an active role in his education. If he doesn’t care, then whether you fail him/kick him out/let him rewrite makes no difference at all. Your strong beliefs about anything don’t mean doodley-squat to a student who doesn’t care. You mentioned integrity, honesty, and honor. Would someone treasures those values consider going down this road? (BTW, that means option D is right out! Would you want someone without those values babysitting your kids?) 🙂 So this means we may need to teach the student something not necessarily on your syllabus — values.

    Yes, he signed a contract (did he read it?). I like the idea about having him answer the three questions above while looking at his paper and the no-plagiarism contract. This could then become the source of conversation for option E and it would show you that he does, indeed, care.

    So let me ask you something. What do you really want to teach this person? Your paid obligation to him is as a teacher of Comp-101, but it sounds like there is something else you are striving for. Do you want to share and pass along your strong beliefs and values? Do you want to have a positive influence (one that he thinks is positive as well) on him? If so, then show him what you value and teach him why you value it and why he should also. Become important to your student by showing him that you care about *him*. Show him you are not just ‘out to get him’. Work with your options, don’t just pick one. You are pretty much the judge and jury. You have great power and with that comes great responsibility. Clearly you know this or you wouldn’t have blogged it.

    I’m glad you’re wrestling with this.

    1. Teaching advanced placement was a challenge for me as far as teaching protocols for essays and mini term papers. Often I had to “unteach” what English former teachers demanded. For example: “paragraphs should be the same length.” NOT SO! or “Technical writing and legal writing is different from regular writing.” YES! Also “Never use the compound-complex sentence.” GOOD; or “Ya gotta have lots of adjectives.” NOT SO MUCH! That’s for the state high school graduation exam not objective writing. Also “accepted” unacceptable English structure from kids for whom English was not the first language. (I taught in an area of Miami that was composed of mostly foreign born and encapsulated minorities).

      Other quirks were “acceptable” too. For example, in Caribbean English there is no nominative/subjective case for pronouns. Not even possessive case. All pronouns are objective case.

      Sometimes it’s hard to realize how hard it is for some young people to paraphrase or rewrite everything. They may say to themselves “Well I did a lot of it that way and didn’t I say in the opening paragraph that this paper was based primarily on the theories of Copernicus? So what’s the beef?” Or “Of course I don’t know x,y, and z. Never claimed to. That’s why I looked it up and wrote it down.” It’s freshman English for land sakes. Show the student the fact that much was copied. Plagiarize means to steal some one else’s thoughts and claim them as your own. Does anyone think that was the student’s intent? He intended premeditated theft? As teachers and especially college professors we tend to put plagiarism right up there with rape, murder, and child molestation. Isn’t that overkill? Use it as a teachable moment. How about a lesson for the whole class on how NOT to plagiarize and how to use footnotes and other techniques of attribution effectively. In freshman English, that is more valuable writing skill training than today’s class lesson regarding a topic you have prepared. It will help the student not plagiarize in the future. Of course if the student just went to the INTERNET and pressed “print” that is “F” time without question. Remember: WE ARE TEACHERS, NOT PROSECUTORS FROM THE DA’S OFFICE.

      1. Carl, I understand your perspective – but it is a high school perspective. By the time students come to college, there is absolutely an expectation that they have done a research paper in their lives. (My 6th grader has done papers that require citation and works cited!) If a student hasn’t had experience with research papers, I ask them to let me know so we can meet and I can help them. I let all my students know about my office hours as well as all of the the resources available to them at the college. This year I have a few students from other countries who are not familiar with the research paper format, etc. (Note: They were not the plagiarizers. And they, of course, show amazing initiative (always) and have been working their butts off trying to actively learn as much as they can.)

        Learning is not a passive activity. Students have to be engaged. If I asked them how many of them work out or go to the gym or participate in some kind of sport, nearly everyone raises a hand. I ask them if their activity comes easily for them. When this one was learning hockey, was it easy? Is it easy to learn all the football plays? Is it easy to perfect a cheerleading routine? Everyone agrees that it is not. All these activities require effort if one hopes to see results. Students comment that if they don’t improve they can be cut from the team. To me, this is the perfect analogy. Kids do not have flip-top heads. It would be so much easier if I could just slide a flashdrive into some appropriate crevice and upload everything they might ever need to know. It doesn’t work that way. They have to do learn the moves. Practice the plays. Go to the weight room. Swim the laps. Practice the comma rules, try to stop using apostrophes incorrectly. Start paragraphing. Use citation.

        We have discussed plagiarism at length. There is no accidental “Ooops, I seem to have cut and paste half of someone else’s blog into the other half of my paper.” Based on our class discussions, they know that is cheating. The student I caught plagiarizing admitted to knowing he had cheated. It was his intention. He didn’t think he would get caught. Premeditated. I have “the confession” written in his own hand. What do you do with that, Carl?

        Sidebar: Same day, I had another student come in on the day the paper was due and tell me in a panic that she had her paper but she couldn’t hand it in because she just really wasn’t clear on how to do in-text citation, and could I meet with her. She’d said she’d rather take a grade down for being late with the paper than hand in something that could potentially get her in a lot of trouble. This girl was thinking clearly. We met immediately after class, and I told her to revise her paper and get it to me by the next class. She did, and guess what? I didn’t take any points of her grade. So there is flexibility, but I cannot provide that kind of flexibility for 70+ students. When a paper is due, it’s due.

        I think students need to be honest about what they are doing. It is the students who try to pass something off as their own who get busted.

        And as far as spending yet ANOTHER class discussing plagiarism, no thank you. We will do exercises to work on proper citation, paraphrasing and summarizing (vs. copying) and peer-editing – but that particular student is gone. He was remorseless and anti-intellectual. He really shouldn’t be in college, and maybe this will be a wake-up call that he needs to think about what he does want to do. Because now he has a mark on his transcript. You are right; I am not a prosecutor, but it is my job to prepare these students for the world of work where, I like to believe that people do have to be mindful that if they commit a similar kind of infraction, they could lose their jobs, be sued for copyright infringement, even end up in jail.

        The Web, while a wonderful tool, has made plagiarism a nightmare.

        Apparently, I wasn’t the only one wrestling with plagiarism this past week; my Department Chair asked for volunteers interested in checking out a new program called turnitin ( Apparently, it allows students to check their own papers for inadvertent plagiarism. I can use it too. I don’t know much about the program yet, but I am all for any kind of tool that can help students recognize when they have crossed over from original thought to plagiarism, where they need to include quotation marks and citation, etc.

        I very much doubt I will have another incident this semester.

    2. Phil.

      I went with E, and the conversation was grim.

      Student admitted to full blown premeditated plagiarism. Because he was late starting and in a panic. He said, “If I was just going to boot him, boot him already.” He was not interested in writing a different paper. He blamed other teachers for his failures rather than ask about his potential options. He was not proactive.

      As far as the Contract, we spent an entire class period going over scenarios. We all read it together. There were opportunities to ask questions, so yes, he had read it. That said, he didn’t have it with him. I had to let him borrow mine to look at and review. He didn’t “carry it with him” physically or mentally at any level.

      My students know I am not out to get them. I am available to help them any time they need me. (I’m only part time! I’ve got time!) I want them to be their best! I am pretty sure they can tell.

      That said, I am not interested in filling my class with warm bodies. That I don’t need. Each semester, I lose a significant number of students because of attendance (some just can’t seem to make 8 AM or 9 AM classes). I figure once I weed out the ones who really shouldn’t be there, then I can really give all of my attention to the ones who want to be there.

      He didn’t want to be there, but I’m sure he’ll be an adequate cashier at a local grocery store. As long as someone comes and takes the cash out of the drawer every 15 minutes. Maybe better, a fitting room checker. As long as someone makes sure he hasn’t taken a pair of sneakers. I don’t know what you do with a dishonest person. I really don’t. Seems to permeate the whole fiber of being for me. And, as you can also see, I think we have created an entire generation because of our lack of willingness to show the cheaters the door.

      Not everyone should go to college straight out of high school.

      Some people need to grow up a little first.

      By the way, were you screwing with me, or were you purposely not quoting Stan Lee for that quote “with great power [there must also] come … great responsibility”? LOL!

      1. Well thank you for the compliments kmariej and Renee!

        Now that I’ve read the epilogue, I’m totally supportive of how you handled this situation. Of course, what an awful position to be in. This was one helluva a post… put this one down for my vote in your top threads of 2010 🙂

        BTW, it is so funny that Stan Lee gets the credit for that line. I actually remember reading it in the Spider-Man comic book when I used to collect. I have the Sanzel family to thank for that because Ivan’s pharmacy was my source of comics for a good bunch of years. Of course, the movie made the line truly famous. But even there it was mis-quoted because, in the comic book, it wasn’t said by Peter’s uncle Ben, but rather a narrative on Peter’s situation after Ben’s death.

        So let’s get down to it… Mr. Lee should have cited either:

        Thomas C. Hansard, ed (1817). Parliamentary Debates. p. 1227 (You can Google this one. It is the oldest one I could turn up this evening)


        Zevin, Ben D. (1961). Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932-1945. (this book is in many public and college libraries including one near and dear to your home town)


        perhaps he should have cited FDR himself since Zevin’s quote was taken from a speech that FDR never delivered because of his unfortunate demise just prior to its delivery.

        Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Speech–written on the eve of death, to have been delivered at the Jefferson Day Dinner.” Washington, D.C., April 13, 1945.

        Okay… that took more 25 seconds on the web and it was actually quite satisfying 🙂

        BTW, although I did hit up MLA for how to cite the undelivered speech above, I didn’t go to any other guides for the two prior citations, so they’re bound to be flawed a bit. And although I learned of the importance of citing others as an undergrad, I truly did not employ the skills until I had a need to contribute my own original thoughts to a larger body of social scientific knowledge in graduate school when I undertook my master’s thesis — in a discipline which shall go nameless as I have not even thought about it in 20 years.

  24. I’m coming late to class on this one too. But, I do not think anyone has mentioned this from the perspective of the other students in the class.

    As a student who worked hard and got good grades, it always seemed that the effort never mattered. Because you didn’t moan and groan about assignments, because you followed instructions and met deadlines, people (students and teachers alike) assumed it was easy for you. Getting a great score was never lauded, it was simply expected.

    I constantly saw students that put forth very little effort celebrating over getting an unexpected “B,” when they knew they didn’t earn/deserve it. These students could constantly put in a subpar effort and that would become their baseline. Then if they put in any kind of genuine effort they would receive an “A.”

    That was infuriating enough but nothing was more upsetting than watching a teacher turn a blind eye to cheating.

    This character deserves a zero, at the very least.

  25. Okay, so for clarification purposes:

    I tried E. Asked student what he thought we should do. He shrugged. I asked if he would like to write an alternative paper. He said, “Not really.” He wondered, “Could I just take a zero?” I told him it would be unlikely for him to pass the class if he took a zero on the paper, which is why I wanted him to write a different paper, plus that would give him the opportunity to really learn the skill I was trying to teach which would benefit him not just for our next two papers but also for the future. He was not interested and gave me a “If you are just going to boot me, boot me now” response.

    Based on his response, I went straight to C, where I told him I didn’t feel he was invested in the class; I said I didn’t feel I could trust him anymore and damage had been done to our relationship. I also commented on his lackadaisical attitude, which he shrugged off.

    The student’s paper was copied in triplicate: One copy for my Department Chair, one for the Vice President of Academic Services and one for me. Attached to each paper is a copy of the student’s admission of plagiarism, a report written by me, a copy of the actual source material with the plagiarized parts highlighted on both the source material and the corresponding student paper.

    Here’s the rub: None of the student’s other current teachers will be notified of the infraction that occurred in my class. And only if the student requests a copy of his transcript to transfer to another school will anyone ever see the note about the academic transgression.

    None of my students will even notice he is missing on Monday.

  26. If I were the teacher, option D hands-down. One Saturday with my crew and he’d promise to never plagiarize again. He’d probably take a vow of cellabacy, as well, just for good measure.

    Tough situation as an instructor. Hope you got it wrestled down.

    1. Chase, I think that is cruel and unusual punishment. 😎

      But thank you for a great giggle.

      Everyone should read Chase’s bloggie: “Some Species Eat Their Young.” It’s on my blogroll. Friggin’ Hilarious. I think he has a book coming out . . .

  27. RASJ: Thank you for your wisdom and your extended answer and thanks too for the contributions of all the respondents for this post. My world in Miami has built in road-blocks to any standards. Too large a semi-literate, immigrant, adult population. That’s why major companies don’t locate here. Freshmen would be considered 13th graders in need of remediation by most of your respondents. I envy the quality you can demand and produce. Just getting our students functional is an accomplishment. This is not to say there are no Ivy League qualified young adults here or effective community colleges.

    Lots of people get traffic citations dismissed as some police officers are not literate enough to fill out tickets or accident reports adequately. The world has to be seen through the entire infrastructure here. Scary, huh?

    Best teacher exchange I’ve ever read. I wonder if I compromised? Accepted and expected sub-mediocrity (just invented the oxy) because it was the best we have in too much of this region.

    1. Blake, I love how you see everything so clearly. You always have. No bullshit. Straight to the point. Right to the heart of the matter. No run around. No more Mr. Nice Guy. (Okay, I think that’s enough clichés for the day.) 😉

  28. Renee – I’m cutting and pasting this, crediting it to you, and handing it out to my high school English classes to read and discuss…it truly is the laziest, and most common, issue we face as teachers of reading and writing, and it’s a constant issue. I’m so excited about this particular column, and the subsequent comments, and I really think this is going to result in a great classroom discussion. If anything truly fabulous by way of discussion or insight on their parts comes out of it, I’ll let you know here. :o)

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