Plagiarism: Quote, Unquote: Students and Faculty Talk About Plagiarism

Do you think plagiarism is a serious problem at Hope College?

Because I am a freshman and have not yet seen or heard of anyone plagiarizing or the consequence, I don't have any basis for thinking either way. Although, many of my professors have strictly lectured about the seriousness of it and the fact that it occurs pretty regularly at Hope. (Freshman)

It's probably more of a problem than I realize. I like to think that students at Hope are interested and dedicated to their classes, but I know it isn't always true. (Junior)

Yes, I think that plagiarism is a serious problem in most academic communities, because people do not know what constitutes as plagiarism, or how to correctly cite sources. (Junior)

I do not think that plagiarism is a serious problem at Hope. I do think that it exists, and that it is important to educated students about the consequences of plagiarism. I think that a lot of times students plagiarize unintentionally, but I guess that there is a portion of students who plagiarize intentionally. (Junior)

Do you think that professors worry too much about plagiarism?

Plagiarism cases are not publicized, so I don't know how often it happens. I think it warrants a mention at the beginning of the class, but a reminder before every paper is a bit much. If a professor catches someone, say in another class, I would like to know. If I were harboring any thoughts of cheating, this would let me know that my professor is on top of these things, and cheating doesn't pay. (Junior)

No, I think that they are correct in worrying about plagiarism, as it is obvious that it is an ongoing struggle to get students to write completely their own work. (Junior student)

What is your reaction when a student gets away with plagiarism or cheating?

Well, I think some kids are ignorant to what plagiarizing even is; I'm sure not every high school was strict about it or even enforced it. (Freshman)

I get mad. While other people are doing their honest work to do a good job, here is someone who is getting by the easy way. (Sophomore)

It makes me angry I always think they are only cheating themselves in the long run, but it gets annoying to see people cheat/plagiarize often. (Junior)

It annoys me-- I worked hard for my grade, and they didn't, for whatever reason. If it is not too late to turn them in, I would do it. (Junior)

I think it stinks when a person is able to get away with not doing all of their work when other students have invested time and effort into their own work. It especially bothers me when a student who has not completed something entirely original ends up getting a better grade than other students who have put more of themselves into their work. (Junior)

What is your reaction when a student is caught plagiarizing or cheating?

It depends. Is this intentional cheating or accidental failure to properly document a source? Many professors are too uptight about the accidental kind of plagiarism, which I think needs to be tolerated a little more, since many students have little background from which to draw a thorough understanding of what is meant by plagiarism. On the other hand, if a student is caught in intentional cheating, they deserve whatever punishment is deemed necessary. There is no room for that sort of dishonesty in our futures outside of school. (Sophomore)

This person is an idiot to cheat in the first place. Further, if they are going to cheat, in order to not get caught, a person needs to put in some work in order to make the assignment look real. If this amount of work needs to be done, why not just do the whole thing? It's a lot more honorable, and then you don't have to worry about it. (Junior)

I think that they are cheating themselves, more than anything else. I do view plagiarism as a huge problem, but think that the moral and ethical aspects of it outweigh the fact that the student didn't do his or her own work. If they lie about their work now, what will they lie about in the future? (Junior)

No sympathy. (Junior)

Do you think that plagiarism or other forms of cheating are problems in the "real world," outside of school?

This depends on how broad you want to make your definition. The problem exists in the fine line that is often bent when creating something. It is easiest to define the line in scholarly works. Taking someone idea and claiming it to be your own is plagiarism. Of course the majority of thoughts and ideas are based on someone else's. Should artists be expected to cite the other artists that influenced their work? Should computer scientists cite the originator of an algorithm every time they use it in a program? The list of questions can go on and on. There is no way to enforce all forms of plagiarism. The question that needs to be asked is, did the creator put something into the creation that makes it his own. (Junior)

Not as big as they are here, because the consequences are much steeper out there. (Sophomore)

I truly believe that schools need to emphasize critical thinking skills. Too often a child is expected to simply copy definitions for a homework assignment (in a science class, for example) and not encouraged to think about or reflect upon the definition. (Junior)

Why do you think students plagiarize?

It seems to me that students plagiarize for a variety of reasons. Some of them are in a time bind and think that they must do something drastic to meet a deadline (or a combination of deadlines.) Some students just want a grade, and do not see the problem with copying somebody else's work in order to get one. I worry that there is a lot of this, because when I confront students who have plagiarized, more often than not they try to evade responsibility for what they have done. I always give them a chance to confess before I suggest that they have plagiarized, and nobody has ever confessed before I presented them with clear evidence of plagiarism. I worry that they are mostly concerned with getting the grade and with getting away with the plagiarism. I worry that students are more concerned with getting caught than they are with the implications for their own integrity and for their education. (History professor)

Most commonly, I think it is laziness. Occasionally I think it is a poorly executed attempt at paraphrasing. In general, they don't think the penalty is significant enough to warrant doing the work independently. They don't seem to think about the moral or ethical implications of what they have done. Some seem to have a weird sense of value for the courses. If the course isn't in their major, they seem more likely to cheat than if it is in their major. (Physics professor)

1) They feel too busy to do the assignment themselves
2) They don't understand the assignment
3) They aren't confident in their own abilities
4) Other students tell them they're stupid to do it themselves
5) Frustration over assignment (Language professor)

I assume that students plagiarize for one of two (related) reasons. Primarily they choose not to do the work themselves because they believe other things are more important than the hard work of research, thinking, and writing. Copying someone else's work, or portions of it, saves time. This leaves more time to work, sleep, hang out with friends, participate in sports, etc. Sometimes I assume that students expect that they will get a better grade by using material that is better than they could produce themselves. Behind both reasons there is likely to be a fundamental laziness. (Religion professor)

Do you worry about plagiarism when you make assignments?

Yes. I always think about how easy or tempting it would be to plagiarize a response to the assignment. I do not, however, believe that any assignment is unplagiarizable. (I have had student plagiarize response papers with first-person singular statements in them.) I also believe that there is educational and intellectual value in research paper assignments. They are certainly plagiarizable, but they teach skills that are not readily teachable by other methods. (History professor)

Yes. I worry because I don't want to be distracted by plagiarism and because when it happens it is to the detriment of the student who plagiarizes. Also, when it happens and it slips past me, I become the victim of a student who felt free to break the contract between us that makes learning possible. (Biology professor)

I used to hardly think about it. Discovering cases of plagiarism is almost always troubling, though. One doesn't like being taken advantage of, being taken lightly, being taken for a fool. It's also troubling as one who takes education seriously to have students who don't. So I find myself increasingly worried about it, so that I now think about it when I make an assignment, and takes some steps to try and make it less likely. (Religion professor)

Do you do take any steps to prevent plagiarism or cheating in your classes?

I include a clear statement on academic integrity and plagiarism in all my class syllabi and all my paper assignments. I discuss the issue of plagiarism in all my classes. I encourage students to ask questions if they are uncertain of citation procedures. I tell students that I rely on their integrity. And I use search engines if I suspect that somebody has plagiarized. (History professor)

In general, the only significant tools I have are warning them that they will earn failing grades on assignments if I catch them plagiarizing or cheating and warning them that they will do poorly in the class if they cheat on homework because they will fail the exams. I'm certain my solution sets for homework and tests are floating around campus and a fraction of my students are not doing their own work, but are using the solution sets as templates to complete their own problems without independent thought. As I discover what things they don't think of as cheating or plagiarizing during the term, we have new discussions in class about the issue. For example, we ask them to answer questions on a reading outline before class and turn it in. Some feel that verbatim recording of material from the textbook isn't plagiarism. I do. The first time I noticed it after introducing reading outlines in the course, we had a chat. Now that example comes up on day one and the first violation is an F on the assignment. (Physics professor)

Is it difficult to detect plagiarism?

No, especially if I have seen samples of the student's in-class or informal writing in advance, or I hear them in discussion. The most obvious flag is vocabulary and/or sentence construction that I've never heard come out of the student before. A quick search on the internet or through the library and I usually find the phrase's source. If not, I'm excited to learn the student really worked hard to polish his or her writing to a higher level of expression! (English professor)

It takes a tremendous amount of time. When students are doing a lot of writing for me during a semester I can easily detect something that isn't their writing "voice." In classes with less writing, or more students it is more difficult to detect. (English professor)

Yes and no. It is relatively easy to detect Web-based plagiarism. It is more difficult to detect plagiarism from hard copies of books or articles, especially if those books or articles are not assigned for the class. (History professor)

When students in your class plagiarize, how do you respond, professionally and personally?

Personally, plagiarism upsets me enormously. I worry about the students. I worry about the educational process, if students do not see plagiarism as a problem. I am often angry that the student has tried to deceive me, though I recognize that plagiarism is not really about me. Handling plagiarism cases takes a huge toll in terms of time and emotional energy. I hate it. (History professor)

Personally, I get angry. Professionally, I write a large F on their paper and the word Plagiarism. I also write a note asking them to come and see me, both on their paper and in e-mail form. We discuss it and then move on. I must say I generally do fine until the excuses start to spew forth at which point I begin to take it personally and my temper starts to show... If they don't push, it is not very painful, but if they do, it really does become a big issue because once I take it personally, I spend more time than I really have to spare stewing over the whole thing... (Physics professor)

Professionally, I give them a 0 for the assignment which included the plagiarism, and I discuss with them why the plagiarism is unacceptable behavior. Also I support the increased effectiveness of the new plagiarism policy. Personally I feel annoyed that the student thought I would not notice, and as I indicated above, I grieve for the broken contract of trust between the student and me. (Biology professor)

Personally I feel betrayed. I tell students this. I feel like I have a rapport, a relationship, a connection to my students and that connection is violated in cases of plagiarism (or other academic lying). Professionally, I fail the student in the assignment for more minor cases of plagiarism and I fail the student in the course for more serious cases. (English professor)