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answerjill's avatar

What punishment would you recommend for an undergraduate who admits to having plagiarized?

Asked by answerjill (5693 points ) October 13th, 2012

When I was in college, we were told that plagiarizing could result in suspension or expulsion. As an instructor at a university today, I see that the consequences are rarely that serious.

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18 Answers

chyna's avatar

I think they still should be expelled. When I was in college, it was known that if you cheated or plagiarized in any way, you were expelled. Why is it different today?

wundayatta's avatar

I’m in favor of suspension and/or expulsion. I believe that still happens at places that have an honor code.

I suspect that finances of universities may be the cause of lighter punishment or not punishment these days. They don’t want to lose the income.

Coloma's avatar

I believe everyone deserves a second chance, but no more.
If the student seems sincere in their admissions and really seems to grasp the gravity of their poor choices I do not think someones entire fuure should be sealed for one foolish error.
Of course, this is coming from a very easygoing and flexible personality, not to be confused with lenient, only understanding of human vice.

It’s hard to fake remorse unless someone is a true sociopathic personality.

Bellatrix's avatar

It depends on why the person plagiarised material. My experience is they are often unaware of what constitutes plagiarism. This is especially true of international students who may not be aware of the how strictly academic integrity conventions are applied in my country.

Our approach is usually to educate students about what plagiarism is and how to and why it is important to avoid such charges. Each offence is evaluated, the student is given an opportunity to explain why the problem occurred and a penalty is then applied. Expulsion or suspension are the last resort. They may receive no or only partial marks for the assignment or the course. They will usually have to undertake some form of study to ensure they do understand what plagiarism is. A record is kept of the complaint and future breaches are treated more seriously.

Having read @iphigeneia‘s response I absolutely agree that plagiarism is not treated less seriously than in the past. We have a formal reporting system in place and we are expected to report breaches. There are a whole range of different software systems used to identify plagiarized material and yes, the complaint remains on the students record. However, our initial reaction is not to take a punitive approach.

_Whitetigress's avatar

I root expulsion. I’m a student. And I’m eager for my degree. I want to be able to apply to future jobs knowing that I’m going to work with equally hard working and honest people. Also, it would be a bummer to be applying at a place where say the employers decision came down to me and someone else who has cheated in college, and the employer chose the former [plagiarizer]/cheater over me knowing especially if it were a close decision. Honestly. I strongly dislike plagiarizers they’re mindset is so, “Ok, how can I manipulate this situation to get this quick and easy way out.”

iphigeneia's avatar

I’m surprised you think that the punishments are less severe these days. At my university there’s a general consensus that plagiarism is taken much more seriously now than it was 20 years ago. In my opinion, depending on how bad it is, any punishment from failing the assignment to being expelled from the course/having it permanently noted on your academic record is reasonable, but it really depends on whether the plagiarism was deliberate, or the result of carelessness.

Perhaps the main difference is what you were told as a student, and the reality you see now as an instructor.

Bellatrix's avatar

student’s record… missed the 10 minute window.

jordym84's avatar

I have to disagree with you on this one. Maybe the rules are less strict where you work, but at my university the consequences of plagiarized work were very serious, often leading to suspension/expulsion depending on the seriousness of the case at hand. And to make sure that everyone was aware of the rules, every single class syllabus came with a cover page detailing the school’s expectations and consequent punishments for plagiarism.

answerjill's avatar

Note: Yes, I recognize that there may be differences in the ways in which plagiarism is handles at different institutions. In my most recent case, the student who admitted to plagiarism merely failed the course as punishment.

Bellatrix's avatar

Was it investigated and were you involved in the investigation? If it was their first offence, they are more likely to fail that assignment OR the course itself where I am too. Students are expected to show remorse for their behaviour and a lack of remorse is likely to result in a harsher penalty. If the student has repeated offences they are very likely to end up before an academic committee and could be expelled. Failing a whole course is a fairly tough punishment. That failure and plagiarism charge is on their record plus they have the financial penalty of having to resit that class.

bookish1's avatar

I could have been expelled from my super difficult magnet program in high school on the first instance of plagiarism.

At the university where I teach now… It is so difficult to “prove” that a student plagiarized. They are “tried” by other teenagers on an academic committee, and it’s a popularity contest. It’s bogus.

This topic gets me worked up because I have seen SO MUCH plagiarism, and I work at one of the best public schools in the U.S. I have had adolescents lie to my face about how they just happened to write a book review that is strikingly similar to the first blog on google that comes up about the book (read: copied verbatim), etc. Infuriating.

I say they should fail the damn class. I would be kicked out of grad school in a heartbeat if I committed plagiarism. Do you think an employer is going to give them a second chance if they say they are sorry? I doubt it. They need to learn that this shit has consequences.

Glad I didn’t respond to this last night when I was drunk.

poisonedantidote's avatar

They should be forced to write second rate TV shows for some studio. I don’t see the big deal, plagiarism happens all the time in the real world.

answerjill's avatar

@Bellatrix – I am the one who discovered the plagiarism. I’m not sure if it was his first offense. He will fail the class, but there won’t be any mention of plagiarism on his transcript. As for whether he feels remorse, I don’t know… When I first confronted him about what he had done, he sent me a series of emails in a variety of tones, ranging from scared, to wheedling, to threatening.

SavoirFaire's avatar

At minimum, anyone who is caught plagiarizing in one of my classes receives no credit for the plagiarized assignment. This is true no matter how remorseful the student may be. If I am not convinced that leniency is called for, then the student will also fail the course. Note that I do not tell the student that their plagiarism has resulted in a failing grade until the semester is over. Making them continue the course when they will not receive credit for it is part of the punishment. Finally, I will turn the case over to the university’s academic integrity committee if I think there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. In most cases, however, I do not take this last step as the university is loathe to expel people these days if they don’t have enough evidence to combat a lawsuit.

@poisonedantidote The big deal is that academia lacks some of the incentives that other professions have (and has incentives that other professions lack). Ideas are our currency, and plagiarism is theft of that currency. Plagiarism is an attack on our academic reputation. It can make an original or innovative idea look commonplace.

Let’s say I’m traveling from university to university presenting a paper in progress and gathering comments for what revisions I need to make before publishing. I might put that paper online for people to read in advance. But if some undergraduate takes my paper and plagiarizes it for his class, and if his professor is an adjudicator for the journal to which I eventually submit the paper, I might wind up rejected because he thinks “how original or groundbreaking could this be when one of my undergraduate students came up with the same argument last semester?”

I’m not saying this is a likely scenario, nor is it the entire justification for taking plagiarism seriously. But it is at least one consideration that might convince you given the fact that you don’t seem prepared to take academic values seriously.

P.S. Academia is the real world. We have to deal with the same economic realities as everyone else, the same conflicts between administrators and productive employees, and so forth.

glacial's avatar

@SavoirFaire How do you keep a student from knowing that they received a zero until the semester is over? Don’t you have to return the work to them, or at least tell them what grade they received? Or do you grade the assignment as if not plagiarized, then give them a different grade in the final calculation?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@glacial Sorry, I think my syntax was unclear. If I’m just failing them for the assignment, I tell them. If I have decided to give them a failing grade in the course, however, I do not tell them. The only time this has come up, I handed back the assignments with the grades they would have received had they not been plagiarized. I then explained that I had known all along he was plagiarizing when I received the inevitable email asking why he had gotten an F for the course.

glacial's avatar

@SavoirFaire Ah! Thanks for the clarification.

Bellatrix's avatar

@answerjill, doesn’t your organisation have a formal policy for how to deal with plagiarism? Mine does and all academics are expected to report any academic integrity breaches. The notion of remorse is not mine, it is part of that policy and the formal respnse. Depending upon the severity of the concern, the student will not deal with me but ahas to explain their actions to a very senior member of the university staff. We take it very seriously but the idea in the first instance is not to punish but to ensure the student is fully aware of why the concern has been raised. They know as soon as their assignment is not marked and returned to them. In 95% of cases, the students are horrified and want to do whatever is required to avoid another concern being raised against them. When concerns are processed we state whether the student showed remorse or not and not only does this influence the university response to the first offence but it will be held against them if they plagiarise material again. It helps to provide evidence of whether the breach was intentional or not.

The problem with not having a formal procedure is that there is no record of the problem the tutor/lecturer picked up. It individual markers make their own decisions about how to respond to academic integrity breaches, how will academics who follow know of the problem? The student may fail that course but they can then go on and plagiarise again and nobody is aware of the earlier infringements.

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