Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Individual Responsibility and Plagiarism

A graduate student plagiarized a paper and I caught her. Plagiarism comes up at least once every semester but I really didn't expect it to happen in my graduate seminar. The student in question is not only older than me, she is a teacher herself. And she didn't even plagiarize a respectable critical source. She copy-pasted some really dumb crap from a silly website.

The most annoying thing to me isn't even that she plagiarized but rather the way she chose to handle the situation. If a student comes up to me and says: "I'm sorry, I messed up. It won't happen again", I can respect that and let the situation go. This grad student, though, didn't do this. Instead, she subjected me to a 20-minute-long bout of weeping, chest stumping, and convoluted explanations about how her life is extremely difficult, and she has to drive for an hour to get to class, and it wasn't really cheating, and it's all somehow my fault anyways. By that time, I had been at work for exactly 10 hours and 15 minutes and felt completely exhausted. My students know how difficult my Monday schedule is for me. Nevertheless, the plagiarizing student decided it was a good idea to expose me to her immature tantrum when she was the one to blame for the situation. While she was doing the weeping thing, I repeated several times that I'm ready to move on and forget this ever happened, as long as she agreed not to plagiarize again. In response, she would begin yet another round of endless, hysterical excuses and explanations of how I was to blame for her cheating.

The truly ironic thing is that during that class session we talked about how late the concept of childhood appeared in our Western civilization. We discussed how nowadays people take forever to grow up, mature, and start taking responsibility for their lives and how none of this would have been possible for the people of the XVI and the XVII centuries (which is the time period we are covering in this course.) Of course, it's great that today we cherish childhood in a way that people of the Golden Age Spain couldn't imagine. Still, we often go too far in our support of personal immaturity that many people choose to practice well into their forties. As a result, there are crowds of people who are simply incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives. Get caught plagiarizing? Well, your teacher must be somehow to blame. Get into crushing debt because it's impossible for you to live on some puny $200,000 per year? Blame the society that made you do it.

When the number of immature middle-aged people reaches critical mass, we get a society where people elect a bumbling, illiterate fool to be President because they would prefer him as a drinking buddy over his opponent. We get a society where bankers and lenders destroy the economy because of their incapacity to look one step ahead. We get a society where voters from economically blighted areas consistently vote for the political party that is the most likely to rob them blind.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant! I agree completely.

Michael Blekhman

Pagan Topologist said...

I think I would prosecute such a student under our grad student judicial system. It is just plain wrong.

Clarissa said...

I wanted to be kind and give her a second chance. Although, in my experience, the more they weep, the more likely they are to reoffend. I hope this will not be the case here, of course.

eric said...

We live in a culture where people want their whims catered to instantly--Capitalism infantilizes the populace. That is why we have the Tea Part (down with Obamacare--keep the gubmint's hands off my Social Security!), and the recent GOP House takeover, among other things.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand cheaters. There's no excuse for it, and this woman (older AND a teacher, no less) should have known better. Her excuses just make it worse. She should not be in any kind of a graduate program.

Jodie

Lindsay said...

Ack! That *IS* surprising. It also surprised me when I was in college and found that every professor seemed to think it necessary to define plagiarism, and state that it was wrong and would not be tolerated, in his or her syllabus. I guess I figured that by college everyone had had some practice writing papers, and had learned those things. (And I say that as someone who was a bit slow to grasp the concept of "putting things in your own words" --- my near-photographic memory, literal-mindedness, much-suppressed tendency to "echo", and lack of words for my own thoughts made copying things down easy for me as a child, and my general non-understanding of what was expected of me meant I didn't realize that I was supposed to write something original that was *based on* these other sources. But even with those experiences, I found it incredible that people could persist into higher education without a firm grasp of the need for originality and proper attribution).

Pagan Topologist said...

At my university, we have from time to time been urged, maybe at times even required, to define plagiarism in our syllabi. And, I am aware of one university which forbids using a standard university definition, since this was viewed as plagiarism ipso facto.

Clarissa said...

Not only is plagiarism defined at great length in the syllabus, I also spend at least 10 minutes at the beginning of each course to discuss what plagiarism means and why it's wrong. Still, not a single course this far has been free from instances of plagiarism.

romalyn said...

I completely agree with you! I like your article.