Here is a great, eloquent, and right-on discussion of academic dishonesty, in which a professor, who blogs as “Tenured Radical,” imagines what she would say to her college-aged child on the subject, if she had one. I offer it as a celebration of Finals Week, which students and us professors are celebrating (if you can call it that) this week. A sample, though you should read the whole post (if you can handle some vulgar language):
Tenured Radical and the returning college student are having a final cup of coffee at the airport while waiting out a flight delay. This is how it would go:
Spawn of the Radical: Esteemed Parental Unit, you have taught at a selective liberal arts college for two decades. What advice do you give for the hellish, final weeks of school?
Tenured Radical: I am so glad you asked, Spawn. (Ruminates briefly.) OK, here goes. First piece of advice? Don’t plagiarize, buy a paper off the internet, pay someone else to write for you, or retype an ancient term paper secreted away in the files of your Greek organization. I will be far more sympathetic if you simply fail the class, or get a bad grade, than I will be if you are hauled up before a disciplinary board and hung out to dry. . .
Spawn: Why? It seems like such an easy and obvious solution to not having done the work for the course. Besides, so many of my friends get away with it.
TR: True dat. And yet, if your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and managed to live, would you do it too? My point is this: because cheating is evidence of rank stupidity, many people do not get away with it. In fact, many people are no better at cheating than they are at doing the work for the course. Others spend time that might have gone into conventional studying devising elaborate systems for cheating (Profs, follow these links and track what your students already know.) It would be far better to fail a course, take an incomplete, or throw yourself on the mercy of the professor than to be expelled from college. As my dear friend Flavia Fescue points out, even though it “breaks her heart” she catches one or two plagiarists every semester and she takes them down. It is part of our job to take you down (think, selling crack on the steps of a police station, ok?) Historiann concurs. . . “In my experience, it never pays to give a plagiarist a break. Hang’em high, regretfully if you must, but hang’em high, friends.”
Spawn: Parental unit, have you ever caught a plagiarist?
TR: Indeed, and those who cheat on exams. Even though there are some who slip through my net, even before Turnitin.com I have always known when I have snagged a plagiarist that I was right, even prior to being able to prove it. And I can always prove it because I am a far better at research than an undergraduate is at covering up plagiarism.
The Tenured Radical and I probably see eye to eye on few things, but we seem to agree on this one.
Yes, it’s possible to get away with it, as so many people do. But attentive professors can catch it easily, if they take the effort. (I have lots of small informal writing assignments over the course of my classes, and I get to know each student’s writing style. I can tell if a paper is written in a different style. I’m not saying that no one has ever pulled one over on me, but I sure have caught a lot of them in my day.) And it only takes getting caught once to ruin your whole college career. What’s significant to note about what Tenured Radical is saying is that now even ostensibly liberal academics like her and her linked colleagues are sick to death, as well as being insulted, by so much academic dishonesty. So they are adopting a “hang ’em high” policy.
Please, students reading this from whatever school you attend across this great land, don’t try it. I mean, it’s wrong in itself, but it could also do you great harm.