May 082005
 
Authors: Megan Schulz

Final projects, exams and papers are flooding the campus and many students' lives this final week of the semester, and plagiarism might surface as an option for some.

Anne Hudgens, executive director of Campus Life at the office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, said typically the punishment for plagiarism ranges from a zero on the assignment up to an "F" in the class.

If a student gets an "F" in a class for cheating or plagiarism, they do not have the option to repeat and delete the class. The university also has a corresponding punishment for the offense, which may be probationary status or expulsion.

When one of Amanda Barnett's professors questioned her about a recent assignment, she did not understand that he was asking her questions regarding plagiarism.

"I turned in a paper and I also had an oral exam over it, and I got a fairly decent grade on that whole process. The paper itself was poorly written and I'll admit that," said Barnett, a sophomore international studies major. "(My professor) was asking me why there wasn't a bibliography and why I didn't cite specific quotes. I didn't quite understand why he was asking all these questions."

When it occurred to Barnett's professor that she did not understand why he was asking these questions, he told her it looked like she had used plagiarism on the assignment. Barnett explained that plagiarizing would not even cross her mind, and she was having a bad week.

Her professor let her off with a warning, but the wake-up call Barnett received made her realize the definition of plagiarism was very vague.

"As far as the accusation, no I don't know what he meant," Barnett said. "Yes, I was aware that not citing things properly could be construed as plagiarism. I guess I didn't really understand that it also categorized as writing things properly. There's also unintentional plagiarism where you cite things badly."

Barnett said the student handbook focuses on operating as a person on campus instead of providing enough information about plagiarism. As a Resident Assistant, being officially accused of plagiarism would jeopardize her job because she is obliged to uphold academic honesty.

She also thinks the university's composition class should teach all forms of citation.

"You only get the MLA style," Barnett said. "The college composition is supposed to cover how you can succeed in all your other classes, not just if you're an English major. I (also) suppose the university could require teachers and professors to say what their definition of plagiarism is."

Robert Duffy, a political science associate professor, says it is the student's responsibility to know the definition of plagiarism and what its consequences are.

Duffy recently encountered an incident in one of his classes where a number of students plagiarized on an assignment.

"I felt disappointed and insulted. You'd like to think that people do their own work," Duffy said. "Students don't realize that it's so easy to detect plagiarism."

He said in this particular instance, the plagiarism ranged from students going online and downloading entire papers that they tried to claim as their own, to students who discussed ideas that were clearly coming from course readings or other sources but were not cited properly.

"Any idea that is not your own has to be documented, period," Duffy said. "If I were a student, I would be angry if (my peers) cheated."

Duffy said from a faculty member's perspective, students have been told many times what actually constitutes plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Faculty members have a range of options when dealing with plagiarism.

"Faculty members should have a policy that makes sense and is fair and equitable," Duffy said.

When students claim they do not know what plagiarism is, Duffy said this is a lame excuse because there are many resources on campus available to students who need help.

"As they say, 'ignorance of the law is not an excuse,'" Duffy said.

Hudgens, said when a faculty member suspects cheating or plagiarism has occurred, the faculty member can either choose to have a conversation with the student or they can refer the case directly to the conflict resolution office.

"The student is given a chance to respond to the charge. If the student cheated, then a disciplinary decision is made," Hudgens said. "On the academic side, the faculty member has a right to make a decision about what penalty should occur."

Hudgens said that a variety of students cheat or plagiarize, ranging from the best students who feel academic pressure to get good grades to students who may be involved in drug and alcohol problems.

"I've seen pretty much everything, from students who get really tired and stressed out and make the bad decision to try and cut a corner someplace to get through the end of the year," Hudgens said. "There are students who blow off class the whole semester and try to fix it at the end. The idea of cutting a corner seems like a good solution without thinking of the consequence."

Plagiarizing a final assignment can adversely affect students' end-of-the year plans.

"Some students last semester cheated in a capstone seminar on their final project and they did not graduate," Hudgens said.

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