Plagiarism

for the first time ever.

Alas. I have finally had, within my class, an entire paper stolen off the net and presented to me whole, without even alteration of “in response to my column” or contractions, which are disallowed in formal essays, as one of my student’s own work.

So it is. He receives a 0. And I am abashed and dismayed. I had hoped that my long and heartfelt soliloquy on the topic would disabuse students of the desire to pursue such theft.

I am quite sure, as well, that his pre-writing was also retrieved in whole from the net, though, since it was not for a grade, I did not check.

But allow that a simple glance at the first page gave me a sentence which was delightfully articulate and thus, unfortunately, wholly unlikely to belong to this student. Without reading anything else, I opened Google and put in the sentence, in part, but not in whole. Immediately the article that was plagiarized appeared and I recognized the block quote in the paper as the block quote in the article, just from size and shape and the first three words. I went back to the paper and saw that, indeed, every word was taken in whole, not in part, from this source. And the source was an expert on the topic, writing on it in publication.

Then, after having seen that the entirety of the first page, in 12 point Palatino font, was from a single source, I thought to check the next page and see if it was from the same source. For the sake of the grade, it was irrelevant. The first page was sufficient to record a 0. But looking at the second page I discovered that the student wasn’t quite as blatant as to have stolen the whole from a single work; no, indeed the second page found two source unreferenced but completely plagiarized. One was, accurately enough, labeled echeat. The other, the second paragraph from that page and the first full paragraph from the page following, was what ought to have been a direct quote from 123helpme.com. And then the quoting from echeat again.

The plus is that the student at least found multiple sources to plagiarize, rather than foolishly lifting an article entire from its home on the net and dropping it into print space as his own. The negative, clearly, is that he didn’t do his own work, but took the excellent language and sometimes interesting suppositions of others’ work and claimed it as his own.

While I have students who are immigrants here who have established a formidable command of English, the student who thus plagiarized a work off the internet is not one such. Indeed, his written language skills are rudimentary, which flaws he is graced to brush off as “differences in English usage,” as if I did not know the minor contrivances that British English makes as opposed to American English.

I am appalled. And my grammar for this blog entry is stilted, playing muchly upon the stylistic tendencies of Liaden grammar. It allows me to rant and rave and yet appear slightly disaffected. I grant that I do not write with the correct melanti, but, I enjoyed the change of voice.

I instructed my students, not too long past, of the fact that as a younger student I had no particular voice and borrowed from whatever style I was presently reading. When an instructor at SLU chose to question my writing, and indeed accused me of plagiarism, I pointed him to my journal and the ever changing voices there, running as it did through the short sentence style of Louis L’Amour and the more involved and florid style of the regency romance author Georgette Heyer. (The latter of which reading, I am pleased to note, stood me in good stead as a graduate student reading in the nineteenth century. In fact, when a basic vocabulary was passed out to the class at the beginning, there were only two words listed in it which I did not already have a firm grasp upon. Truly, no reading is wasted, though others may think it so.)

When we were discussing it in class, I submitted to them that I might well have been plagiarizing, though I knew it not. And I gave them examples, such as have recently been seen on the net from Red America’s plagiarizing. My students have, as had I in the far distant past, been told that borrowing some words, or indeed the pattern of phraseology, was not plagiarism. I think that no one thought to tell us that borrowing an analogy, for example, even if we re-phrased it in a manner uniquely our own, was in fact plagiarism. I told them that no one was likely to come out with my example, since the paper was long gone into a trash heap somewhere, but that they should avoid even the semblance of plagiarism. If there is any doubt, I told them, attribute. It may be that a job later on is dependent upon your attributions.

And, even more sad, to my personal discommodance, is the fact that I must drop a note of apology to Scheiss Weekly, since I was perfectly convinced that my excellent lectures on the subject precluded my receiving any plagiarism, when, in fact, it is most likely the quality of my students alone that has preserved me in the past from such blatant theft.

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