Sliding Scales of Plagiarism

“As another recent story suggests, plagiarism seems to be governed by a sliding scale, with consequences lessening as the wrongdoer’s status rises.” –Michael Leddy of Orange Crate Art, as quoted at BoingBoing

A recent story on Maureen Dowd shows that she didn’t flunk her course or get a 0 on an assignment for stealing someone else’s work.

When did we decide that it was okay to do this? And why?

For grading:
Decide how you will check for plagiarism. Are you only going to check when a sentence appears unlike the others or when a word you don’t think the student knows is in the work? (This is my preliminary standard. After one plagiarism is found, I check that student’s papers for the rest of the semester.)
Be sure that your policy is clearly stated in your syllabi.
Make sure the policy is the same in each syllabus. (I had one syllabus where I used the departmental template and all first plagiarisms flunked the course, while all the rest of my courses had the students with two plagiarized papers before they flunked the course.)
Make sure that whatever your policy is, you are willing to enforce it. What about that student who is a joy to teach? If you find out they plagiarized on a paper, do you want to flunk them?

For myself, I am starting to wonder if I should add an “egregious plagiarism” statement along the lines of:
If more than half of your paper has been plagiarized, you will automatically fail the course.
If a paragraph has been taken from a source which is not cited in your references, you will automatically fail the course.

But I also wonder if that just encourages cheating on a “lighter” scale.

I have also added to my syllabus the right to recall papers I have already graded if an incidence of plagiarism is found. In the case that caused me to add that, an egregious policy would have allowed me to fail the student without having to go back and look at older papers.

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