Plagiarism on campus

by Shara Tibken

Panic. Desperation. Availability. Ease. Insecurity. Time. Theseare all reasons why professors believe students cheat.

Plagiarism is one of the most serious instances of cheating, andSimpson College has seen a recent influx in the number ofplagiarized papers.

“In past years, I generally had one or possibly two [cases ofplagiarism] a semester that I could substantially document, andthis past semester…there have been 12 to 15 cases,” said JenniferHedda, assistant professor of history.

Those cases of plagiarism were all on a paper regarding”Candide” by Voltaire in Hedda’s cornerstone western civilizationcourse.

Most professors instructing writing-based courses stress theseverity of plagiarism and print their policy regarding plagiarismin their class syllabus.

A section on plagiarism in Hedda’s syllabus said, “Plagiarism issuch a serious violation that it tends to follow those who havebeen convicted of it for their entire lives, long after they arefinished with school. It has wrecked many a promising academic,professional and even political career.”


Punishments for plagiarism vary from course to course, but it istaken seriously by all faculty members.

“When people plagiarize, it’s disheartening, and it’s wrong,wrong, wrong,” said Nancy St. Clair, professor of English and headof the department of English. “It’s intellectual theft, and we takeit very seriously and punish it.”

Most punishments involve failure for the student in some manner,whether it is simply for the plagiarized paper or for the entirecourse.

“Generally I fail the paper,” said St. Clair. “There have beeninstances where students actually fail the class.”

Nick Proctor, professor of history, generally fails students forthe course if they have plagiarized, but “there are two exceptionsto that,” he said.

“One is if it’s a very, very small assignment because failingsomeone outright for an assignment that’s worth 1 percent of theiroverall grade seems like the punishment is not proportional to thecrime,” said Proctor. “The other exception is if it’s a first yearstudent, first college history course, first paper, and you cangive some benefit of a doubt there.”

Hedda usually fails students for the course, but because such alarge number of students plagiarized on one paper for her westerncivilization course, she didn’t feel she could fail all of thestudents for the course.

“I gave everybody zeros for that assignment,” said Hedda. “Iwrote letters to their advisors and to the dean, and I said thatthey could make up one third of the value of the assignment bywriting an honest essay on why plagiarism was wrong. Only twopeople did that.”

Simpson College’s acceptable penalties for plagiarism, asoutlined in the Simpson College Student Handbook located in thefront of each student’s academic planner, are failure for thecourse, failure for the specific paper or requiring the work to beredone for a lower grade.

It states, “In all cases, the penalty should reflect howknowing, intentional, and serious the professor judges the academicdishonesty to be. Cases of serious and knowing academic dishonestymust be reported to the student’s academic advisor and the dean ofacademic affairs. In the case of repeated instances of seriousacademic dishonesty, a student may be suspended by the academicdean for academic cause.”

Other colleges and universities take plagiarism seriously aswell.

“I know at other schools it’s not uncommon to simply failpeople…or they can be kicked out of school,” said St. Clair.

Discovering Plagiarism

According to Proctor, there are a couple steps to discovering ifplagiarism has occurred.

“There is the initial step of suspecting that it’s plagiarized,”said Proctor. “Then there’s the next step of confirming that it’splagiarized, and almost every time that I suspect, I confirm.”

Professors can easily check for plagiarism by using the samegeneral source that the students used to plagiarize: theInternet.

“It’s not too difficult to find the electronic trail that leadsyou to the source,” said Proctor.

All one has to do is type lines of the paper into the Web siteGoogle, and results of where the information was taken from willshow up.

“I don’t know if there have been more instances of plagiarism,but it has become easier to find them because of Google,” said St.Clair. “All we have to do these days is type in a phrase thatdoesn’t seem characteristic of the student’s style, and if it’s notthe student’s style, suddenly the paper emerges on yourscreen.”

Other Web sites are available that are specifically designed todetermine the sources of plagiarized papers.

“I’ve been able to find a site on the Internet where there is aspecial search engine that finds plagiarism,” said Lisa Bell,adjunct professor of history.

Which papers are checked

Professors generally do not check every paper forplagiarism.

“In terms of academic honesty overall, my first assumption isalways that the person has actually written the paper,” saidProctor. “Second, I assume that…students are honest.”

Papers are usually checked if something in the paper seems outof place or uncharacteristic of the student writer.

“If I have one that I suspect, I of course check that,” saidBell. “Also, out of each group of papers, I just take a randomnumber and will run a few phrases through the search engine.”

Professors change courses

In order to reduce the high numbers of plagiarism, facultymembers are altering their courses and making students fully awareof what plagiarism is and what the consequences of doing it canbe.

“I’ve had two classes where we’ve talked about plagiarism,” saidfreshman Jason Staker. “Both professors were very upset with ourclass and talked about what was wrong with it and how they’re goingto change their curriculum.”

Professors have been forced to alter their policies and coursesto accommodate for plagiarism.

St. Clair distributes an article from Newsweek to students aboutthe ease of proving plagiarism. She also requires students todocument their sources and write many papers so that she is able tolearn what their writing styles are, which makes it easier todetect plagiarism.

Hedda has changed the way that students complete writings overbooks read in the class.

“I do think that this is going to have an impact on how I’mgoing to do western civilization writing assignments,” said Hedda.”I think that anymore if I’m going to use a well-known piece ofwriting that I need to have essays written in class. The essayswon’t be as good, but at least I’ll know that they accuratelyrepresent the student’s work.”

Hedda has already started implementing this. The westerncivilization classes recently wrote two in-class essays over thelast novel they read, “Frankenstein,” rather than writing a paperoutside of class.

Other professors, such as Proctor, choose books that are not aswell-known or rotate the books that they use from year to year.

Professors also structure their courses to help students avoidplagiarism.

“One of the other things that I’ve done is I’ve made most of mydeadlines soft, so that if somebody rolls up 12 hours before apaper is due and is panicking, instead of panic being necessary,that they can push into the soft deadline and still get credit fora paper that they write, rather than having to cheat,” saidProctor. “I have consciously structured my syllabi to minimizestudent panic and desperation because I think that when studentsthink they have the tools to do well, they do so. It seems likestudents plagiarize when they think that they can’t do well, andthen they’re caught, and they fail.”

Faculty members at Simpson are available for assistance ifstudents need it, and the Hawley Learning Center provides tutorsfree of charge.

“It’s very disheartening because the Simpson faculty reallytries to be accessible to students and help them with theirwriting,” said St. Clair. “In the English Department, we are alwayswilling to go over rough drafts. We have Hawley Learning Center,and that is staffed by writing interns.”

No matter how much or how little of a paper is plagiarized, itis still a serious offense that is easily detectable.

“People really cheat themselves in the long run,” said St.Clair. “It’s not that they just cheat themselves of a learningexperience, but they have to live with the knowledge that they arethe kind of person who, at some level, is lacking in integrity. Ithink that would be very hard to live with. I hope it’s hard tolive with.”

Students are not the only people affected by plagiarism.

“I’m emotionally affected by people plagiarizing in my classes,”said Proctor. “It’s the academic equivalent to adultery.”