Here’s an interesting dialogue between two characters: Teach and Cheat. One’s a philosophy professor; the other writes students’ term papers for a fee.
Teach: Yes, but it is a red flag to me that there is plagiarism elsewhere in the paper. The second one is grammatical. In those cases I was alerted to plagiarism by the sudden appearance, in a paper that is otherwise a morass of grammatical errors, of a series of flawless sentences with complicated structures. The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me. As is the use—and often misuse—of specialized jargon or technical language that I’ve not discussed with them in class. Then I type those sentences into Google, and they all wind up being smoking-gun cases of plagiarism. My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?” Which indicated to me, along with a number of the other email responses I got from students, that many of them don’t even know what plagiarism is.
Cheat: I don’t disagree. But not knowing what plagiarism is isn’t really the problem. It’s unfortunate that right now the university is cracking down so hard on plagiarism. And the reason the university is cracking down so hard on plagiarism is because their product is less and less valuable these days. When students plagiarize, there’s an implicit recognition that “I’m just doing this for the grade.” That’s why they do it. And that’s the way that the majority of students look at the university, and have been for some time now. At my college, the frats had rooms full of file cabinets full of plagiarized papers. Plagiarism is old news. It’s really not just that plagiarism is getting easier to do, with the Internet. The problem is now that the grade doesn’t even get you the job.
You understand where this is going: it’s not even about plagiarism and term papers… it’s about the framework and future of college itself.
But, P.S., thinking about plagiarizing a term paper—even now, so many years removed from college—makes me physically ill. Seriously: a sick little stir in my stomach. But it has more to do with self-conception than core values. The idea of putting my name above somebody else’s words is just… like… inconceivable. The whole point of having a brain (and maybe, having a life) is that my name goes above my words and my words aren’t like anyone else’s words. This was true even back in college, when I thought I was going to be a scientist or an economist, not a journalist or a writer. So for a person like me (and I suspect there are many of you among the Snarkmatrix) plagiarism is way more than just cheating. It’s self-abnegation.