Plagiarism: no excuse for the wicked

I spent three hours tracking down a plagiarism case, and it ticks me off. Three hours on someone who has as much respect for me as one would have for a gnat. Three hours that could have gone to reviewing other students’ work, to giving feedback, to other people, to myself. God, even to my cats! Three hours, and for what? To teach an unforgettable lesson?

I doubt that. Plagiarism detection is making me cynical.

Since 2010, I have had three hearings at the Honor Council. I have also caught the stench of academic dishonesty without being able to prove it. I let those cases go. I can’t waste my time on idle pursuits. I have better things to do. I would rather grade projects created by people who give a damn about my class.

Yet, it irks me. It irks me that there are students who consider me that dumb. Do they really think that beautiful, coherent prose comes from the ether? I certainly don’t.  Moreover, when someone’s plagiaristic stench seeps into my grading pile, I usually have enough samples to know the limits of their writing style. If they go from confusing affect with effect, to channeling the ghost of Derrida, I get suspicious. I check. Sometimes, I find plagiarism. When I don’t, then the optimist in me chalks it up to hard work. The cynic, though, attributes it to a good ghost writer.

I don’t want to be a cynic.

This will be my fourth case before Honor Council. It is an unpleasant experience. I hate every minute of it. I hate sitting in close proximity to students who have treated my class with as much respect they would show a piece of gum that sticks to the bottom of their shoe. They always look ashamed.  It’s very sad.

It so unnecessary, which makes it even sadder. There are other choices. Professors have office hours for a reason.

I often want to ask the students involved, Why did you do it? I never have. What would they say? More importantly, would it make a difference?  Probably not, unless they can demonstrate I caused their plagiarism. If that was the case, I would alter my behavior. However, the plagiarism cases I’ve been involved in have other causes. They have been about the GPA, or family pressure or maintaining eligibility for a team sport. It has never been about me.

Then again, there are those who think they can outsmart everyone. Some do get away with it. But others aren’t that lucky. For them, I can only hope that a hearing with the Honor Council makes a difference. Maybe they will learn that the value of their work comes from their effort. At minimum, they should realize that I will not abide.

Just don’t plagiarize in my class.

Cynara Medina is a communication professor.