• This week I was inspired by a blog by Panos Ipeirotis, a professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University.  During the first course he taught after getting tenure, he required all of his students to turn in their papers through a program that analyzed each one for plagiarism.  He did the kind thing and alerted his students to fact that he was using this program.  Despite this warning, 22 of his 108 students plagiarized a significant portion of their first assignment.  He ended up spending dozens of hours dealing with his cheating students, many of whom denied plagiarizing their work and even continued to plagiarize other assignments in the future.  It made the classroom dynamic tense.  His department applauded his efforts to curtail cheating but they decreased his bonus based on his lowered evaluation from his students.  He vowed never to police his students for cheating again.

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    Image by bettyx1138 via Flickr

    No matter what honor code or cheating detection system a school has in place, there will always be people who successfully cheat the system.   These people disgust me, especially when they get accolades or opportunities that they didn’t earn.  Those who do their own work know that they’ve earned what they get and they value it more.

    There seems to be two types of cheaters:

    • People who are lazy and don’t want to do the work if they can download it off the internet or get someone’s paper who did the assignment last semester and
    • People who are scared about not being the best who will do whatever it takes to maintain their grade point average.

    This professor should be applauded for what he did.  His students knew going into the semester that they would be busted if they copied something on the internet or a paper that had been turned in through the anti-plagiarism program previously.   I also respect his decision to stop policing his students because of the excessive drama it added to his life and the negative effect on his livelihood.

    This problem has forced me to ponder what the right answer to this problem is.  In the real world, people copy from the internet all the time, and it is generally an encouraged practice in efficiency.  However, in the world of research, it’s imperative to cite information sources.  Your work has no credibility without sources.  For example, my classmate, Stephanie Green, wrote a brilliant law journal note on gender identity and the need to have Medicaid pay for sex reassignment surgery.  Her paper was 51 pages long with well over 300 endnotes.  It’s a controversial topic and many will disagree with her conclusion, but there’s no doubt that her arguments hold water.

    I think if I were a professor, I’d require my students to give a believable citation for every statement of fact, and I would deduct a point from their final score every time a citation was missing.  I might run their papers through an anti-plagiarism program to make sure they didn’t copy their paper completely from another student.  There is a time and place for directly copying another’s work, but there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.  Students may not like it, but I’m not going to feel bad for students who are sad because they can’t cheat anymore.

    Oddly, Panos Ipeirotis’ original blog post has been removed.  It makes me wonder if he took it down because of backlash he was getting from the university.  It doesn’t make sense that someone would put so much thought into writing a blog post to pull it down so quickly.  It put a spotlight on an ongoing problem in higher education that will not be resolved by ignoring it.

    UPDATE:  The original blog post may have been removed, but it is available elsewhere on the internet.  It’s worth reading.

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