It’s been a day, kids. Mrs. Chili got to deal with her first ever case of blatant plagiarism at TCC.
The student in question – we’ll call her Jane – has been a problem for me all semester, not because she’s a troublemaker or because she doesn’t hand in work, but because she doesn’t interact in ANY way. She is completely blank – her eyes are dead, she can’t carry a conversation, she doesn’t seem capable of expressing an opinion. She doesn’t participate in class at all – and I’m not exaggerating here, People; I have, literally, never heard her voice in class.
At the very beginning of the semester – immediately after the first class, in fact – I went to her advisor for, you know, advice. What I got was profoundly dissatisfying: essentially, I was told to hold her hand and get her through. Um. Okay. Except, I don’t work like that. I’ve already DONE this work – I’m not here to do it again for someone else’s grade. Doing so serves neither my student nor me. I spoke with a few more of my colleagues, and we all suspect that there’s something developmentally wrong with Jane, but she’s not coded or otherwise identified as special needs, so there’s really little, beyond tutoring and a little extra attention, that we can do for her. I took Jane aside and told her that she needed to step up and do the work, and that I’d be happy to help her or to recommend her to a tutor in the resource center. A few weeks later, I sent her an email warning her that, because we’re a seminar class, participation is a significant portion of the grade. The fact of her conspicuous LACK of participation was going to negatively affect her overall grade for the course. She protested a bit but, to her credit, she approached me later to ask if she could do extra written work to count toward her nonexistent class participation grade. That seemed a fair compromise to me, so I agreed.
Last week, she turned in three papers: one each about Tim O’Brien’s stories, The Things They Carried and Ambush, and one about Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
What is it about (some) students’ minds that they think we’re not going to notice when their writing suddenly changes? Do they think we’re not going to come up short when they use words in their papers that we’ve never seen them use before? Do they think we’ll not see when their sentences suddenly become complex and their punctuation miraculously improves? Do they think we don’t recognize their writing voices, and that we’ll not notice when those voices drastically change?
Jane lifted most of her Rue Morgue paper from this site. A lot of her Ambush paper came from here, and the paper she “wrote” about The Things They Carried was essentially cut-and-pasted from this site. All I had to do was Google a few words of a suspect sentence, and the sites came right up for me. She never cited any of the sources; she didn’t even bother to change the wording. Every once in a while, she’d leave out a sentence here or there, but when I was finished highlighting the pilfered lines, the paper was buckling under the damp of the yellow ink.
The real kicker of this whole story? Jane is a Paralegal student.
I confronted her with her neon papers this afternoon – along with the copies I’d made of the websites from which she’d stolen. I started by asking her if she understood what plagiarism is, and she said she did (“yes” was the only answer I got). Then I showed her the “work” and told her that this is completely unacceptable. She’s in college to learn, not to copy other people’s ideas and thinking and claim them as her own. She asked if she could have an opportunity to rewrite the papers, and I said no. I told her that she’d receive zeros for the three papers and that, from now until the end of the semester, all of her work must be her own and no one else’s; this is to serve as a warning – the next time she plagiarizes in my class, she fails the course and I recommend her for administrative action.
I’m in the middle of writing an email to one of my colleagues about the standards (or lack thereof) that we hold for TCC students. I think that Jane’s behavior is a symptom of TCC culture in that we, as a faculty, don’t expect our students to behave professionally and ethically. I’m standing my ground on this, and Joe has by back 100%. There are a lot of things about which I will negotiate; plagiarism is not one of them.