I spent this morning reading the final argumentative essays for one of my Logic and Critical Thinking sections. Happily, out of 21 papers, I only found one paper that was shamelessly and egregiously plagiarized, mostly verbatim from Wikipedia. I found myself mildly annoyed, but more at the fact that I (with my 70 pound dog) had to go back inside my house on such a lovely day, fire up the computer, and google the offending passages (er..whole paper) instead of being crippled with some sort of moral outrage or worse, feelings of betrayal. Luckily, this student was dumb enough to copy from Wikipedia, which made for a fast corroboration, but the student also peppered the paper with paragraphs lifted from other websites which took a bit more time to dig up. Sadly, every semester I fully expect to have at least one offender in each of my courses. In one of my Introduction to Philosophy courses this semester I had a chronic plagiarizer who I found consistently copying passages (from Wikipedia) for a journal entry which I do as a sort of non-threatening say-whatever you want as long as you are engaging the text type of thing.
Very silly, despite his protestations that he didn’t copy the passages (even thought I stapled them to the front of his papers) or was confused about “how to cite them” after the second time I flat out told him he’s going to fail the class next time and be referred to the disciplinary committee. What did he do? He played the old maybe if I don’t show up to class all that much Prof. Shahar will surely forget. Wrong, and he totally fucked himself. The question I always ask myself is why do they do it? Are my assignments impossible? Are they too dumb? Poor time management? Are they too lazy? Just desperate for the “A”?
Sometimes there are students who simply don’t know how to properly cite sources and write papers, I have found these students don’t make the same mistake again. It’s the students that keep doing it over and over again that baffle me. I had a student copy this sentence verbatim from Wikipedia and stick into a brief reflection paper (with the fucking footnotes still there!):
Hume was the first great philosopher of the modern era to carve out a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy. This philosophy partly consisted in the rejection of the historically prevalent conception of human minds as being miniature versions of the divine mind. This doctrine was associated with a trust in the powers of human reason and insight into reality, which possessed God’s certification. Hume’s scepticism came in his rejection of this ‘insight ideal’, and the (usually rationalistic) confidence derived from it that the world is as we represent it. Instead, the best we can do is to apply the strongest explanatory and empirical principles available to the investigation of human mental phenomena, issuing in a quasi-Newtonian project, Hume’s ‘Science of Man’.
I’m sorry, but I teach at a two-year, public, open-access college in a state that spends less on education than Colorado and Arkansas, and while it is true that many (if not all) of my students are certainly capable of expressing interesting thoughts, the level of discourse is always going to be around the same as their classmates. Thus, (and I always tell them this) simply by reading papers at once such copying is all too easily detected. Not to mention, um..we never read Newton, of course.
Over at Baudrillard’s Bastard, Ortho offers a theory:
the relationship of teacher to student parallels the relationship between boss to worker. Teacher demands student produce papers, exams, quizzes, and reports. Teacher then evaluates the products of student’s labor. The relationship between teacher and student, just like between boss and worker, is a personal, hierarchical relationship of power.
Students who are busy laborers — inside and outside of the classroom — plagiarize to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their teacher and University. Students plagiarize because they realize the University is based upon a fiction of originality. Students plagiarize because it’s a way of producing a product quickly and easily — it’s a short-cut. Students plagiarize because they realize the teacher — their boss — will often take the offense personally. Plagiarism is a personal insult to the boss.
Some students plagiarize to undermine the University. Students who conceptualize plagiarism as a form of resistance, plagiarize to produce a product the parodies the University’s stated reason of existence: education through the production of knowledge. The University and its mid-level proles — i.e., instructors — react hostilely against plagiarists because plagiarism is an “offensive simulation” of education. Plagiarist resistors, through “parody” and “offensive simulation,” demonstrate that they recognize education as the waste product of the hypocritical, hierarchical University.
Ortho does, however, qualify this position:
Perhaps I’m off in crazy land looking for “resistance” where resistance does not exist. But I think plagiarism, to borrow Lumpen Prof’s words, is a “symptom of student dissatisfaction” with the hierarchical University.
Let’s take these claims apart. First, the analogy between student/teacher as worker/boss. Ok, I too believe that the definition of “worker” is flexible enough to include a variety of forms. The question is one of value (a hat tip to Carl over at Dead Voles). It isn’t merely a matter of producing value say, the way a factory worker produces value. Ortho focuses on the relationship one has as a worker to the boss as critical (listing some of the things we teachers make students do). So, following the logic of the analogy, if my students are to work, they need to be hired by a boss, presumably me. Then, as the boss, I tell my students what to do, how to do it, and when I want it done. The analogy wears thin when we take the economic aspects into account, for worker has to be hired, paid, and the boss decides if employment should be continued. Yes, a bit too literal of a reading I know, but I’m trying to get at what constitutes a worker. Wouldn’t by definition I as a teacher also be a worker? For doesn’t the notion of a worker have everything to do with how a person fits in terms of relations to people who are telling you what to do, and that these people are telling you to do this and that solely to further their own profit motivated interests. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe students as “products?” The administration as bosses and teachers as workers? Students don’t produce any concrete goods or render any services–should I start paying my students to read their essays? The role my students take on is not “worker,” but “student.” In fact, many of my students are in college to prolong the inevitability of getting a job and becoming a worker, or are training in order to get a job (at my college nursing students have to take my Logic and Critical Thinking courses). In this sense, we produce students that are hire able in the marketplace. Students aren’t workers, but are instead something like the commodities the workers (us, the faculty according to Aronowitz’s Knowledge Factory) form.
In a sense, however, I suppose we could also consider the work that students do by following my Introduction to Philosophy syllabus the students take an active role, so it’s not just that say, the faculty molds the student, the student has a hand as well, so in this case the binary of boss-worker is lateralized into something else. I’m not ready to completely throw out the metaphor of students as workers, however. Certainly, many of my students are single mothers, work at least one job, etc., so the main connection between student and worker, at least in my view, is the issue of “finding and taking over one’s own time.” Yet, when Ortho writes that faculty “react hostilely against plagiarists because plagiarism is an “offensive simulation” of education. Plagiarist resistors, through “parody” and “offensive simulation,” demonstrate that they recognize education as the waste product of the hypocritical, hierarchical University,” it begs a good deal of questions. Um…plagiarism is an offensive simulation of education, but I find it hard to believe that any students think they are sticking it to the man when they decide to cheat. Moreover, how is education a “waste product?” Again, cultural capital and economics are different things. Yes, the university is a top down hierarchy, which presents its own problems, but how does it make educators hypocrites? Plagiarists, it seems to me, cheat for one overarching purpose, namely, to get that good grade without having to do any of the work. Certainly, we can point to various kinds of symptoms I often see in my students: 1. Stress, 2. Overextension (many of my students take on too much), and finally, 3. Lousy time management. Still, no matter the reason, the purpose is singular, to get a good grade without doing the work. None of these are, of course, justifiable reasons for copying Wikipedia verbatim and passing it off as your own. All in all, I’m not ready to start calling plagiarism a form of political resistance to the hierarchical structure of the university (though I do like Ortho’s audacity), I’m equally unsure if we should also think of plagiarizing as the result of some sort of character defect, for perhaps it’s tells us something about the confidence level of our students. Timothy Sandefur writes:
I wonder if it isn’t also something else: an embarrassing lack of self-confidence in the writer. How hard is it, really, to just cite your sources, or to quote a source outright? If there’s a passage in someone else’s work that catches your fancy, why not either rephrase it in your own words and drop a footnote, or put it in quotation marks? Plagiarists want so badly to take the credit for themselves, but why? It takes about three keystrokes to cite properly–and no reader would ever think, “Boy, this guy sure is dumb; he’s read so widely that he just quotes these fascinating insights from other writers I’ve never heard of…” That’s crazy. A well-placed citation or reference makes you look smarter as a writer. “As noted author Virginia Postrel has put it, ‘somethingerother…” When you do that, you look better, not worse.
Or finally, Roman at The Ends of Thought has an interesting post about a recent study about free will, cheating and determinism (I don’t have time to comment on it, but I’ll throw it out there anyway because its worth checking out):
A new study has just appeared, showing that students are more likely to cheat if they believe in determinism than if they believe in free will. You can read a good summary of the setup and results of the study here. These results are interesting on all sorts of levels, but of course they are generally likely to be taken as indicating a link between belief in free will and moral behavior.
Look, if plagiarism is a form of resistance, it’s misguided, at best. Who knows–perhaps my plagiarizers are simply a bunch of lost followers of Leibniz…