Ethics of Policing Plagiarism

As the Fall semester approaches I’ve been toying with the idea of using the plagiarism detection software,, in my classes.  However, I can’t help but have a bad feeling about using it.  On the one hand, there’s the issue of surveillence and policing which only has the effect of further coddling and infantilizing our students. What’s worse, in my mind, is that I feel like I’m accusing the students of (potentially) acting unethically based on a small number of previous cases.  This assumption of guilt is all the more troublesome since the students are subject to a college-wide honor code; so why should I violate my end of the code?  By using Turnitin am I not trivializing the code?  I should act as if students aren’t plagiarizing work. Otherwise, aren’t I somehow violating my own fidelity to the honor code? And I suppose, by extension I’m troubling the whole college’s relation to the code as well.  Maybe this is just too optimistic and high-minded. Or maybe I should just stop worrying about plagiarism period, but it’s just so aggravating taking the time trolling the interweb to find the original text.  One of my colleagues had told me–further making the case against turnitin– that once a student submits their paper turnitin maintains the “rights to it.” This isn’t quite the case.  As a representative from turnitin told me on Twitter: “Turnitin exercises Fair Use.” Here’s a link to their policy:

I’m still rather wary, however.  Any thoughts?  Have people used turnitin before?  Perhaps I’m turning this into more of a struggle than it needs to be,  but outsourcing plagiarism detection to a private, for-profit police force somehow seems wrong.

Disorderly Conduct: Don’t Be Hating.

Although I am sure that the charge of “disorderly conduct” has a long and glorious history, only with the arrest of Robert Louis Gates, a Harvard professor, the public finally realized that police is only there to serve and protect you if you are a well-behaved and respectful citizen (preferably, of course, white and middle class). Overly expressive fellow was arrested in DC the other day for loudly stating his distaste for the police (arguably a stupid stunt only a white DC lawyer would attempt).  ACLU responded with a fine description of the situation: “Current D.C. law on disorderly conduct (section 22-1307 & 1321) is confusing, overbroad, frequently used by police to harass disfavored individuals and violates constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and petition.”  Really? Police harassing people they don’t like? Get right out of town!   Continue reading