Well today was really wasted, it was my first meeting with a member of the Plagiarism Police. It was never going to go well, as I had a pile of marking to do and no time to waste. Just as I was getting going, I hit a wall. It turns out one of my idiot undergrads had copied a chunk of one of my own articles and stuck it in the middle of their essay. Now, for me, the greatest surprise was not that they had done this, but that I had actually been paying close enough attention when marking to notice! Anyway, this was my first encounter with plagiarism and it was my job to report the student to the academic discipline committee. That’s when my day really fell apart!
On the whole, the students are lot better at plagiarism than staff are at recognising it. It would seem, in the eyes of some, that plagiarism is fast becoming one of the most serious crimes that can be committed on campus. When plagiarism has been identified, academic staff tend to fall into two categories: ‘hang them and flog them’ (also known as the ‘Plagiarism Police’ by the rest of us) or ‘who cares’. Unfortunately for both me and student, the chair of our academic discipline committee was most definitely in the ‘hang them and flog them’ category. She relished her role in as the Commander in Chief of the Plagiarism Police and explained to me with a mixture of focused fastidiousness, great joy and unbridled pleasure, that I would have to spend the next two to three hours gathering evidence and compiling a case that would stand up. It needed to be rigorous and robust, with the leviathan of paperwork attached! Then, at great length, she explained to me I would have to present my case at the disciplinary committee, the student would have the right to reply and then five people would sit in judgement.
The Plagiarism Police have nothing on the Supreme Court! I have visions of her wearing ‘a black cap’ whilst pronouncing sentence… Well it was nice to see somebody enjoying their work today as I certainly wasn’t by now! The student was facing anything from a stern telling off to expulsion from the University! The hang them and flog them brigade tend to conduct plagiarism trials with all the solemnity of the Nuremberg trials. I decided that a quiet word with the offending student was more suitable and a lot less time consuming for both of us. I think I am definitely firmly in the ‘who cares’ category from now on.
I made my excuses and hurried back to my office, there were many more essays needing marked. After doing another three, I came across one that was really very well written, actually surprisingly well written! Now, I don’t mean to be disparaging, but it was considerably more reflective, better argued and thought out than anything the student had said in the tutorials. This was not plagiarism, but I was slightly suspicious that this student had ‘commissioned’ their assignment. Commissioning is becoming a much more serious problem and not nearly as well liked by the plagiarism police, it is much harder to prove! Commissioning is exactly what the name would suggest, students go to online essay ‘shops’ and can pay up to £1000 for a bespoke piece of coursework. As this is a one off, original piece of work there is no way it can be easily caught as it is not plagiarised; it is unique and purpose written for this student.
However, this student did not let me down, when I reached the final page of essay, there was all the evidence the Plagiarism Police would require. This student has clearly commissioned their essay, and with total disregard downloaded it, printed it out, grabbed it off the printer, stapled it and submitted it. In their rush they had failed to notice they had also printed out and attached a PayPal receipt for £750. I was pleased to note they had paid the extra fee that should guarantee them an ‘A Grade’. I feel they’re going to be disappointed as I can’t ignore this one. I wonder if they can get a refund for gross stupidity?