Saturday, December 13, 2014

I just caught someone plagiarizing! Now what?

In teaching, problems inevitably arise.  And on par with the messiness of life, clear solutions or responses to these problems are not always….clear.  So who better to ask for possible clarity than students!

Here’s the issue: I have a submitted paper where the student is obviously plagiarizing – paragraphs of plagiarizing.  The student has been a good student all semester and certainly appears to be earnest and sincere.  But there are substantial amounts of plagiarism in this paper.

If you were the instructor, what would be your fair course of action?  I know a bit about what other professors would do, ranging from failing the student for the course and seeking expulsion to a slap on the wrist and just dropping the paper from the student’s overall course grade.

But if you were the instructor, what would you do?


  1. Think about it this way: if you were the plagiarizing student, how would you want your professor to treat the situation in a fair manner?

  2. 1) Don't get them expelled - but explain how easily you could to scare the shit out of them. 2) Make them write a NEW paper in order to pass the class - but change the topic to, "The Unethical Nature of Plagiarism". They should be sure to reference and APPROPRIATELY CITE ethical philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, Mill, etc. If they dare to be so bold, they could attempt to argue for why plagiarism ISN'T unethical, but of course their entire course grade is at stake, so they should probably play it safe at the very least.

  3. This is a tough question. In all honesty, my first instinct is to say, "Have the student fail the paper, but do not fail them from the course." I then thought about how you said they seemed honest and earnest all semester and came to the realization that there have been instances where people have plagiarized themselves too (I have personally known people who have encountered instances of this.) Is it possible the student plagiarized their own work? If so, that would certainly make an interesting ethics topic. Should the student be punished for copying their own works? If that were they case, maybe they don't understand there is anything wrong with it. There are so many caveats that making a call on this is difficult. That said, if the student did not plagiarize their own works, failing the paper and forcing them to write a new one sounds reasonable as suggested by the concerned community member.

    If I were you, I'd treat the punishment the same regardless of whether or not the student seems to be a good student. My reasoning behind this is that this student could be tricking you the entire semester and you might not even know it. Who knows what else they have cheated on? Good standing or not, it doesn't mean they are not just putting on a good show. I would investigate it more closely given their past behavior, but despite the results of the investigation, the punishment would be the same.

    I know you will make a fair decision.