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Plagiarism: an ongoing issue

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“Plagiarize, let no one else’s work evade your eyes.

Remember why the good lord made your eyes.

So don’t shade your eyes, but

Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize.

Only be sure always to call it please,

Research.”

                        From Tom Lehrer’s “Lobachevsky”

 

Academic integrity, it seems to me, is disintegrating faster than the structural components of this university’s various roofs. The deficiencies of the students who commit academic dishonesty can only be cited for so long before we, as engaged academic citizens, have to look at the institution itself.

For one, the University is faced with incoming students who are less and less prepared for university. With less academic preparation – and please don’t misconstrue this as a ‘look at those plebs’ style of argument – the U of R’s newbies are faced with the daunting task of traversing a potholed landscape of academic intricacies.

To be clear, if you copy-and-paste your essay, you are guilty of plagiarism. To the guy in the gym who said, “I don’t know why the prof is taking me to the dean; I only copied about half of it,” I dare do you to go and speak with Dr. Susan Johnston to be properly disciplined. I do not care if you are from another faculty, she’ll give you quite the lesson.

But there are times when our university unequivocally fails its students. How a university can claim to be a bastion of academic integrity, a key claim for any reputable educational institution, and then have faculty members who have been accused of major violations is beyond me. Dr. Shahid Azam of the Faculty of Engineering has been accused of plagiarism for his use of his student’s work, a development that devolved into inflammatory comments being made by both the professor and the student who he was accused of plagiarizing. Though this case dates back to 2014, to pretend that Dr. Azam’s case is the only one present in this university is a fallacy. He continues to teach, and appears to have made amends, but such a case points to the fact that faculty members are not immune to the pitfalls of academic dishonesty.

This is to say nothing of the differences in academic cultures between different countries. The Faculty of Graduate Studies references this on their page regarding international applications as it states,”Some cultures do not view plagiarism as a problem. Some may even view it as good scholarship. In fact, many international schools have no policy or definition of plagiarism.”

However, in Canada, plagiarism is a serious academic offence.  Those who commit plagiarism can destroy their academic career at the University of Regina and in Canada.”

So, have we done enough, as an institution, to combat differences between academic cultures? I would argue that we have not. I have talked to a number of students who have found their first-year classes to be a fear-inducing experience because plagiarism is not well explained. Sometimes, the copy-and-paste view of plagiarism is not enough. Having heard horror stories, I don’t think the intricacies of academic honesty are properly explained. Students in their first year, while they should be penalized for improper citations, and certainly properly disciplined for outright copying, should be taught rather than punished. A trial-by-fire approach does nothing, particularly for students who may not be coming to the University of Regina with the same set of preparation as their peers.

I also believe that the University needs to have a meeting about the subject. What an English professor may view as plagiarism, an engineering professor may not. The concept of plagiarism – presenting one’s work as your own – does not change, but the application of the relevant rules do. How can we expect students to be good academic citizens if the University does not unite on the subject? A blanket statement of, “plagiarism bad, unique thought good” will not do much good.

I would be interested to know whether the University of Regina has a campus-wide strategy as to how to better teach academic integrity so that these issues are tackled before they poison the unsuspecting student’s transcripts for an improper citation or a badly-worded paraphrase and a trigger-happy faculty.

If not, they should institute one. I know students in arts are required to complete an online course that lays out the basics, but I don’t believe it goes far enough. Perhaps a discussion with a professor who has caught a student, a student who has failed and gone on to redeem themselves, and a question-and-answer session would better serve students.

About John Loeppky

I am an athlete with a writing problem, or a writer with a sports problem, you decide. When I’m not editing, playing wheelchair sports, or advocating for the disabled, you can find me de-stressing with friends.