Article: Farron Ager – OpEd Editor
I’ve been on this campus for a full seven years now, going on my eighth, and working on my second degree here. For the last three and four years, I’ve been working on campus as a teaching assistant in the English Department and as a tutor with the Student Development Centre (now Student Success Centre). During this time, I’ve seen varying extremes of student motivation and student apathy, from actually being excited to write an assignment and getting it done two weeks early, to slapping something together the night before just to “get it over with.” Now, this is not going to be a rant about how lazy students seem nowadays – I’ve just come to accept that as a generational thing. Rather, it’s in that student apathy that some students feel that they can’t get an assignment done and then tempt with fate by deciding to plagiarize an essay and submit it as their own.
Plagiarism is one of those things I sure hope your ENGL 100 professor told you about. And if they didn’t, shame on them. There’s a lot of different ways to commit it, some even unintentionally. Sometimes there are finicky rules such as self-plagiarism where you submit a piece twice for two different classes. In instances like that, I would hope that the student wouldn’t be aware that they’re doing it and it then becomes a case of unwitting plagiarism. Sometimes you make an honest mistake. While these things irk me, they’re not really things that make me lose sleep at night. No, the kind of plagiarism I am referring to are the people who know damn well what they’re doing and yet seem to have no moral fibre to stop themselves from doing it for one reason or another.
We’ve all been there: it’s midnight, you’re on your second or fifth or even ninth cup of coffee, staring blankly at even blanker screen and the words just don’t seem to come to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s an honours level thesis on the inner workings of some niche in microbiology or an essay on Hamlet, the words fail you. You know that you need to hand in something tomorrow and you know you can’t simply just fail this assignment. Your grandmother’s died one too many times for the professor to let you off the hook. Then a wicked thought worms its way into your mind. It is at this point you have two options: you can either attempt to write something to hand in tomorrow, disregarding its quality, or you can commit the most unholy academic sin. Should your perfidious thoughts take hold, you, as my one professor would say, go on hands and knees worshiping “Almighty Google” to save the day. You may remember seeing a website offering “academic quality” papers, and, wouldn’t you know it, they have just the kind of paper you need. You either shill out 60 dollars or nothing, depending on your current bank account balance, and then begin to do what little work you will be doing for the rest of the night. You edit a few things here and there, particularly the name at the top and maybe you were smart enough to change some choice words by flipping through a thesaurus. The next day, you hand in the paper and promptly proceed to forget about it, stuffing it on the back burner of your brain.
However, after the paper is in your professor’s hands, your problems are only starting to begin. For those with a remnant of a conscience, guilt will ultimately take hold. You may try to find ways to absolve yourself of your sin. “It’s one paper out of forty or eighty or two hundred. There’s no way the professor has time to check over everyone’s work. I’m sure they won’t notice. And, you know, it’s really the professor’s fault because they’re expecting way too much of us anyways. Damn them all and the money I pay them to be here! This is an outrage.” After your little tirade, you may or may not have been able to console yourself. All you can do at this point is wait and pray you don’t get caught.
Problem is, though, that there’s a pretty damn good chance you’ll be caught. Catching a plagiarist isn’t fun. It’s not fun for the TA. It’s not fun for the professor. It sure as hell won’t be fun for you when you get found out. As soon as you plagiarize, you ruin everyone’s day. Thanks a lot, you soulless prick.
The thing with plagiarism is that, really, it devalues not only the plagiarist’s degree, but also everyone else’s degree, the folk who actually write their own content, for better or worse. If I found out a classmate of mine was plagiarizing while I plugged away at my work, doing my own research and writing my own words, you’re damn right I’d want that person kicked out of school.
Now herein lies the problem. While we have a formal policy detailing how plagiarists should be treated, how professors react to plagiarism can vary wildly. Some professors will brush the deed off as a product of stupidity and have the student re-write the work with little or no consequences attached. Others will make sure that your life will be made a living hell the entire time your inquisition is underway. Even the academy can’t consistently decide what to do with students who have broken this most sacred of trusts. Whatever the response from professors, and whatever the action taken against these students, it doesn’t seem to be containing the issue of rampant plagiarism.
The problem isn’t solely limited to the professors either. As a student body, plagiarism is something we shouldn’t stand for and, for the most part, I would say we have been good with that. I don’t think I’d be able to find a student going on record that condones plagiarism. Yet, while most are against it, there is still an unwholesome amount of students getting caught plagiarizing works with each passing semester. When someone plagiarizes, everyone is affected – the student plagiarizing, the professor, other students in the class. If something isn’t done to curb this epidemic, our degrees will be about as useful as toilet paper: it might cover your ass at one time, but you can bet it won’t be around for a second time.