So Flavia posted about plagiarism earlier this week, and then Historiann picked up on it. And I was feeling all smug because I haven’t had a plagiarist in quite some time, but then also was wondering whether I’ve just gone soft, that I’m just so overworked and overwhelmed that I don’t even suspect the plagiarism anymore. Well, I got confirmation today that I haven’t gone soft.
I read the first page of this paper. There wasn’t anything in it, probably, that would have made most people blink. The paper fit the parameters of the assignment. The paper’s ideas were something that this student could likely have produced, given hir previous work. The paper had MLA errors that were typical of a paper that a regular student would submit. There weren’t any weird formatting issues, or weird typos that gave me the tip-off. There was, honestly, nothing suspicious about it. And yet, there was something… something… ineffably… wrong. So I read that first page – even wrote a comment that the thesis statement was “Interesting!”. And then? I thought, you know, I’ve got this funny feeling. Maybe I’ll google a sentence.
And it was a paper that came straight from the internet. The whole freaking thing.
And that’s when I started shaking. Literally, I started shaking. I wasn’t angry. It wasn’t that I was taking it personally. In trying to analyze that physical response, I think that I was just horrified. I think I was horrified that the student did this (and horrified at what it might mean for the student – I hadn’t even gotten to deciding on a punishment – I was seriously like, “but what will happen?“), and I was, well, I think sad, and I think I also was thinking, “What the fuck? Seriously? This on top of all the other things?”
And then I went to my chair. And he was amazing, and supportive, and well, just perfect. (And yes, I know that I criticize him for a lot of things, but I have to give credit where it is due on this because he was perfect.)
Another story, which is unrelated except for that I think that it does relate. Later in the day, I heard some students talking about me in the hall. Apparently, even though they’d come by my office to pick up their papers, and they saw that I was in my office, they assumed that because they’d turned a couple of corners after picking those up that I couldn’t hear them even though they were but 10 feet away from my wide open office door. So they were talking about how they saw the volume of comments on their papers, without reading them, and how they didn’t even want to look at what was there. And a student who’d taken another class with me said, loudly, “No, here’s the thing. I don’t want to read mine, either. Because she really reads your paper. She catches every little thing. But it’s good because you know she actually read your paper. And the comments aren’t mean… they are right. But that’s the most horrible part. She sees everything that you meant to write, and she also sees everything that you did wrong, and everything that you would have caught if you just would have paid attention.”
On the one hand, I was horrified to overhear this speech, in addition to the accompanying conversation. DUDE! I’m in my office with the door open!!!! Do you think I can’t HEAR?!?! On the other, well, I was also proud of myself. Because I am a careful reader of my students’ work. And they know that I am. And 99% of the time, that results in them submitting their own work, because they know I’ll really, really, read it.
I’ve often said that my dissertation director was the best reader of my work that I ever had. Like really – I hated it, but I felt like he read so carefully that he saw what I meant to say. And I admired that. I don’t know that this is true, but I think that I might at least a little bit have learned to do that for my own students from him. So as much as this day sucked on so many levels (it began with plagiarism, nearly ended with the most intense committee meeting I’ve ever chaired, and then I still had 3 more hours left in my day)? It sucks less thinking that might be true.
*And I don’t think that student have been plagiarizing and I’m just not catching them, or, if that’s the case, that there is some mystery to why my students don’t test me with the plagiarism. I think it has to do with the fact that I read drafts, the fact that I assign a lot of small writing assignments that lead up to the big ones, and the fact that the writing assignments that I devise aren’t easily plagiarizable (scaffolding, bizarre topics, they must develop their own topics, etc.). I’m not saying that my students are perfect, but they don’t tend to try to pull fast ones with me with their writing. Because I make it more trouble than it’s worth on the front end.