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December 06, 2005



I feel that part of what makes plagiarism so shocking and emotionally devastating for the teacher who's given a plagiarised paper is the sheer audacity of the act. In my experience, plagiarism is ridiculously obvious: the student's turned in an astonishingly articulate essay that has little to do with the subject they were supposed to write on, and a quick search of a few sentences in Google or the school's paper mill database turns up the whole thing. To extend your metaphor, Hugo, this isn't like having an affair; this is like having an affair, then coming home smelling of someone else's perfume and wearing a bright red lipstick smudge on your collar! Not only do plagiarising students not care enough to ask for help when they need it, they seem to actually think their teachers to be spectacularly dumb. Plagiarism doesn't indicate a 'mere' lack of concern with one's education; it indicates a deep lack of respect for the intelligence of one's teacher.


Good point, Noumena -- most of the examples of plagiarism I encounter are similar, and you're right, it does add to the outrage and the hurt.


It just might be the difference between English and Electromagnetics profs. I don't take what individual students say too personally. I am proud of the ones who actually stay interested in the topic, and ask pertinent questions (or make useful comments about teaching strategies), but the ones who just complain or don't show, I don't pay much attention to them.

Provable dishonesty is a major deal in the health sciences, however. I don't just get hurt or insulted, I start discussions with the student or resident progress committee, and document like crazy, to get them booted from the program.


I hate the word "educator", and never use it. It should only be employed by administrators and union hacks, not by real teachers. I can't quite articulate it properly, but the word "educator" is a "distancing" word -- there's a cold, clinical tone to it that seems utterly at odds with what it is that we're supposed to be doing.

Here is another area where you and I differ, Hugo. I LOVE the word "educator." I've *ALWAYS* been an educator, a teacher. That is my passion and my life, and it carries over with me, no matter what I'm doing.

I home educate my children. I work with other people's children. I talk with our customers (and anyone else who's interested) about the health benefits of eating naturally-grown foods and of taking the time to prepare healthy, nutritious meals at home. And I argue passionately with those who think that there is no reason for a year-long geometry course. I may soon be doing a few private/homeschool classes on nutrition and cooking, as well as a few private/homeschool geometry classes.

Education MUST be a passion, no matter the field you're in, no matter if you're getting paid for it or not. Otherwise, it's just a job.


This has nothing to do with anything, but you might find this article a little interesting: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/11/1130_051130_sex_ratio.html


Yes. At a somewhat lower level of passion, this gets it just about precisely correct for me.

I've often been struck by how some of my favorite students have personalities that might really annoy me in any other capacity. But as students I love them.


Don't forget that cheating is also an affront to the honest STUDENTS. I graduated with a 2.72, but I don't feel as embarrassed about that as much now that I realize how rampant cheating, bought essays, and the like are in schools.

And, Hugo, if you haven't already done so, check out plagiarism.org and related sites that will help you discover who's lifting directly from other texts for their "original" essays and term papers.

It might not be a bad idea to make your tests up within 24 hours of the time the students will take them and then make them heavy on essay.

boy genteel
End violence against women AND men.


Great stuff, Hugo. I've been reading you for a while now and always look forward to your posts.

Your post about plagiarism and the feelings of betrayal reminded me of a literature professor I once had. He accused me of plagiarising my final paper. I can assure you, I did not. I'm the type of person who craves the opportunity to show my own work, so why would I copy someone else's? That's just not me.

He told me plagiarism was a serious offense with extremely negative consequences. He said the paper was so good that he wondered if I actually had the capability to write it. What kind of &%(@@$!% is that? What was it about me that made him think I was so incapable? The way I looked? My attire? The backpack I carried? What?

When I told him the writing indeed was my own, he backpedaled and said he initially had thought I'd plagiarised, but then thought that maybe I hadn't. It seems he didn't have any evidence to back up his accusation. I was left wondering why he so carelessly accused me in the first place, since obviously he had no evidence to back up his claim.

I was in shock for a long time. I was shaken by the sense that a professor I greatly admired and respected (and I loved that class) basically told me I didn't have it in me to write a good paper. Not cool.

I'm sharing this to show the anger and betrayal go both ways, and that professors should exercise caution before accusing anyone.


BG, I have used plagiarism.org and some similar sites; thanks!

Sydney, I never, ever accuse a student of plagiarism until I have proof. You're right -- it does work both ways, and what you describe is indeed a betrayal.

T. L.

Hugo, I've taken one of your classes years ago (it was History 1A) and I can assure you that you do a very good job of inspiring passion for the subject in your students. I can honestly say that it was one of the most fun classes I've ever taken and I appreciated the fact that you did so much to make it interesting and exciting.


I appreciate your thoughts on this issue. I have been an adjunct professor at a community college for six years now. There have been several times I've suspected plagarism, but was never able to prove it. Then, just last week, I had a student write a paper that took, almost verbatim, sections of the textbook I assigned. To extend the metaphor of relationship betrayal - it was like walking in on my partner cheating on me - at least my internal reaction. How could he so brazenly plagarize from the textbook I assigned?! Did he think I was stupid? I did manage to relax when I talked with him. It turns out that he did not know that this was plagarism. It sounds odd, but I believe him. He thought he had found some information in a book, which I had asked the class to do, and he used that to write a paper. I talked about it with my class and found out that many did not know what plagarism was. Most knew that you couldn't lift paragraphs from a book and claim it was your own, but many didn't know much more than that. I had an assumption about their knowing about plagarism. I also had an assumption that one would learn about this in high school. Apparently not.


This is why it is vital for profs to be very explicit about what plagiarism is -- though my experience suggests that genuinely accidental plagiarism is rarer than students would like us to believe. Some of the cries of "But I didn't know" sound awfully disingenuous to me.


Oh what a relief... I thought I was weird for getting "research crushes". Good to know that it's an actual thing.


Oh, this is excellent...you've said so eloquently what I've always felt about/enjoyed about teaching. And, as a chemistry professor who failed several students one semester a while back for cheating, I can say that you've hit the nail on the head regarding the feeling of betrayal, and that it's not specific to any discipline.

Whenever I discuss academic honesty with my students now, I talk about "the rules", but I also talk quite candidly about how this past incident made me *feel*. I honestly don't think students realize how much we suffer during these incidents, and while we might chuckle ruefully with colleagues about having a student "in the hot seat", the small bit of satisfaction at righting a wrong is quickly overwhelmed by feelings of doubt, guilt, "what have I done to drive them to this?", etc.....feelings that I imagine I might feel as a parent if my son were, say, arrested for a serious crime.

The idea of "seduction", too, is right on--as you might imagine, students don't generally come skipping into my Intro Chem course, and I feel I have succeeded in one of the most important ways if a student indicates that they enjoy coming to class (rather than fearing it/loathing it).

Anyway, loved it...consider yourself bookmarked!

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