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HOW HE SEES IT No simple solution to plagiarism



Published: Sun, June 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Vindicator's recent editorial "Faculty can force students to live lives of academic honesty" badly underestimates the nature of the problem.

You suggest that college professors create the problem by assigning the same paper topics over and over, thus making it easy for students to cheat by "borrowing" papers previously written on the assignment.

Professors certainly share responsibility for academic honesty, as do all officials of a university, but as the University of Colorado professor whom you quote has observed, online plagiarism has gone far beyond the fraternity file methods of past generations.

Students may now custom order original papers on virtually any topic, and these papers come with all of the accompanying documentation that a teacher might require.

Your suggestion that faculty "can also ask to see a student's research notes or demand that bibliographies include the name of the library where each book or journal is found" makes sense only until you realize that the best "research paper mills" provide virtually all of that information along with a complete paper.

At Youngstown State, we are seeing more and more evidence of online plagiarism, and faculty members, just as the Colorado professor, are spending increased hours attempting to police their students instead of teaching them. The job is daunting, and it discourages our faculty, most of whom do assign new research tasks each term but are still faced with some students who are determined to cheat.

Business model: There is another element in the plagiarism issue that neither the Colorado professor nor your editorial discusses. Universities today are being encouraged to organize themselves as businesses, with students as their customers. While students deserve the excellent service that they, in part, pay for with their tuition, such a business model suggests to some that a degree is purchased rather than earned.

In my capacity as English department chair at YSU, I have seen a number of students in my office over the past few years whose complaints about their grades are based, not on the work they have done in the course, but on the fact that they have paid tuition and thus expect passing marks.

Chronic absentee: One student this past year never attended a class yet still couldn't understand why she should fail the course since she had paid for it. It is only a small step for such students, who believe that their tuition "buys" them a college education, to order a paper online, purchasing the requirements of the course just as they have purchased a place in the class.

Integrity comes not just from faculty who police their students, but also from a public who will no longer tolerate cheating in any matter of public life. Whether it be the manipulation of figures on one's income tax returns or the half-truths or even overt lying used by public officials to advance their own purposes, public dishonesty begets academic dishonesty. The university operates within its broader community, thus making academic dishonesty the responsibility of us all.

X Dr. Salvner is professor and chair of the Department of English at Youngstown State University.




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