5.0806 Rs: More on Plagiarism (3/161)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 1 Apr 1992 16:40:15 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0806. Wednesday, 1 Apr 1992.

(1) Date: Mon, 30 Mar 92 17:31:30 EST (81 lines)
From: Bernard.van't.Hul@um.cc.umich.edu
Subject: 5.0782 Qs: Plagiarism

(2) Date: Tue, 31 Mar 92 07:34:21 EST (18 lines)
From: Anne Erlebach <AERLEBAC@MTUS5.cts.mtu.edu>
Subject: Plagiarism

(3) Date: Wed, 01 Apr 92 16:54:21 IST (62 lines)
From: "David M. Schaps" <F21004@BARILVM>
Subject: Re: 5.0800 Rs: Plagiarism

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 92 17:31:30 EST
From: Bernard.van't.Hul@um.cc.umich.edu
Subject: 5.0782 Qs: Quotes; Dictionary; Yearbook; Plagiarism (5/72)

Subject: 5.0797 ...Plagiarism
To Dennis Baron, whose recent reflections on plagiarism
(like all of his published works on the language) were of
much interest to me:
Of course it is embarrassing to live and work in a world
(a) *plagiarism* is addressed by whole faculties in a doled-
out set of formulaic prescriptions and penalties, and
(b) the "Glatt Plagiarism Services" of M. Lenoble's
description is presumably not INTENDED as parody.

Of course I know that your own policy is not in a class with
ANY such grubby devices. But how DO you and your colleagues
*conceive of plagiarism* so as to make a humane *policy*
accessible to one another and your students?

In my own experience as Director of a Writing program
(rather like yours), what impresses me most vividly is not
merely the greater frequency of plagiarized responses to
instructors' more fatuously misguided assignments, but the
psychology of instructors' responses to suspected or alleged
offenders. The delight in DISCOVERY (of, say, a ripped-off
paragraph or page or WHOLE essay) is febrile; the rage at
the miscreant is not obviously righteous; the impulse to
retaliate suppresses the concern to teach.

In observing this psychology, I do not make light of
anyone's pain in coming to irrefutable evidence of (a given
student's) betrayal of the trust that, in teaching, is *sine
qua non*. But when my students' *plagiarism* is the gesture
of betrayal, they would themselves have been betrayed by my
recourse to imperious handout proscriptions and such Glatt-
like gimmickry of detection as M. Lenoble decribes.

If I were clear on *plagiarism*, my students would profit in
having a policy with regard to its manifestations in their
texts. Daunted as I am to think what plagiarism may "come
to" for writers, I could dole out to my students only the
short eighth one of the Ten Commandments as a policy

On that (plagiarized!) commandment itself (hardly a policy)
I would waffle, come to think -- as judges and juries must
do from one to another trial in a court of law. But their
system (unlike ours) is an adversarial one: they (unlike us)
do not pretend to converse with defendants OR to teach them;
their proper goal (unlike ours) is to reach verdicts. By
pretending to a policy and clowning my way through Glatt-
like or non-electronic detection and then unwaffling
punishment of offenders, I would confuse and alienate most
students, thus foster the cynicism out of which, with a
plagiarized piece, some of them may be tempted to respond in

I think that my question (What IS plagiarism?) is not unfair
BECAUSE unanswerable -- and that raising it yet again is
made fair by the common use of proscriptions and penalties
that imply a "known" thus "teachable" answer.
To ask the question of students -- NOT rhetorically but in
good faith -- is to discover that they take seriously as any
of their pedagogs the challenge to write honestly; and that
they discern more real complexity than many of us have
energy or imagination to acknowledge.

Afterthought about Dr. M.L. King, to whose newsmaking you
referred as a best-known "case in point": As I recall (with
geriatric haze), it was long before allegations vs. King
made the public media that a scholar (then of Ohio State
University) published a monograph in *College English* (and
later a book-length study, I think) on the enriching effect
-- on the essays, the public speeches, and (most especially)
the sermons -- of King and a long line of other theologians
and preachers among whom wholesale "borrowing" of tropes and
extended discourse was received, even celebrated practice.
(Of course I apologize for having mislaid the monograph, as
for forgetting its author's name.)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------25----
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 92 07:34:21 EST
From: Anne Erlebach <AERLEBAC@MTUS5.cts.mtu.edu>
Subject: Plagiarism

As to plagiarism? I'm against it. Don't tell me that professors don't
know when they're plagiarizing. They do. As to the double standard,
it's just a case of those in power holding themselves harmless.
Ignorance seemingly is not the spur to plagiarism. Some of the
brightest students are some of the worst plagiarizers. It makes sense
that some of these folks grow up to become professors, and continue
their dishonest ways.
At the risk of sounding puritanical, I still say that plagiarism--
the knowing use of other's ideas and words as if they were one's
own--is immoral. Its widespread presence in our profession should
be a source of shame, not justification.

Anne Erlebach
Michigan Technological University
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------68----
Date: Wed, 01 Apr 92 16:54:21 IST
From: "David M. Schaps" <F21004@BARILVM>
Subject: Re: 5.0800 Rs: Plagiarism

I am dismayed to see academics uncertain as to whether plagiarism by
students should be condoned. "Free interchange of ideas" has nothing
to do with copying on exams or (as in one case that came before our
disciplinary committee) taking a masters' thesis written ten years
ago, changing the numbers in the statistical tables, and handing it
in as if it was the student's own work without so much as a note
acknowledging the existence of the original work. These are not
matters of careless research techniques, but of conscious attempts to
pass off someone else's work as my own in order to receive credit for
work that I did not do and usually -- since otherwise I would not have
had to resort to plagiarism -- am unable to do. This is no different
from writing checks on another person's bank account, and has the same
effect of leaving the person fooled (in one case the merchant who
accepts the checks, in the other the person or institution who hires
me based on the false "proof" of my competence) at a serious loss.
The fact that there are dubious cases around the edges of a crime
does not cast doubt on the criminal nature of the crime itself.
On the question, however, of dubious cases, allow me to present
one of my own that occurred some years ago in an exam of mine at an
Israeli university: on an essay question that had intentionally
been worded in such a way as to give the student a chance to show
what he knew -- that is, loosely worded to allow a broad range
of answers -- two students, one an Arab and one a recent immigrant
from Georgia (then USSR, not USA), handed in answers that were
identical in wording, but both chock-full of totally independent
spelling errors. The wording seemed to prove that they had copied,
but why were the spelling errors different? And who had copied
from whom? And furthermore, I seemed to remember that they had
sat on opposite sides of the room during the exam. What to do?
I handed in my grade-sheet with no mark for these two
students; they both came to me (individually), and the matter
was cleared up quickly. Islamic scholarship is based heavily
on memorization; the Arab student had (on my recommendation to
all my students) prepared himself well on what he had judged
to be a major subject of the course, written (in advance of the
test) an essay on the subject, and then memorized his own essay.
The Georgian had borrowed the Arab's notes, and he, too,
memorized them. Then both of them wrote them on the test, word
for misspelled word.
What could I do? There was no question that I had to give
the Arab the 80 that the answer deserved; he was giving his
own answer, and surely should not have been punished for letting
the Georgian see his notes before the exam. After consideration,
however, I gave the Georgian the same 80: comparing notes is a
legitimate form of study, and what difference did it make whe-
ther he had learned the information directly from my lectures
or indirectly from the Arab's notes? What I did do was add to
my exams, since that time, a notice that the answers must
respond to the question asked, and that I will no longer give
a passing mark to "pre-fab" answers. Although memorization is
one way of study, I try to test the student's ability to think
for himself as well.

David M. Schaps
Department of Classical Studies
Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel
FAX: 972-3-347-601