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Plagiarism punishments enforced to end problem

By Emily C. Tate
On April 18, 2014

Most college students would never steal someone else's computer, wallet, phone or even something as insignificant as their pencil, but when it comes to stealing someone's words, well, that might be a different story.

Plagiarism.org defines plagiarism as "the use of another's original words or ideas as though they were your own." Whether from a website, a book, an article or straight from another person's mouth, failing to give credit to a source is considered plagiarism.

This has been a centuries-long dilemma, but as the expansion of the Internet has allowed academic journals, articles and student assignments to shift to online databases, the opportunity to plagiarize now presents itself more easily and more often.

"It's so much easier to plagiarize today," Chair of Media, Journalism and Film (MJF) department Richard Campbell said. "But with the Internet, you can hardly get away with it."

Technology has allowed students to make great use of the "copy and paste" method of plagiarism, which is executed exactly as it sounds - students copy part of a document from a source - often online - and paste it directly into their paper as if it were their own idea.

Though it is easier than ever to plagiarize, it is also easier than ever to get caught. Turnitin, a popular plagiarism prevention software company, compares students' assignments with its Internet database of literally billions of web pages and articles to catch attempts at plagiarism.

Coordinator of Academic Integrity Brenda Quaye said this software is an effective means of catching perpetrators on Miami's campus.

"A lot of our instructors use [turnitin.com]," she said. "A fair number of our [plagiarism] cases are discovered that way."

Quaye said about 200 cases come through Miami's academic integrity office each year, with about half of those accounting for acts of plagiarism. However, this number is by no means sure-fire; plagiarism has some grey area, which leads to many unnoticed or unreported cases.

For instance, some students do not know how to cite a source from the Internet, so they may not quote properly or give correct attribution, Campbell said. While this is technically still plagiarism, it is usually innocent and unintentional.

For other students though, the act is deliberate.

"A good portion of [plagiarism] is intentional," Quaye said. "Students either don't care - about the class, about their grade, whatever it may be - and they'll just copy and paste into their own paper. Or a lot of times when the students are rushing to get [an assignment] done, they just aren't paying enough attention to notice it."

Regardless of the reason, students reported for plagiarizing are calling to a hearing at the university, but the "hearing" is less of a criminal process and more of a meeting for those involved to discuss what occurred, Quaye said.

Rather than going through the Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR), cases of academic dishonesty are heard by department chairs at the university. The instructor and student in question each have an opportunity to defend their own side before the department chairs make a decision.

Students found guilty of violating Miami's academic integrity policies are then issued sanctions, which vary based on the severity of the case.

"For a first offense, our most typical sanction is for a student to receive a 0 or an F on the particular assignment in question," Quaye said. "If it's a second offense, they still get that grade reduction or failed grade plus a minimum of one semester's suspension [from school]."

While such consequences may seem harsh, sophomore Katie Poppe said because of the nature of the crime, it is necessary to enforce such punishment.

"At this level [of schooling], punishment should be really serious," Poppe said. "You can get kicked out of the university for cheating, and plagiarism is practically cheating too."

Poppe admitted she has been particularly "fired up" about this issue lately, due to an incident in one of her classes this semester. In a religion class she is taking, the professor assigned a big paper - the same one he assigns every semester, with the very same prompt.

"One girl was saying she didn't have time to write it because she had her formal that weekend," Poppe said. "So she talked to an older girl in her sorority [who had taken the class] and used her paper."

"She was saying she just swapped a couple sentences around," Poppe said. "She announced it to the whole class, not even trying to hide it."

Like the girl in Poppe's class, students who get away with plagiarizing have not learned a lesson and are more likely to try it again.

Campbell said Miami faculty wants to stop "serial plagiarists." To do that, plagiarism must be caught, reported and disciplined.

Students are not going to produce top-notch work every single time, but Campbell said it is important to do the best you can and take pride in your own work, regardless of the outcome.

"It's like being an athlete," he said. "You're going to have good days and bad days, and you have to take responsibility for it."


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