Monday, June 27, 2011

PL 22/11: A plague of plagiarism

Filed under: 1bib, education — plinius @ 11:27 am

The US Academia is groaning.

Industrial economies require willing hands. Knowledge economies require social, verbal and intellectual skills. Today, people need degrees to get decent jobs. Students cut corners to get them.

College certificates are driving licenses to the fast lane. They determine your career. Without them you are stuck at the muddy base of the pyramid.

Traditional academic culture took the desire for knowledge for granted. When I studied in the sixties we  assumed that teachers loved their subjects and that students went to university in order to learn.


That was partly an illusion, of course. Even then, universities had their share of lazy students and lackadaisical professors. But the massive expansion of higher education through the next fifty years has deepened the rift between image and reality.

People, institutions and governments are reacting to global economic pressures.

The United States is the bellwether. Their debates on education manifest a rising tide of discontent. The trends are delayed, but largely the same in Europe. In the U.S., massification started soon after World War II. The June 22 article on plagiarism i The New Inquiry illustrates the current situation.  I quote some central parts, and recommend the whole article with comments.

This is a dialogue between Teach, an adjunct philosophy instructor at a public university in New York, and Cheat, who has authored over 100 papers for pay.


  • I was alerted to plagiarism by the sudden appearance, in a paper that is otherwise a morass of grammatical errors, of a series of flawless sentences with complicated structures.
  • The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me.
  • As is the use—and often misuse—of specialized jargon or technical language that I’ve not discussed with them in class.
  • I type those sentences into Google, and they all wind up being smoking-gun cases of plagiarism.
  • My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism.
  • When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?”

Which indicated to me, along with a number of the other email responses I got from students, that many of them don’t even know what plagiarism is.


  • The reason the university is cracking down so hard on plagiarism is because their product is less and less valuable these days.
  • When students plagiarize, there’s an implicit recognition that “I’m just doing this for the grade.”
  • That’s the way that the majority of students look at the university.
  • At my college, the frats [fraternities] had rooms full of file cabinets full of plagiarized papers.
  • Plagiarism is old news. The problem is now that the grade doesn’t even get you the job.


  • That’s certainly true of my students
  • They are taking this class because they need a series of credits.


  • My point …  is not to blame lazy students.
  • I think that the system, grading in general, grading as a gold standard of employability, college as the necessary step between high school and employment, all of these things alone aren’t necessarily wrong.
  • But when you get them all together in this network, and college is going to define your future, the grades will determine where you go
  • To get that job, you need that paper that says, “Diploma,” which means you need to pass.


  • And that’s especially true of my students.
  • I’ve not yet taught anyone who’s majoring in philosophy. For my students, philosophy is in no way relevant, or at least not obviously relevant, to the practice of whatever profession they came to college to get into in the first place.


  • Plagiarism is going to happen in a society in which you are told, “This is something you need to do in order to have the life you want, and in order to have the life you want there are things you must do that you don’t want to do, and may even be incapable of doing.
  • So, here, write a paper about philosophy. And if you cheat, we will fucking expel you.”
  • But if you don’t cheat, you’ll get a D, which is as good as being expelled.


  • That is indeed the case. … The rational choice model encourages cheating.
  • If you get at all behind with your work—all of them have jobs, many of them have children, some of them are not native English speakers, so they’re already at a disadvantage …
  • The course …  can’t be “dumbed down to their level” because then the degree becomes meaningless anyway…


  • When I was in college, I didn’t plagiarize per se, but I certainly learned to cut corners rather than directly achieve.
  • I don’t know about your school, but where I went, the people who were good at cutting corners end up on Wall Street.
  • This is what we’re encouraging.
  • It’s bad for teachers to have to bureaucratically monitor their students for cheating.
  • Teachers are becoming more and more like cops. .


  • Definitely.
  • I suppose I should say here that I’m an adjunct lecturer
  • Not only am I on the bottom of the totem pole, but I’m a symptom of corner-cutting at the system level.


  • You’re there so they don’t have to pay someone with tenure.
  • Two of you is one tenured professor.


  • I’m interested in knowing how much you charge for a paper.


  • I charge between $25 and $35 a page, more if there’s research required.
  • Those are New York City prices, the market is saturated here.
  • I guarantee a B+ on any subject.
  • II’m a little more expensive than the paper mills


  • Which are less expensive and easier to detect.


  • Yeah, they have a very distinct style
  • I give that personal Ivy League touch.
  • I think I’ve written probably over 100 papers.
  • One semester I did a guy’s entire course load for a semester. I was paid $1000 a month. So I know a lot about anthropology now.
  • At the brand-name schools, I get the sense that they tend to be mostly jocks [more body than brain] athletic and frat boys [more social than academic].
  • At the public schools, they tend to just be fairly normal, practical people with cash on hand.


  • At a certain point, it’s worth the investment.


  • Most the paper assignments I get are: read these articles, regurgitate them, quote them, tell me what it’s all about.
  • If you’re not interested in those articles, what are you going to learn from doing that? Nothing!
  • I almost never get an assignment where I think, “Oh, interesting paper topic.”
  • Most of the papers are dumb papers for introductory classes that the student is clearly just doing for credits.


The New Inquiry

Thinkers and writers of our generation face an unprecedented set of cultural realities. The growing supply of career academics has flooded the university job market, and 21st century technologies have thrown traditional media into crisis. Although the future of higher education and print remains obscure, these cultural sea changes have yielded one definite side effect: an abundance of young writers and thinkers resolved to pursue a public intellectual life for its own sake—a pursuit ordered and enabled by Internet technology.



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