April 20, 2009

April 20, 2009


Dear LoMA Family,


When I was in college, I was a student representative on the school’s ethics board. Along with a committee of several other students, professors and administrators, I would judge whether students had plagiarized or cheated in various classes. In a trial-like setting, the professor would provide the evidence of misconduct and the student would defend himself (without a lawyer), before the committee would be meet and reach a verdict. I cannot remember ever finding a student innocent as a professor would usually have strong proof before he brought up formal charges. As a punishment, we generally failed the student for the entire course which he or she would have to pay for and take over again the following term. In a few egregious cases, we expelled the student from the school. I know other colleges that are even stricter about cheating. Some have revoked the degrees of graduates caught plagiarizing, and a friend of mine once failed a class and could have lost a scholarship because he used his own research from one class in another class. They called this self-plagiarism.


While there would be some cases of students cheating during a test by copying from a neighbor or a crib sheet, the great majority of the cases had to do with plagiarism. Plagiarism is the use or close imitation of the language and ideas of another author and representation of them as one's own original work. All that it takes for a work to be guilty of plagiarism is for a student to use a non-referenced sentence, phrase, example or original idea.


Since the growth of the Internet, plagiarism has become easier and more popular. Because the web provides a tremendous wealth of resources, it can be very tempting to simply search, cut and paste information directly into a paper when one feels under pressure. Fortunately, catching someone plagiarizing is even easier using cheating software and/or Google. If a teacher finds the same phrase or sentence a student used on-line, the student is guilty.


There is no reason why students should ever plagiarize because it is so easy to take information off the Internet properly. When students takes information from another author, all they have to do is credit the original author with an endnote or footnote saying where they got it. It is generally better if students put the information in their own words, but they can copy word for word if they use quotation marks around the copied section. If they have any questions about how to do it properly, all they have to do is ask the teacher for help and they will not get in trouble for plagiarism.


Students who cannot take these simple measures will be found guilty of cheating. The penalty for cheating is a 0 on the paper or test. In most cases, this will automatically fail a student for the marking period. On a Regents Exam, cheating will lead to a 0, mandatory summer school and a report to the New York State Department of Education that the student is a cheater.


Sincerely yours,



John Wenk