Professors show sympathy toward student plagiarists

Dr. Julie Phillips, a strategic and organizational communications professor at Temple, said she sees at least one case of plagiarism in her classes each semester.Andrea Caporale Seiss, the assistant dean of judicial affairs, said 10

Dr. Julie Phillips, a strategic and organizational communications professor at Temple, said she sees at least one case of plagiarism in her classes each semester.Andrea Caporale Seiss, the assistant dean of judicial affairs, said 10 to 15 percent of the Office of Judicial Affairs’ 900 disciplinary cases last year were reported plagiarism cases.Although it might seem like a lot, some members of Temple’s faculty and administration said it actually is a relatively small amount.”There is a widespread belief that plagiarism is on the rise,” said Jamie Lynn Longo, coordinator of Student Services in the Temple Writing Center. But, Longo said, this may not be the case.Longo said that while plagiarism might have received more attention in the past few years, its occurrence has not changed much over the last 40 years.”It’s reported more now,” said Christopher Dennis, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Studies.Jill Swavely Gardner, an instructor in the education department, said it is possible that an increase in plagiarism has occurred among plagiarists who purposefully copy texts. She said this could be due to the increase in Internet accessibility.”It’s very tempting,” said Eli Goldblatt, who is the director of first year writing, referring to using the Internet for plagiarism. Some faculty and administrators argue that the Internet is not the only factor in academic dishonesty. The assumption of the general public is that most plagiarists are academic delinquents,according to Goldblatt. He said he believes most people think, “Oh those nasty people, we’ve got to police them.””Those people who do not work with it think of it as a single phenomenon, … [but] plagiarism is not [made up of] one thing,” Goldblatt said.According to Lori Salem, director of the university’s Writing Center, there are two different types of plagiarists. One is the intentionalplagiarist and the other is the unintentional plagiarist. The intentional plagiarist is a student who does not have any regard for the academic environment, Salem said. It can also be a student who feels overwhelmed and can find no other way out.”Many students have gotten in a rut,” whether it is they do not have enough time or they feel unprepared to complete the assignment, Salem said.”They have to turn in something,” said Dr. John O’Hara, a professor in the College of Liberal Arts. He described this type of plagiarism as “a last ditch effort” to avoid a failing grade.”The risks are really quite significant,” Dennis said. “It’s not something that goes away,” he continued, referring to public figures who are criticized even today for their past academic indiscretions.While O’Hara said that there are some students who “will actually cut and paste” assignments, he said that this was not the most common case. In fact, he said that it is very rare for a plagiarist to do that.The other type of plagiarist – the unintentional ones – consists of students who do not know the definition of plagiarism, Salem said. As a result, they are unable to cite or credit work properly.Several faculty and administration said there is a strong possibility that not all students entering colleges and universities are equipped with the tools to prepare an academic paper correctly.Salem said the Writing Center deals mostly with these types of students. By workingwith student writers, tutors are able to help them understand what ideas like summarizing, paraphrasing and citing are and how to execute them correctly, she said.The Writing Center also works to informprofessors and students about the Temple-supported Web site,, where professors and students can detect possible plagiarism in academic papers, said Salem.Although has increased the amount of plagiarism cases detected at Temple, several faculty members said they feel catching the plagiarists should not be at the top of their professional checklist.For many, plagiarism prevention begins in the classroom.Gardner said that more attention is put on whether or not plagiarism is intentional, but it should be put on strategies for teaching students how to avoid plagiarism.”I think we need to spend more time on strategies for teaching students how to avoid plagiarism,” she said. She said she would like to see professors work with students on their writing composition, creating original arguments and acclimating the ideas of others into their writing.Dennis echoed Gardner’s sentiments and said faculty, students and administration should treat plagiarism as something to help students avoid. He said he believes that assignments that are specific to the course will help forestall plagiarism.”Faculty should shape assignments very carefully and narrowly,” Dennis, he said, could also be utilized more effectively as a teaching tool instead of a policing system.”It is also a kind of deterrent,” Dennis said. “It could be used as a checking device for students.”Faculty members such as O’Hara and Phillips said they don’t necessarily jump to conclusions when they first catch a student plagiarizing. Phillips said she usually invites students to meet with her to discuss a piece of work before concluding that they have deliberately plagiarized.”I’ve actually never reported a case,” Phillips said. She said she likes to give students a second chance and dislikes seeing them penalized for an instance of bad judgment, although students caught plagiarizing in her class will most likely fail the assignment and possibly even the course.”I have a great deal of sympathy for the plagiarist,” O’Hara said. “I always try to figure out the reasons behind it.”He said that, like him, most professors are more flexible about changing due dates than dealing with plagiarism. O’Hara, along with many other faculty and administrators, said they feel that plagiarism prevention is key and is a collaborative effort of the university committee. With new tools such as, Dennis said, “I think we have some tools to make progress at Temple.”Chesney Davis can be reached at

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