The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

Summary: On paper, the consequences of committing plagiarism can be severe and even lead to expulsion or legal action. However, what may be the real consequences of academic dishonesty?


According to a recent study by The New American, plagiarism is on the rise in universities across America. In conjunction with this, the report suggested that students now display a more casual attitude towards cheating.

An earlier survey conducted by CNN stated that more than 75 percent of students engage in 'serious' cheating, with more than half engaging in the art of plagiarism.

One student participant in the survey stated: "Cheating is a shortcut and it's a pretty efficient one in a lot of cases."

Last year at Utah State University 26 cases of academic dishonesty were reported, but the problem is believed to be far more extensive. Eric Olsen, associate vice-president for student services stated: "Plagiarism is definitely a big deal here, and it is increasing [..] many students don't get caught, and many students get caught by their professors but aren't reported to us."

(Source: Flickr)

Increasing pressure to do well in school and achieve high grades may have intensified the problem. The higher your score, the more chance you have of competing for and winning that university place.

There is a strong case for Internet access becoming a major element in current students increasingly committing plagiarism. Easy electronic access through computers or mobile devices, in the same way as downloading copyrighted material, can make plagiarism seem normal and easy to rationalize. Essay writing services of course existed prior to the Internet -- being online hasn't created plagiarism, but it has made it far easier to commit.

But what are the repercussions of this kind of attitude towards plagiarism and cheating?

Consequences at university

The consequences at university can be severe if you're caught. Students can be placed on immediate probation for varying lengths of time; and may in extreme or repeat offences face expulsion from their institution.

Notations are likely to be placed on offending transcripts -- with marks being lowered to zero a real possibility. Other pieces of work you submit may also come under intense scrutiny.

Future study prospects

An academic career can be irrefutably damaged. Plagiarism may be a spur of the moment decision, accidental or due to desperation, but any stain on your credibility can impact on future opportunities to continue study.

It is also a possibility than expelled offenders may not be permitted to continue working towards a degree in other institutions -- what universities would be willing to take on a student with this kind of branding on their record?

As a rule, the higher you progress in academia, the more scrutiny you will be under -- and the more severe the consequences of academic dishonesty.

Future job prospects

Consider this -- if you apply for a journalism or research-based job in the future and there are notes on your transcripts that you have committed plagiarism, how many employers would find that attractive?

The record of plagiarism can be a permanent stain on your integrity and trustworthiness.

If you rely on cheating in order to achieve a certain grade, this can also be detrimental to future job performance. By lacking skills such as analysis, information processing and writing, it is by no means assured that you can 'bluff' your way through an industry and advance further within a future career.

But in reality?

On paper, rules and regulations state all of these dire consequences in one form or another. However, often plagiarists receive no more than the proverbial 'slap on the wrist' by being awarded a mark of zero for copied work, and little more than this. When lecturers have enough on their plate with hundreds of essays to mark, a lengthy examination of a singular student's work may not be a feasible option.

In my time at university, it was common knowledge that plagiarists were sometimes able to resubmit coursework after being caught -- with no true detriment to their final grades or marking limitations.

It may be the case that the less plagiarism publicity for a university, and the fewer students recorded to have committed such academic dishonesty, the better for the university as an institution.

In relation to a university's reputation and spot on league tables, simply awarding zero or allowing a coursework re-submission may be the preferable alternative to lengthy examinations and expulsion records.

Another point to consider is that students who are expelled for this kind of cheating no longer continue being a source of revenue for university coffers.

Education professionals do have the ability to fight back -- websites exist that allow teachers to submit their student's papers to check their work for matching prose. However, the determined plagiarizer, if they possess common sense, would be able to keep ahead of these methods of validation.

It may also be the case that with an increasingly tech-savvy younger generation they would know more about the means in which to cheat online -- therefore circumventing checks that their teachers can perform.

Repeat offenders may be rare, but it's best to be careful with your sources in the first place. By committing plagiarism you undermine academic integrity at its core; and it has the possibility to rear its ugly head in the future with damaging consequences.

Perhaps if less emphasis was placed on achieving that perfect grade and regurgitating facts and figures, and more placed on self investment and actual skill building, plagiarism might become less of an issue.


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  • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

    Your last point is the most valid. The goal of education seems to be to make students pass, rather than to make them learn. Less testing, more actual learning would be the ideal!
    • We test to see what is learnt

      The ability to demonstrate ones knowledge is extremely important.

      The real problem is the continual lowering of standards to match the continuing decline in students abilities. Maths is particulary embarrassing, especially in the business schools (used to be an essential component).

      Plagiarism is required for many of today's students. Most haven't the skills to do it themselves, fewer have the dedication to apply themselves. Back to gaming and Facebook.
      Richard Flude
      • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

        @Richard Flude
        Sadly, the evidence for that very last point is piling up. The Internet, for all its provision of knowledge, is literally making us dumber. Rapid-fire, low-reward services like Facebook are exactly the worst kind of stimuli for our brains. Use it just a little, and it can be quite rewarding and beneficial. Become "addicted" and study after study is finding you actually loose IQ points...more so than by becoming a pot abuser!
        x I'm tc
      • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

        @Richard Flude

        There seems to be a wide divergence between the hard science/engineering and everything else. It's harder to dumb down science and engineering because, at the end of the day, you can either design a circuit board or you can't.

        But any of the fuzzier skills like business degrees have oodles of room to exploit dumbing things down. After all, to a modern university, a student is a customer and the customer is always right, right?

        I would have thought some of the Ivy League schools would have incentive to maintain high standards, but it seems that the high standards end at entry. Once you make it through the door you have to really work hard at failing to make less than a B.
    • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

      @Imrhien This is very interesting
  • It comes from a generation that believes copying music/movies is OK.

    We have a new generation of people that have 0 respect for Intelectual Property. This includes patents to copyrights. It is scary to ask a group of college students if any of them find it morally wrong to copy a DVD or CD if they do not have the money to buy it (heck, even if they do). It is sad that a small number actually have been taught by their parents that this behavior is simply wrong.

    Given that view, it is not surprising that these same kids have no issue with wholesale copying of others work and trying to pass it off as their own. Not to say this is a new problem. Plagiarism is a long standing issue but I think the numbers are up significantly compared to 20 years ago.
    • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

      @Bruizer Except plagiarism ISN'T wholesale copying of another's work. Have you seen what passes for plagiarism these days? The fact of the matter is, most students who plagiarize don't actually know they're plagiarizing. They make the same mistake you just did, and instructors never take the time to correct them: that plagiarizing is outright copying of somebody else's work. It's not. I'd take a guess and say that 90% of the students accused of plagiarism didn't just copy and paste an article they found on the internet. Or even a hack job of multiple articles. They take the ideas from the articles they read and reword them a little without making any additional contribution and believe they have an original paper. The sheer number of students that believe if you cite a work, you're given free reign is astounding. But it's not their fault. It all comes down to education. How should a student know what is and what is not plagiarism when nobody takes the time to educate them.
      • I have seen lots of wholesale copying.


        Straight out of WikiPeida and other internet sources. Multiple paragraphs word for word 100% the same. The writing style changes sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph.

        They see it as a "mash up" and perfectly OK and nothing wrong with it.
    • Plagiarism has nothing to do with IP

      @Bruizer <br>Plagiarism is the practice of passing off someone else's work as one's own. It doesn't matter if the original work copied is copyrighted or not (it's just as unethical to plagiarize Newton's work as it is to plagiarize Hawking's).
      John L. Ries
  • RE: The plague of Plagiarism: A university's reality check

    They are just emulating the examples set by businesses and politicians.
    It's more efficient to reuse someone else's hard work.
  • Plagarism is impossible. I can show prior art for every word and letter

    in the alphabet. Sheesh. Next you'll be telling me that you can copyright sentences. Or the look and feel of an Apple tablet.
  • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

    Plagiarism will be the least of our problems if a generation ever arises that considers cheating acceptable behavior. Imagine having to inspect your clothes every time you pick them up at the dry cleaners because you can't trust the cleaners to have actually cleaned them. Imagine having to worry that the pump at the local filling station is dispensing 3/4 or 1/2 a gallon when it says it has delivered a gallon. Basic honesty is the linchpin of civilization; if it goes away, a complex civilization becomes impossible.
    Robert Hahn
    • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

      @Robert Hahn

      In the real world there are consequences for cheating. Lawsuits, bad reviews, etc. What will probably happen is that a cheater generation enters the workforce cheats and gets fired/goes out of business, and then whines about how unfair it is that their generation is underemployed.
  • Coyote vs Road Runner

    But I think graders still owe it to their students to spot-check, and to be well-read themselves. Also it would behoove teachers to discuss papers with their students that look like they're above the student's apparent level of knowledge. Cheating always hurts the student in the end, so anything that can reasonably be done to break the habit should be done.
    John L. Ries
  • RE: The plague of plagiarism: A university's reality check

    ANti plagiarism software works in the soft fields, but in physics, or chemistry, I would prefer it if students did not use too much imagination. The keyo task may not be originality in all circumstances.
    Laurence Cuffe
  • what if citation was rewarded?

    Problem: students plagiarize. Solution: punish them when they get caught.
    Better solution: Reward accurate use of citations, thereby encouraging students to show off their research; punish plagiarism - when you catch it and if you can prove it; and do neither for students whose citations are passable but not praiseworthy.

    When a student sees that her or his grade is higher because they chose to show off their skills as researchers instead of pretending to do original work - they will start citing like demons.