thiefSo, it’s rare that I decide to use my blog as a platform to rant about serious things – at most, I rant about nerdy things good-naturedly. This one has a distinct lack of the friendly feelings that characterize my nerd rants.

Last night, one of my college professors decided (given that Finals are almost upon us) to have what I have dubbed “The Plagiarism Chat”. The usual version goes something like, “Cite your sources. Plagiarism is bad – don’t do it. I’ll fail you automatically and then the school will expel you if the case is severe enough. “. Professors who feel really strongly might add, “I really hate plagiarism and I have a zero tolerance policy, so if I catch you, don’t bother giving me excuses – I will kick you out of my class”.

And, given that we’re seniors in college who are due to graduate in a few weeks, that’s enough. We get it.

This professor’s version was a little different. It went something like this:

“I’m using Turnitin.com to screen your papers. I know it’s really tempting to just lift somebody else’s work and use it in your paper as your own… especially when they’re a better writer than you. I mean, who here hasn’t copied and pasted somebody else’s material into their essays? I know you’ve all done it at one point in your lives.”

Um. Excuse me? Actually, that particular sin is one that I haven’t committed.

For the record, I have no problem submitting my paper through Turnitin, what bothers me is her wishy-washy “well, everybody does it” attitude about the whole thing, like it’s just some kind of academic faux pas that gets a slap on the wrist.

Not to mention she basically accused all of us of being intellectual thieves… yeah, I didn’t take too kindly to that. I honestly felt like standing up in my seat and roaring “You dare impune me honor, Madam!!”. Given that I’m five feet tall and skinny, it probably would’ve been pretty funny.

I suppose the reason that offends me so deeply is because of my relationship with books. I’m an English Major – I do a lot of reading and I do a lot of writing. And I want to be an editor once I get out of college, which means I’ll be doing even more reading and writing on a professional level. So, I know the value of intellectual labor, especially now that I’m doing college senior level work. I’m reading a lot of scholarly essays and articles and using those ideas as springboards for my own original work. I’m expected to think and write at a higher level, and come up with my own ideas. The thought of someone claiming my hard work for their own is infuriating, and the thought of stealing someone else’s is revolting.

At its most mild, it’s cheating. At its worst, it’s thievery – just like snatching somebody else’s car, purse, or ipod.

And it’s so easy to cite your sources! You just put quotes on either side and a parenthetical reference at the end with the last name of the person who said/wrote it and what page you found it on (if that applies). Boom! Plagiarism averted! That being said, I really don’t see the allure of plagiarism, especially once you reach the higher academic levels,  since you have to work harder not to get caught.

So, what are your thoughts on plagiarism? Do you think of it as something that’s pretty common (and thus somehow more understandable or not such a huge deal if done in small quantities), or do you think of it as a pretty serious academic crime that should be looked down on and punished severely?

And, to add a little humor to an otherwise humorless rant, here is Tom Lehrer’s song “Lobachevsky”, otherwise known as “The Plagiarism Song” from his album, Songs by Tom Lehrer.

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