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March 03, 2004


Fontana labs

Other tales from the crypt:

(a) My chair's wife, also an academic, had a student turn in a paper that was pre-graded for her convenience! Another student had turned in the same paper last year, and her friend just copied it & submitted.

(b) A friend of mine gave back a set of exams, and faced a complaint afterward: "I think you graded this question wrong." A long explanation ensued. "No, I think my answer is right." Another explanation. "Look, I got last year's test from my frat, and this answer is right." Reply: "I added the word 'not' to the question this year." Student: "That's not fair."

ben wolfson

Honest and for true, Fontana? Because the second one is the kind of apocryphal story that lots of people's friends seem to tell.


Well I once wrote an essay attacking William James' "Are We Automata", it was paid for by someone who needed an essay on any philosophical subject pronto. I believe I got $75, enough to go clubbing and buy some acid.
The girl who bought the essay did not change the style of it whatsoever, which style was probably at least ten years ahead of its time - the internet rant and conversational blog not yet having been invented. Her professor gave her an A, but then on rereading reconsidered, giving a C saying that she thought it had been plagiarised.

I wish I'd kept that essay; it was sort of crap but I thought I made some good points, since lost.

mark steen

Me and my wife both teach philosophy. Once, one of her students borrowed a paper that my wife had given an 'A' as an example, and then turned that paper in to my wife as her own product, which she had just graded two weeks before.
I've had two students in the same class turn in the same paper. I've had students who, when confronted with a print-out of a word-for-word identical webpage, just asserted that it was a coincidence. One student of mine, who used the phrase 'homuncular functionalism', which we never talked about, when asked said he couldn't remember what hf was, since he wrote it a week ago. It's sad, I could go on and on....

Andrew Lawrence

Does any significant disciplinary action get taken when these students are caught plagiarizing? In all the stories I've heard from grad student friends recently, nothing ever seems to happen to students who get caught. If that's the case, then there's no pressure on them to change their behavior. In one case, a professor pursued disciplinary action against his own TA for reporting a cheating student to the appropriate review board!


At my university the first instance of plagiarism is penalised by the professor 'free' as it were by giving it an F (just the piece of the work, not the course). If you report it to the administration they do nothing. They will, however, do something if a student gets two reports of plagiarism. My colleagues who have dealt with difficult instances have had a hell of a time - if a student refuses to confess there is committee of inquiry etc, and it consumes enormous amounts of your time. Worse, administrators are not enthusiastic, and people outside the discipline (Philosophy in my case) will sometimes be unaware that, eg, 'homuncular functionalism' is not a term a student who had not studied it in class could use competently. I blame the 60's.

mark steen

Every one of my students who plagiarizes/cheats gets and F with no chance of re-write/re-taking, and gets reported to the Dean. Two or three reports and they are expelled. This is common practice in our department(Syracuse). Amazingly, I've caught 30 students in 5 years of teaching


In this case the student will almost certainly fail the course, and, if there's no contrition, there'll be a suspension & probation. What's more, I don't have to do any of the dirty work. This is good, because I've invested too much time tracking down the web sites and so on.

I insist on believing story (b), and partly on epistemic grounds. I heard it shortly after it happened, and the grader was really, really impressed by the experience. Could be false-- but it certainly isn't ruled out by its idiocy.

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