March 09, 2006
Plagiarism - A lesson learned
A friend of mine went through a traumatic episode this past month involving a reflective essay she wrote in a creative writing course; a required course in the program where she is enrolled as a foreign student.
Here's what happened: she was assigned to write a reflective essay comparing a 70s film and its 90s remake and to focus on the portrayal of changed family dynamics in american society. This friend had never heard about this movie let alone see it! Given that she grew up on a different continent and that she'd been in this country for just about six months, that didn't come as a surprise. Faced with this roadblock and having no support system to turn to for guidance, she turned to the only resource she had, the internet. Here's where she committed a grievous fault; she took the easy way out by doing a 'copy' 'n 'paste'!
Lo and behold! She was caught! The professor brought her to task by showing her the very piece that she'd copied from. My friend pleaded guilty to having copied the article but claimed ignorance to the fact that she had committed any sort of a crime. Her defense was that the country she grew up in did not view plagiarism as seriously as the USA did, and that students in her country 'do this all the time'. The professor then referred her case to the 'grade appeal committe'. After a torturous wait of ten days during which friends, including myself, told her of all the possible consequences that she may have to face, she feared the worst. Short of packing her bags, she was all set to go home when lady luck smiled down on her, and she breathed a sigh of relief! She would not have to go back afterall! However, she lost credit for the course($1300/-); she would now have to enroll for another remedial course ($1000/-) and then take the creative writing course ($1300/-)over. Frankly speaking, she got a sweet deal. People have fared far worse!
Here's what she learned from this harrowing experience, and she wanted me to pass it on to other students, especially foreign students, so that they don't find themselves in a similar situation:
If you have nothing to say, then say nothing. Don't copy someone elses thoughts and pass them off as your own! That's termed 'plagiarism', a punishable offense in the USA, and your ignorance of the law will not be an admissible excuse. Plagiarism could cost you a course, a semester, a year, and even an entire degree of your academic career! Now that's one costly mistake, and none of us, certainly not a foreign student, can afford the luxury of making that mistake.