Plagiarism at Colleges & Universities
Plagiarism at colleges and universities can take numerous forms. Many colleges, however, are still applying antiquated plagiarism policies that treat all forms of plagiarism equally. Such strict liability approaches favor punishment of students over education, often requiring severe sanctions be imposed without regard to whether the plagiarism is of a serious variety or not. When colleges abdicate their responsibility to teach students how to succeed, both the institution and the students suffer.
ASU’s Academic Integrity Policy
First, let’s take a look at how a typical academic integrity policy deals with plagiarism. ASU’s academic integrity policy provides in relevant part:
Each student must act with honesty and integrity, and must respect the rights of others in carrying out all academic assignments. A student may be found to have engaged in academic dishonesty if, in connection with any Academic Evaluation or academic or research assignment (including a paid research position), he or she:
H. Engages in Plagiarism;
ASU Academic Integrity Policy, available here.
As with many such policies, the word “plagiarism” is not defined. With such a vague policy, ASU can essentially come up with its own definition of plagiarism on a case-by-case basis. It should be noted that ASU’s Academic Integrity Policy does prohibit other wrongful conduct that falls into the category of plagiarism, such as turning in the work of another student as one’s own. By doing so, however, the university is further obfuscating what it means by “plagiarism” since it clearly does not mean passing off the work of another student as one’s own. The following discussion attempts to flesh out a few species of plagirism that come up in the college and university setting.
Plagiarism of Ideas
Plagiarism of ideas is where a student submits a paper that attempts to pass off some specific thesis or argument as his or her own when in fact the idea is that of another person. In many disciplines there really are no new ideas and an attempt of a student to pass off another writer’s idea as his or her own will likely be caught quickly by the professor. Naturally, plagiarism of ideas is serious. It can also be avoided rather easily in most cases by properly attributing all work to their proper sources.
Plagiarism of Words
Plagiarism of words can take many forms. The most common form is improperly copying verbatim from a prior source usually whilst still citing the source material as a reference. The problem with this type of behavior is that it is essentially passing on the words of another person (not the ideas) as ones own. In many disciplines copying in and of itself is entirely acceptable if there is no attempt to pass of the copied text as original material. Thus, proper use of quotation marks and citation of sources can often cure this type of plagiarism.
In attempting to avoid plagiarism many writers try to paraphrase the text they are relying upon. Back in the 1980s, this was how my elementary school taught me to research. While it may still be acceptable for a fifth grader to paraphrase from the Encyclopedia Britannica for a research paper on killer whales, at the college and university level more thorough citation is necessary. Paraphrasing may eliminate the need for quotation marks around non-verbatim text, but it does not necessarily eliminate the need to properly cite the original source. Failing to properly cite paraphrased text is essentially just another version of idea plagiarism–that is, without citation, the paraphrased text looks to be that of the writer when in fact the ideas are that of another person.