Section C: Responding to Plagiarism

Expert perspective: Anne Curzan, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. Curtain also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education. Anne currently serves as Co-Director of the Joint Ph.D. program in English and Education and as the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative; previously, she directed the English Department Writing Program

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Sometimes, we will be reading student essays, and we’ll come across an essay, and we think “I think there’s some plagiarism here, there’s something about this that doesn’t sound like this student’s work.

And when this happens, I think most of will go to the web, and see if we can find some of the sentences that are in the essay on the web, and a certain amount of the time, we’ll be able to do that,

in which case we know that we have an instance of plagiarism, that we’ve got the student has taken work that’s not their own and put it into their essay.  At this point, it’s really important that we meet

with the student.  Every student has a right to explain what happened, and I think that as faculty, that’s the most helpful way to think about these meetings, is to think about them not as a

confrontation with the student, because we don’t— that’s not how we teach –is to think about this as information gathering.  We’re trying to figure out how this happened, and so we want to meet with the

student to get their side of the story.  So when I, when this happens, I recommend that you email the student, and say, I need to meet with you about your essay.  If it’s too late for that, and you’re already

handing back essays, you can say to that student, “I need to talk with you before I give back your essay,” and make a time to meet with the student.  So, when the student comes to your office,

if in fact you have evidence, you have a webpage, or something, that’s shown up in the student’s essay, then I will show the evidence to the student. I don’t hide, sort of, hide my cards on this and say,

“Tell me how you wrote your paper,” I will say, “Here’s your essay, and here’s some material that I found on the web, I need you to explain to me how this happened.”  And that’s a chance for the

student to then explain their side of the story, and in my experience, you learn a lot, as soon as you start asking questions, and I would think about the meeting as a chance to ask all the questions

that you have, to understand what happened.  And in that way, this is a pedagogical moment with the student, is what were they thinking, as they went through this, and sometimes students will say,

“I panicked, and I made a terrible decision,” and sometimes students will have a different story, so you can understand what happened.  Some language that may be helpful, some students will get upset

in this situation, very understandably, and I will say things like, “I’m really sorry that we’re in this situation”, because that’s true.  I am really sorry that we’re in this situation.  I will sometimes remind

students that they made a choice here.  If they chose to turn in work that was not their own, I will say, “You made an unwise choice here, and there are consequences for that choice,” and so that the

student remembers this is not me being mean, and somehow trying to call them out, this is a choice that they made, and there are consequences for that choice.  Then there’s the wrapping up the

meeting, which I think can feel hard, if we think that we have to have the answer at the end of the meeting.  I would say that you absolutely don’t have to have the answer. If you think about this as

information gathering, you can then say at the end of the meeting, “This has been very helpful, I have a much better understanding of the situation.  I’m going to think about this, and I will get back to you

tomorrow about what’s going to happen from here.” No, of course, if you already know, you’re sure this is plagiarism, and you know what’s going to happen, you can then say to the student,

“Okay, here’s what’s going to happen from here,” but if you don’t know, don’t feel that you have to come up with the answer in the last two minutes of the meeting.  You have the chance to think on it,

and then talk with the student about what happens.  After the meeting, if you do need to figure out what you’re going to do, I would consult with your colleagues, with the Director of Undergraduate

Studies, and other resources on campus to talk through what have other people done in similar situations.  How does this need to get reported to a dean’s office? Or something like that. But again,

I think the most important thing is to think about this meeting as much as you can as a teaching opportunity, as a chance to try to understand what happened here, and how you can help the student

learn from this, even if the consequences may be difficult ones for the student.

Key Takeaways:

  • Students have a right to explain what happened
  • Think of meetings as information-gathering, not as confrontations
  • Don’t hide your cards: present evidence to students and ask them to explain what happened
  • Tell students, “I’m really sorry that we’re in this situation”
  • Remind students that they have made a choice and that it has consequences
  • Don’t feel like you have to have the answer by the end of the meeting, but if you know, tell students what’s going to happen next
  • If you need help figuring out what to do, consult with colleagues
  • Think of this meeting as a teaching opportunity

 

Expert perspective: Anne Curzan, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. Curtain also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education. Anne currently serves as Co-Director of the Joint Ph.D. program in English and Education and as the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative; previously, she directed the English Department Writing Program

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If in this conversation, the student denies that there was any plagiarism here, you may get to a point where you and the student disagree.  And I will say, “I think we’ve gotten as far as we can get.”

One piece of language I will sometimes use is, “I’m sure you can understand why when I look at this, this doesn’t look right to me.” Where it’s not– that’s not saying that they may agree with me, but to

say, “I’m sure you can understand why this seems like it would be academic misconduct or might be academic misconduct.”  If we get to the point where I say, “I think we’ve gotten as far as we can get, and we don’t agree on this. That’s where we have mechanisms where this will now go to the Dean’s

Office, and I will explain what I think, what I’ve seen in the material, and you’ll get to explain your side of the story, and then the Dean will make a decision from there.”

Key Takeaways:

  • You can agree to disagree
  • You can forward the case to the Deans’ Office

 

Expert perspective: Anne Curzan, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. Curtain also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education. Anne currently serves as Co-Director of the Joint Ph.D. program in English and Education and as the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative; previously, she directed the English Department Writing Program


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So, sometimes students can get upset, and sometimes plagiarism does happen, as part of a web of difficulties, that a student is experiencing, that it can be a student is panicking.

They’re under an enormous amount of stress, some of which is academic, and some of which is outside of school.  This is personal stress.

And those situations are very hard.  I think we should always be empathetic with students and recognize the stress that they’re under, and recognize that sometimes people make bad decisions.

And that they may have made a bad decision in this case, and to say this happens, that there are consequences when we make bad decisions, but we can say that while being empathetic with the

fact these things happen, and to be sorry that the student made a decision that’s going to result in a set of consequences, but that they have started a process when plagiarism happens, there are

University processes that they have kicked off by making that decision, and we, in fact, are just a part of that process, and I think that’s important for students to understand, but we can say that in the

kindest and most empathetic ways, when students are clearly under a lot of stress. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Be empathetic and recognize the stress students are under
  • Students have triggered a university disciplinary process by choosing to plagiarize

 

Expert perspective: Anne Curzan, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. Curtain also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education. Anne currently serves as Co-Director of the Joint Ph.D. program in English and Education and as the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative; previously, she directed the English Department Writing Program

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One thing we should avoid is making this personal.  I think if we’re honest about it, sometimes we get a case of plagiarism, we’ll find that we’re upset, and we may even be angry, and feel betrayed,

somehow, that a student has done this in our class.  We need to process that emotion before we meet with the student.  We should not be accusing a student as a bad person.  They’ve made a bad

choice, and good people make bad choices, and I think we need to always think about this as a choice, that a student made, that is resulting in a set of consequences, and not something about who

this student is as a person.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t make it personal
  • Recognize that good people make bad choices

 

What actions can I take even if I decide not to pursue a case with the Dean’s Office?

The LSA Office of the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education maintains excellent resources for faculty and students regarding UM’s policies on academic integrity. This website outlines the procedures to be followed if a violation of academic integrity is suspected, as well as offering helpful FAQs for both faculty and students. We suggest reading through the full site.

Key Takeaways:

  • You can contact the Office of the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education if you suspect plagiarism, before you take action, and they can advice you on the best approach to the situation.
  • In order to promote consistent resolution of cases of plagiarism, the general expectation is that the office will handle the incident.
  • If the incident is minor, you may choose to handle it yourself, within the context of your class. However, three conditions must apply

    1. You must fully arise your student of the allegation and show the student any evidence, if requested, that you have;
    2. The student must accept responsibility for the incident;
    3. The student must accept the grade and/or remedial work you assign.

    If these conditions apply, and you do handle it yourself, you must still provide documentation of the incident and its outcomes to the Office of the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education. The office maintains records of these incidents and tracks repeated offenses.