The honesty threshold: It wasn’t plagiarized that much. Should I say something or let it slide?

Dr. Tamara Fudge, professor in the School of IT

Honesty is an important workplace trait. Lack of honesty can be damaging to the person and to the company. To ensure student honesty, then, the first step in grading should be to send assignments to Turn-it-In. This tool provides reports that should be scrutinized for accuracy; it’s not infallible* but provides a backbone for checking originality.



The good news is that a lion’s share of the work we send in results in low-percentage reports that erroneously label reference entries or cover page content as “copied.” We can ignore those without batting an eyelash. On the other end of the spectrum, high-percentage reports should be obvious: either give a stern warning and a zero, and let the advisor know, or send the work to the Provost for a plagiarism review. It’s a wake-up call the high-percentage student needs.

This post isn’t about those reports, though. It’s about those pesky middle-percentage papers that put the professor’s brain in overdrive: It wasn’t plagiarized that much. Maybe he didn’t realize that lists should not be copied. I think she really tried to paraphrase. There’s a citation but he left out the quotation marks. It looks like she used a thesaurus to just replace a few words. I’m not sure if he did this on purpose or not. Should I say something or let it slide?

Let’s pause for a metaphor moment. When an automobile driver runs a stop sign, he or she has broken the law. Whether intentional or not, the law was broken, and it cannot be undone. If a police officer observes the incident but chooses to look the other way, the driver feels enabled to make the same mistake – over and over again.

Plagiarism also comes in both intentional and unintentional flavors. No matter the intention, once plagiarized work is submitted for grading, the damage is done. If the professor looks the other way, the student is enabled to make the same mistake – over and over again.

This is why it is important for professors to all be good police officers and point out the student’s transgression. The officer who looks the other way becomes an enabler, complicit in breaking the law. It is our responsibility to give a warning or a ticket so that the student learns from the mistakes made. Don’t “let it slide.” Promote honesty and say something!

* I once had a student paper (no, this is not a limerick) that resulted in a 16% match to sources according to Turn-it-In. Upon further investigation via a simple Google search, the paper was determined to actually be 84% plagiarized. Always investigate!

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