Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

I wanted to start the new blog off with a topic that hits close to home for many academics, writers, and teachers: plagiarism. I first thought of doing a piece on stealing intellectual property when I started noticing my words being used without credit in others’ articles and blogs months back. I understand that when information seeps in to one’s mind and becomes knowledge, it is sometimes impossible to trace the origin of an idea or thought. But when I see large chunks of my sentences literally copied and spliced into another’s work I know that it was no accident. This can be both maddening and deflating to writers and academics who make their living off of their thoughts and words.

I have some experience dealing with my academic work being stolen during my undergraduate career as well. It was at the end of my senior year at UNC Wilmington that I first became a victim of plagiarism. A few classmates and I finished our Human Osteology final exams early and left them in stacks on the professor’s desk along with our final course assignments while the rest of the class finished their exams. After I left the building, one of the students was allowed to head down to the computer lab to print out the remainder of his materials for the class. Fortunately for me, two of my osteology lab partners entered the computer lab and found this student furiously copying all of my measurements and answers from my papers onto his. He had taken all of my course materials off of the desk when he turned in his exam and took them to the lab to plagiarize my lab results and conclusions. My lab partners confronted the student and got my materials back to the professor. Who knows, he probably would have thrown away my papers and turned his in, leaving me with an incomplete one week before graduation.

I finally decided to write about this issue when, last week, I inadvertantly caught and called out two students (one of whom being an officer in her college’s Anthropology Club) who were posting a public conversation about cheating on a college cultural anthropology class’ coursework on Twitter. I wanted to let the aforementioned parties know that hashtagging (making searchable) a request for anthropologists to contact you if they “want to make some money” for doing your coursework probably isn’t the smartest way to go about cheating in college. Not only can anyone (future employers, other students, your professors!) see everything you put out on the internet, but we all judge your character by what we see. 

It wasn’t my intention to ruin anyone’s name or academic career when I posted this:
 “@Anthroprobably: Not Too Smart: Using the #anthropology hashtag on Twitter to find someone to do your college anthro assignments for money. Cc: @JDagger18″ May 4, 2011 2:20PM
But I did want the involved parties to know that someone was watching and disapproved of the honor code violations. There were a number of tweets back and forth between @JDagger18 and @BeatrixKiddo27 discussing the logistics and monetary compensation of the latter student doing the former’s cultural anthropology assignments/exams. Well, my Twitter followers (an awesome group indeed) took this and ran with it! I had a number of people retweet (re-post) the message and this generated a lot of comments about the event. 

Another Twitter colleague took it a step further. Megan McCullen (@GLEthnohistory on Twitter) took screen captures of the conversations before @BeatrixKiddo27 deleted her account and changed her webpage address once she realized she had been called out. From the information in the student’s web bio, Megan was able to find and contact the professor of the girl who was debating doing @JDagger18’s work for money. Megan, being an educator, said that if this were her student she would want to talk to her about the incident. I agree; this was the right thing to do. The worst part about the whole situation is that the female student in question was apparently an officer in her school’s Anthropology Club (hopefully no longer). 

So, let this be a warning to all young or ignorant academics out there: people are watching everything you post on the internet and social media sites. Cheating and plagiarizing are serious offenses and have no place in academia. Not only does copying someone else’s work take away from the authenticity of your credentials, it hurts the integrity of the field you work in. Make good choices, do your own work, and call out plagiarism when you see it!

Related Links:
Tweeting Indigenism by Megan McCullen

Fighting Plagiarism and Defending Academic Integrity featured in Guardian Higher Education Network