Cheating, Plagiarism and Just Plain "Not-too-Bright" Students

We’ve discussed the notion of cheating several times here at the University of Venus, its ramifications,

October 4, 2011

We’ve discussed the notion of cheating several times here at the University of Venus, its ramifications, philosophical perspectives, and devices instructors have used to combat it – but I’ve recently come across a situation that made consider the topic once again. A student I know (let’s call her Clare) put out an ad for English tutoring and received a somewhat distressing, but not wholly unexpected response: “Write all my essays for a fee, I can get you consistent work.”

Clare was understandably outraged at this request and debated over whether she should report the student to the institution in question. She also did a search on the solicitor and discovered that she could conceivably have her in one of her classes (as her student – presumably this solicitor was an undergrad, while Clare is now entering her first year in a Doctoral program) as well.

The group of colleagues that Clare approached with this dilemma was equally disgusted with the privileged and “not very bright” attitude of the solicitor. And they relayed various anecdotes of their own of being solicited in the same manner, as well as expressing a general sense of indignation over plagiarizers in general. However, upon reflection, I began to debate with myself – is this plagiarism? Or is this simply cheating? Is plagiarism just a specific type of cheating? Why am I debating semantics anyhow?

I suppose it’s both. It’s not merely neglecting to properly cite a section of a paper – this is taking another author’s complete work, and taking credit for it as one’s own. According to a quick check of Dictionary.com, plagiarism is defined as: the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work, as by not crediting the author. And some definitions of cheating include: to violate rules or regulations; or to take an examination or test in a dishonest way, as by improper access to answers. It seems that each is relevant here.

In the end, Clare seemed decided that the best course of action would be to report the student to the institution, and hope that the student would not be placed in one of her classes due to the potential conflict. However, what was interesting to me was some of the discussion around Clare’s dilemma. One person proclaimed that the solicitor wouldn’t make it through University anyways since the solicitor really wasn’t very smart. While the group wholeheartedly agreed that the solicitor in question wasn’t particularly stealthy about her dishonesty, they expressed reservations about the conviction that she wouldn’t manage to make it through that way, as some of them knew of people who did precisely what the solicitor had done and managed to graduate just fine.

The concern from their end is what these solicitors would manage to do throughout their lives. Would they end up in some position of power with no clue about how the world and their own industry actually work? How far-reaching would those implications be?

However, what frustrates me about the solicitor is her complete lack of regard for the implications of what she’s done. She’s placed Clare into an awkward situation, and while she may have understood that such behaviour would implicate Clare as well, obviously that decision would be up to Clare and her own conscience. However this behaviour also demonstrates to me that the solicitor clearly has no comprehension of, or care for the amount of effort involved in the creation of a piece of scholarly work and is obviously missing the purpose and benefits of engaging in such an exercise - the acquisition of research skills, knowledge of the subject area, increased writing ability, etc. She also seems to have no clear understanding of the futility of going through University in that way – what does that piece of paper actually mean if you didn’t earn it yourself?

But to go back to the comments by some of the other individuals that Clare consulted – what was the solicitor thinking? Of course if Clare refused, the risk was there that she could be reported. But to what end? Would this report result in any kind of punitive action if the student had not yet made such a purchase? What consequences could be enforced in such a case?

Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada

Deanna England is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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