Desperation. Laziness. Pressure. Finding a reason to plagiarize is easy, but the consequences can be harsh.
Plagiarism is “the appropriation of information, ideas or the language of other persons or writers and the submission of them as one’s own to satisfy the requirements of a course,” according to the Fairfield University honor code.
The University’s library Web site states that this includes passing off someone else’s paper as your own, failure to cite a source and resubmitting a paper from a prior class to another class without written permission.
According to a survey conducted by the Psychological Record Journal, 36 percent of undergraduates have admitted to plagiarizing written material. English professor Mariann Regan believes that plagiarism is a problem at all universities.
Her belief is that students plagiarize out of desperation.
“I think it’s part of the system that expects more from students than they can honestly do,” she said. Regan believes students get “pushed for time” and take desperate measures.
Billy Joy ’09 agrees that time plays a crucial element in the decision to plagiarize.
“One way or another that paper has to be turned in, even if you don’t have many ideas on the subject. With time running out and nothing to say, someone might just plagiarize to complete the assignment,” he said.
Religious studies professor Dr. Hugh Humphrey doesn’t believe that plagiarism is a problem at Fairfield, but attributes some plagiarism cases to students being negligent and others deliberately stealing work.
“I suspect there’s a fair amount of cutting and pasting without attribution,” he said.
Humphrey does not believe there is an excuse for student plagiarism.
“At this stage there’s no reason not to know to attribute a source,” he said.
Jenny Mezzapelle ’09 believes the Internet plays a vital role in plagiarism.
“Nowadays we can get so much info off the Internet. It’s an easy way out,” she said.
Recognizing plagiarism does not seem to be hard for most professors.
“Phrases that sound like an old style scholar,” said Regan, are key indications of stolen work.
Variations in style, parts of the paper being drastically different from each other and vocabulary that would be unusual for a student’s level are all giveaways of a student trying to pass off another’s work as their own, according to Humphrey.
Visiting assistant history professor Cherie Woodworth said she has recognized plagiarism by identifying something as unusual for a student’s work. She believes that the better you know a student, the more you will be able to recognize his or her style.
In order to find the source of the original material, all a professor needs to do is type the phrase into a search engine. It does not take much effort for a student to get caught.
Any violations of the honor code are supposed to be reported to the dean of the corresponding department, but in many cases teachers take it upon themselves to decide proper punishment for students, according to Regan.
She has given students the option of a rewrite, given a failing grade for the paper and, in one extreme case, failed a student for the course after repeated cases of plagiarism.
Woodworth said her reasoning for reporting students who plagiarize is to be fair to the students who take the time to do the work for themselves.
Sara LaBrecque ’08 agrees that this is the fair thing to do.
“If you spend hours writing it, and they just copy, paste and print it, then it’s fair for them to be punished,” she said.