To the Editor:

As I read the article on plagiarism in last week’s issue of The Mirror, I wondered, what exactly is news here? That some students plagiarize? That faculty and administrators seek to prevent and adjudicate instances of plagiarism? This is not news.

The article seems to have provided a wonderful opportunity for deans (and one faculty member) to issue warnings about the dire consequences of plagiarism. However, it missed the opportunity to consider plagiarism as a more complicated issue arising from several perspectives.

Specifically, it failed to include student views, which I would have been interested to hear. Given the forum, this omission is striking.

Plagiarism is an umbrella term for a range of behaviors, from deliberate academic misconduct to misattribution of sources. The most egregious instances would constitute fraud in any circumstance, and these cases are serious. They are also rare.

The vast majority of plagiarism stems from improper integration and attribution of source material. While this is not to say that it is right, it is to say that these skills are teachable and learnable.

Several non-solutions posing as solutions are offered in the article. One of these involves employing services like turnitin.com, which use, among other things, potentially-plagiarized student papers submitted by faculty and uploaded into a database designed to assess the originality of student work. Once submitted, the paper becomes the property of the service itself.

Now it is my turn to issue a caution: These services violate students’ intellectual property rights. And, yes, students do have them.

The academic work students produce belongs to them. How ironic that the solution to the violation of intellectual property rights (which is what plagiarism is) involves, in turn, a violation of intellectual property rights. Clearly, that is not the answer.

It is the job of every member of a university community to promote intellectual integrity in all its forms.

We do this not by setting up obstacles to communication and engagement in meaningful intellectual work; we do this instead by teaching and modeling appropriate behavior in the context of discussions about why we value what we value.

Dr. Elizabeth Boquet

Associate Professor of English

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