By: Marian L. Swindell, Ph.D., MSW
I reviewed the APA manual and how to format citations. I explained the first day of class the consequences of plagiarizing. I have shown students the Academic Misconduct form. Yet, today as I grade papers, I see another student has plagiarized. It’s not direct plagiarism, such as buying a paper off the Internet or cutting and pasting an entire paper from the Internet into Microsoft Word. It’s the type of plagiarism that frustrates me, because it’s just not fair. This is one of my favorite students. Comes to class on time, every class meeting, participates in discussions, does well on the exams...but alas, I will end up giving her an “F” in the course and will make her repeat the course to stay in the program. It’s frustrating, because I know in my heart that she did not intentionally set out to plagiarize on this paper. All she did was forget to cite a source. It’s simple, but yet so complex. Years of inadequate teachers in grade school and high school who have pushed her through. Years of parents who didn’t push her to excel and lack of role models in her community to encourage her to go beyond the required and go the extra mile. Sadly, I take out my red pen and cross through the plagiarized material, attach the text she plagiarized, and assign a big, fat “F” to the grading rubric. I am mad, disappointed, frustrated. I really liked this student. Now I have to assign the “F” and pass along my frustration. She will hate me. But that can’t matter. Why didn’t she just listen to me all those times I went over how to cite references and why correctly citing is so important? Why didn’t she look at the handouts I gave out in class AND went over in class? Did she think I was kidding when I said I would fail students who plagiarized? Did she think I would go against the NASW Code of Ethics and give her a passing grade anyway, knowing full well that she cheated? Yes. She cheated on this assignment. I am frustrated, because every semester I go over and over APA formatting in my courses. I go over all the reasons not to plagiarize. But yet almost every semester, students plagiarize. I have no recourse but to assign the “F” and discuss the actions of the student with my program director, along with the other instructors. Then other faculty members know of this student’s plagiarism. The dynamic between the instructors and the student changes. They know we know that they cheated. They don’t look at us directly in the eye anymore. They don’t participate as much in the class any more.
Not only are students frustrated with these failing grades; teachers are frustrated. I don’t know how many times I have heard, “Well, I’ve never had to write a paper before in any of my other classes.” And now, students are hearing, “Well, I’ve never had to fail a student for plagiarizing on a paper before.” But I guess there’s a first time for everything.
My advice to all the students who are reading this article is to understand that social work instructors are here to teach you social work skills. Writing is a social work skill. You will not graduate from our programs if you do not learn how to write. I would much rather read a “C” paper from a student who wrote the paper honestly than read an “A+” paper from a student who plagiarized. Ultimately, the “C” student will graduate and will be the better social worker, because he or she will do the right thing by the client. They won’t be looking for a quick fix to the problem. They won’t be looking for ways to cut corners. They won’t be filling out forms with false information, and they won’t be cheating the client. I enjoy the papers from the “C” students. At least I know they are honest. And that is the type of student I want graduating from my program and taking care of our clients. Many good students have plagiarized on papers, but universities and community colleges are becoming more strict. Some universities place an “X” on student transcripts, denoting academic misconduct. And that “X” often is never removed and follows the student from job to job. So students, pay attention to your instructors when they discuss their paper requirements with you. Ask questions. Turn in rough drafts. Go the extra mile when citing sources. All that hard work really does pay off in the end.
Marian L. Swindell, Ph.D., is on the social work faculty at Mississippi State University, Meridian.