Before reading this post, take a moment to read this genuine, recent ad from Craigslist (click picture for full size). It is from a student in New York and the assignment(s) are due today, one of which is an early American history paper.
As I wrote last week, I am currently finishing up my coursework and in the fall will begin my first teaching assistantship. Because teaching has been on my mind anyway, the ad above struck me a bit harder than I imagine it would have done before. I’ve heard stories of cheating and plagiarism from my professors and my peers in my own program now in their teaching years, but the ad above really “takes the cake” for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not so naive as to be unaware of the underground academic sub-industry of paper mills. But privately seeking out a service like that is one thing; putting up an ad on one of the internet’s most trafficked sites is quite another. Perhaps part of what struck me was the sheer brashness of it.
Plagiarism or cheating of this sort used to be the gravest academic sin one could commit. But in recent years that notion seems to be changing. It is changing for students (only 29% of whom think copying from the web is “serious cheating” with 40% admitting to having copied entire sentences for their assignments). It is also changing for cultural apologists who argue that the digital culture (and its issues regarding intellectual property) in which younger generations have grown up often renders students unable to fully comprehend or appreciate the concept of plagiarism. That is, despite the fact that almost every syllabus I ever got as an undergrad included a paragraph about the university’s plagiarism policy, which were also often accompanied by the professor discussing it on the first day.
Indeed one could also place blame on the corporatization of academia, one consequence of which is the commodification of higher education. I wonder how many of our readers that are university professors or instructors have had an undergraduate tell them, “I pay your salary.” Are we to be surprised when students act as if obtaining a degree is merely a financial transaction, when administrations treat it as such? The ad above seems to be an even further extension of such an attitude. Notice how Student X writes, “I am ‘cheating'” with the word “cheating” in scare quotes. Student X realizes that the faculty regard what he/she is doing as cheating, but apparently the fact that they are “comfortable and experienced” with this type of cheating suggests Student X does not share their perspective. It’s not like Student X is stealing the work, after all, he/she is paying good money for it.
I’m afraid I don’t have some grand sociological or psychological insights into plagiarism and cheating to end the piece. Rather, I’m hoping that our readers can share their experiences and thoughts on the subject. For the faculty members among our readership, how do you react to this kind of thing? Do you think this generation of students is incapable of grasping the concept of plagiarism? If so, is it because of the digital culture in which they’ve grown? Do you find your students approaching their education as a commodity rather than an intellectual endeavor?
The Junto thanks Angharad Rebholz, an undergraduate at Yale, for finding and sharing the Craigslist ad.