Two years ago there was a case of plagiarism in my class that I didn’t catch. I feel bad about not catching it, but I also think that plagiarism can be really tough to catch, except in the most obvious of cases. The student asked if I could sign off on an essay she wrote for my class so she could use it for a university-wide writing requirement. Upon closer inspection, I thought the intro was a little…off. Some quick googling lead me to the intro in Time Magazine that she’d ripped off. Not word for word, but a careful rewriting.
Right before final essays are due, I always do a few lessons on how to write powerful sentences, how to write powerful intros, etc. I’m sure that my lesson on powerful intros contributed to this case. She probably felt pressure to say something really smart. I’m sure when I originally read the intro, I assumed she was applying my lesson on writing clever intros.
I routinely type suspicious lines into google when I suspect plagiarism in student writing. Too much typing is tiresome when you teach large classes, but this time she’d emailed the essay to me so I could simply copy and paste. That made finding the plagiarism (and proving it), much easier.
Normally in my classes, when this happens, I use an educational approach (opposed to punitive). Since in this case, she is no longer my student, and the essay is being used for a purpose beyond my class, I felt like I should take action.
Normally, I feel very supported by my supervisors. This time, I can’t help but feel like one of them is upset with me for not doing my job as effectively as I could have. I know that I’m projecting my own disappointment in not catching this case, but I think she’s really upset with me. There have also been conversations that have been cut short when I’ve tried to elaborate on the situation, irritation, and an email that requested I acknowledge why I didn’t originally catch the plagiarism, and an email that said the case was upsetting “on many levels.” I mean, how many levels are there other than one of them being disappointment with the instructor? In the past, it seems like supervisors are quick to support the instructor. I’m not really feeling that that’s the case this time around, which is unfortunate because, trust me, it would’ve been much easier to deal with this on my own and never involve the supervisors.
Next week, this supervisor is supposed to write a letter of recommendation for me for the job search. I can’t help but feel like it will be tainted by this experience. Talk about terrible timing.