Letters to the Editor

    Use of anti-plagiarism service is justified

    Editor:

    I was rather amused to see A.S. Commissioner of Student Advocacy Jeff Boyd quoted as saying, “The problem is that ERC has a zero tolerance policy on cheating,” in a story (“ERC records 46 percent of plagiarism cases,” April 26) on Eleanor Roosevelt College’s use of Turnitin.com. It seems to me that the problem is really that the students are cheating. I have to wonder what level of tolerance for cheating Mr. Boyd thinks would be appropriate? Perhaps it is now socially acceptable behavior, and I am just an anachronism.

    What the article thoroughly demonstrates is that Mr. Boyd does not understand how ERC handles suspected plagiarism cases. He is quoted as saying, “I think there were a lot of cases that were prosecuted unfairly.” I would like to know where he gets the data on which he bases this assertion. Since he is not an employee of the Making of the Modern World program, he lacks access to the records that would allow him to substantiate such a claim. Instead, he most likely relies on anecdotal information and disgruntled cheaters who were caught but refuse to admit they are guilty.

    As a teaching assistant for the MMW program for the past four years, I can assure you that his assertions are way off base. From the day Turnitin.com was introduced as a technique for catching plagiarism, there has been a far more sophisticated process for dealing with suspected cases than indicated in the story. Each case of possible plagiarism, whether identified by Turnitin.com or by the student’s TA, goes through multiple reviews. The TA does the original check, and forwards suspicious cases to the academic coordinator. The student’s work is then carefully examined against the evidence of plagiarism or other academic misconduct. At this point, the student is also given a chance to explain why there is evidence he cheated, and that explanation is taken into account. It is only the cases where the student clearly plagiarized or otherwise cheated on his work that are forwarded to the dean’s office for administrative action. The student’s TA or the MMW staff deal with most cases of possible plagiarism. If it is an “honest mistake” or where there is doubt about whether the student cheated, the most common response is a warning, possibly including a grade reduction on that assignment, depending on the severity of the infraction.

    As for the other concerns, privacy is not an issue since the student does not need to use their actual name or ID number when submitting a paper. If using a pseudonym, all they need to do is notify their TA what name they used. The idea that intellectual property rights are at stake is laughable. The only value any of these papers have as intellectual property is if the students sell them to other students. But then, the problem is not the cheating; it is enforcing rules against cheating, right?

    — Daniel R. Lake

    teaching assistant, Making of the Modern World

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