Plagiarism and college culture

Blog for Eng 114. Spring 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010


Dear San Francisco State Administration,

I am a freshman at San Francisco State University, where I am taking an English 114 class that required me to read Susan D. Blum’s My Word, an anthropological study on how college culture affects plagiarism. Following in Blum’s footsteps, students in my English class conducted a research to see how academic culture, extracurricular culture, demographics/identity, and student motivations play a role in plagiarism at SFSU. Plagiarism, which can be defined as copying someone’s text or ideas without reference, is an issue because it takes away from the goal of a college education. It is a goal built on academic integrity, which is “a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility” (Blum, 2009, p.177). By plagiarizing students are not only attempting to achieve a grade dishonestly, but they are cheating themselves out of a quality education. I recommend that the university deal with cases of plagiarism in appropriate forms of punishment but more importantly address the source of the problem through education.

In order to efficiently tackle the plagiarism problem here at State, there should be school wide consistency in the enforcement of the plagiarism policy as well as in its prevention. Consistency can help reinforce lessons on plagiarism and also deter it. I commend the University on its efforts to detect plagiarism through the use of TurnItIn, a web based plagiarism detector, however not all professors require their students to submit essays through TurnItIn. The lack of possible detection and consequences makes plagiarizing harder to resist and repeat offenders continue to plagiarize until they are motivated to stop (Abdon, A. 2010). Some students who plagiarize may fly under the radar, but students that are caught often face harsh consequences. One punishment does not fit all, so different forms of plagiarism should be dealt with differently and should be appropriate to the “crime.” As a student I feel that incorrectly citing a source does not warrant the same punishment as buying a paper from a paper mill. For example a student who has plagiarized by not citing sources should be given a chance to fix his/her mistake or receive a lower grade on the assignment.

Prevention through education starts in the classroom. SFSU should deal with plagiarism by requiring that professors discuss and educate their students on what exactly is plagiarism and how to avoid it. By discussing plagiarism in the classroom, perhaps students will be discouraged from plagiarizing. From my personal experience, I can say that when professors discuss plagiarism they tend to remind their students of just how much trouble we would be in if we are “found out” because they “will find out.” Discussing plagiarism in terms of consequences may deter students from committing the deed through apparent intimidation, but coercing students into complying by that reason alone is insufficient. In lower division English classes, professors should educate students on plagiarism as well as equipping students with the tools of proper citation. By teaching students how and what to cite, students can avoid unintentionally plagiarizing through an error in citation. Another suggestion would be adding a “What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid it” section to OASIS, the library tutorial provided by SFSU. Plagiarism can be a problem when writing research papers, so an added tutorial can be beneficial. Currently, OASIS is only a series of quizzes that tests a student’s knowledge of what they recently read in the tutorial, but it should be made into an available resource that is accessible even after a student completes the required quizzes. If students have easy access to a simple yet informational site that shows key facts on plagiarism, then they will be more likely to prevent plagiarism on their own.

With 40% of the 44 students working approximately 20 hours a week and 60% participating in a form of an organized student activity, it’s easy to say that students at SFSU have busy schedules. The survey revealed that work, extracurricular activities, and going out have negatively impacted schoolwork (Abdon, A. 2010). A combination of procrastination on top of school, work, extracurricular activities make plagiarism all the more likely for students. Our research showed that students have a problem with time management. Students do not budget their time wisely and instead spend more time on other activities that do not involve finishing their assignments. While I understand that many students participate in extracurricular activities or/and must work to offset some of the expenses incurred while attending university, finding a balance between school, work, and activities is important. The survey we conducted also showed us that many students find a way to organize their hectic lifestyles by prioritizing and making to do list (Gibb, E. 2010). One of our interviewees, “Person K” proves that it is possible to juggle school and extracurricular activities. Person K “found a way to balance school, classes, work and theatre without feeling too overwhelmed and still has the ability to complete her assignments” (Gibb, E. 2010). However, not many students are like “K” and those students, would benefit from a time management workshop. An actual workshop that can be taken as a class at State may not be high priority when it comes to the CSU budget crunch, but I recommend that State add a time management “tips” section to the online academic resource program.

Over 70% of the 44 students we interviewed claim an understanding of the University’s policy against plagiarism, yet many of those students have plagiarized in one form or another (Gibb, E. 2010) and of the 44, 33% disapprove of plagiarism (Abdon, A. 2010). Despite knowing the University policy, students continue to plagiarize out of laziness, not knowing what constitutes plagiarism, and simply not having “enough” time. Students, who are tired from a day of activities or work, tend do homework as fast as they can. “Everything kind of builds up and eventually you find yourself running out of time so to save myself some stress, I copy and paste or in some cases just ask someone for a favor or pay for a written paper,” claimed one interviewee (Abdon, A. 2010). Another interviewee said he would copy homework from a friend or “patchwrite” by taking information on the internet and changing it to make it his own. Rebecca Moore Howard, who is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, coined the term patchwriting, meaning “copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one synonym for another” (Blum, 2009, p. 26). By conducting student surveys and interviews, it can be derived that students are often unaware of what forms of plagiarism there are and often plagiarize unintentionally by failing to cite sources. 40 percent of the students we surveyed claimed that they never plagiarized while those who did plagiarize specified reusing old papers, writing/editing papers for someone else or vice versa, or failing to properly cite sources (Gibb, E. 2010). The University should, “put these issues out in public; spell them out so everyone knows what we are talking about” (Blum, 2009, p. 77). A plagiarism resource is available for teachers on the SFSU College of Humanities website, which lists key types of plagiarism, such as buying a paper from a paper mill, incorrect citation, and borrowing from a text without citing. I think it is great that there is access to a resource such as that; however, it would be even better if a similar resource was made for students. I feel that if students knew what constitutes plagiarism they would be more likely to avoid it.

Students should be taught the value of academic integrity, how plagiarism destroys that integrity, what plagiarism is (including all its forms), and the causes of plagiarism. I believe that a better understanding of plagiarism as a whole, including why it is wrong and what causes it, is an effective way to combat it. By addressing the causes of plagiarism, perhaps the likelihood of students plagiarizing at SF State may decrease.Thank you for reading and I really hope that you consider my suggestions.


L. Peralta


Gibb, E., Liberal, S., Peralta, L., Siksamat, K., Morazan, F., Lin, J. (2010) Academic Culture. English 114.04, Spring 2010, San Francisco State University

Acala, K., Guillen, C., Zuniga, V., Stus, A., Sedlak, G., Eschavez, F. (2010) Plagiarism: SFSU vs. Notre Dame. English 114.04, Spring 2010, San Francisco State University

Abdon, A., Miraflor, C., Del Valle Nieva, A., Erfe, R., Yuen, V., Rodriguez, A. (2010) Extracurricular Culture. English 114.04, Spring 2010, San Francisco State University

Chang, S., Keil, T., Maldonado, R., Truong, N., Wilson, T. (2010). To Plagiarize or not to plagiarize, That is the Motivation. English 114.04, Spring 2010, San Francisco State University

Blum, S.D. (2009) My Word: Plagiarism and College Culture. New York: Cornell University Press


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