Dear Plagiarist in my 100-level survey class,
I know you're a first-semester freshman, taking this class as part of a general education requirement for a major far, far different from my department. And I can see from your grades that you've been hanging in at the C+ level for most of the semester. But you know, moving from a C+ to a B- isn't all that difficult. I'd have been happy to give you the extra help that I provide for anyone who stops by my office and asks for it: I go over their drafts, help them develop strategies for studying for exams, and tips for getting the maximum participation points. Believe it or not, a couple of them have improved their grades dramatically by asking for help, and acting on my advice.
But instead, you went elsewhere for help. You paid, bribed, or cajoled someone to write your most recent paper for you. Or maybe they "loaned" you one that they had already written, onto which either one or the other of you slapped a new intro and conclusion as well as a few transition phrases that linked the whole thing up to the specific question I asked. So I have to give this person credit for having actually paid attention to the assignment. But the fact is that, according to the anti-plagiarism software that you know full well we run these essays through, over 50% of this material came verbatim from materials freely available on the web. The fact that you knew about this plagiarism software and still turned in a plagiarized essay makes me fairly sure that someone told you they were writing an original essay for this course. It's not. 18% came from a Geocities site. 9% came from Sparknotes. Another 7% from Gradesaver. And a few other miscellaneous sites. It was a patchwork, and whoever stitched it together actually took the trouble to hit the thesaurus button when the language looked too sophisticated for undergraduate writing. But still, nothing was hard to find.
I know you'll be upset -- probably very upset -- when I inform you that you are now going to receive an F for the course. I can only point you to the relevant section of the syllabus where it says that I'll do just that, regardless of the point value of the assignment in question. You'll probably decide I'm the person to be upset with: I'm heartless. I'm mean. I probably enjoy giving students Fs and ruining their lives -- and right before Thanksgiving, too. This will be your first and very natural reaction, because it's hard for any human being to face the fact that they fucked up. Hell, since this is your first semester in college, I may well be the first person who has introduced you to the equation of "actions => consequences." Trust me, you're not the only one learning it. Read the papers.
But I digress. Let me suggest some other targets for your anger. First, you might get a bit upset at the individual or company who sold you a paper that they themselves plagiarized. You trusted them, and maybe even paid them. And they've duped you as surely as you tried to dupe me.
Second: read that final sentence: they've duped you as surely as you tried to dupe me. What you are feeling now -- that sense of betrayal or even moral outrage? -- is what I feel every time I come across a plagiarized paper. So if you think the person who gave you this paper acted dishonestly, then examine your own behavior.
You will still rant and rage at me, in person, and/or behind my back. You may cry in my office when I make you sign the academic misconduct forms. I won't be moved, because I know that someone has got to be the first person to impose consequences. I wish it didn't have to be me, because it's uncomfortable. I wish your parents had done it, or your high school teachers, or that you just had an internal sense of right and wrong. I wish you didn't have to be learning this lesson so late, when there is so much more on the line than there would have been if someone had brought you up short the first time you pulled this in middle schoool. But they didn't, so I will.
Why am I being such a hardass? Why, when it would be so much easier to just give you a zero on the paper and let you fail under your own power (and you would, trust me -- I've seen your grades). The newspapers every day tell me what happens when people put self-interest over ethics. I may be forced to bail these fuckers out, but I will not be complicit in raising another generation to take their place. And dear plagiarist, that's just what I'd be doing if I let this slide.
So, if anything, blame me for being an idealist. Hell, you can even accuse me of taking out my rage at the big swindlers on a little one. You might be right about that last bit, and the rectitude of my behavior in that regard is certainly open to debate. But I hope that you might save a little, tiny bit of room to acknowledge your own culpability, and resolve to do better from here on. Yes, I actually hope that will happen. Because, believe it or not, this is not about punishment for its own sake. It's about holding the line on the fundamental proposition that lying, cheating, and stealing are wrong.
Professor Notorious, Ph.D.