Plagiarism has been condemned lately by all types of experts, including scholars, university board members and even commercial parties, such as TurnItIn, which sells plagiarism detection software righteously claiming that plagiarism should be combated through the most efficient and up to date tools. Well, if these companies ever reach their ultimate goal of eliminating plagiarism, they will go out of business. Meanwhile, we see that everyone discussing plagiarism has certain motivation and interest to defend one point or another. Students, however, don’t seem to have an interest to speak on this subject at all, or worse – they have never been asked.
I neither belong to the camp that combats plagiarism, nor to the one that defends or partially justifies it. I simply want to make the voice of college students heard with no hidden reason behind it.
My own college profile of a “straight A student” had nothing to do with any type of plagiarism that would involve direct copy/paste and serious violation of copyright law. However, now that the definition of plagiarism has evolved to such a broad extent, I can’t tell for sure whether all my college assignments can be referred as 100% original and plagiarism-free.
While I was able to devote most of my time to studying (with 2 scholarships that covered almost 85% of my college expenses, and monthly checks from my parents, who had above average income and the only daughter to spend it on), I saw many of my friends struggling with their assignments, especially when it came to writing essays and developing research papers.
At that point I didn’t question the meaning and purpose of my own devoted enthusiasm for education. I enjoyed the process as the end in itself, didn’t have to worry about money and had all those skills and talents for being a successful student. Most of my friends, however, were different. I didn’t like to hang out with the “know-it-all” crowd. I enjoyed the company of people with different backgrounds and different perspectives on life. I could learn something new from each one of them.
My friends and I were very close and we could trust each other any secret with no doubt. So, I knew they cheated on the exams occasionally and hired someone to write their term papers. However, their integrity has never been challenged in my eyes by this knowledge. I knew them well enough to tell that they had their own reasons. Were they valid enough? I can’t judge that objectively, because they were my friends and I was on their side. But one thing I can tell for sure – these reasons must be heard before blaming anyone a degraded cheater.
VICTIM OF SOCIAL PRESSURE
My friend Joshua grew up in a hard-working, but relatively poor family with three other siblings, who were younger than him. His father was a high school teacher and his mother was a nurse. They both were hard on Joshua about his education and future career. It took them a lot of efforts and a lot of money to get Joshua through college, so my friend was carrying a heavy burden of high expectations and big responsibility. He had no excuses for failure and no right for mistakes, so he could not allow himself fail some class and spend thousands of dollars to repeat it next semester just because his writing skills weren’t good enough.
Sad, but true. The knowledge itself is no longer a valuable asset in our society, what matters is one’s degree or certification. Our society has invented the terms where grades are all that matter for education, why blame it on students after all. Joshua would have been an empty space for an employee without his degree, no matter how smart he was in engineering. So, he needed that degree no matter what.
May be it was due to lack of self-confidence, or perhaps our English professor was too hard on us, but Joshua always had problems with his writing assignments at college. He never seemed to meet the instructions no matter how hard he tried. English was not the only problem. Other classes required a lot of writing, too.
When faced with the threat of failure, Joshua turned to other people’s help. First he asked for our advice and we tried to work out some solution for him. Unfortunately, nothing else helps to develop writing skills other than practice. But Joshua didn’t have extra time for it, so it work. Then, he started using works of older students, since the assignments for some classes often repeated themselves every year. However, when caught once by one of our professors plagiarizing the same essay that was turned it a year before, Joshua decided it was too risky, because he could have been expelled.
Finally, when nothing else seemed to work for him, he started ordering his term papers and essays from one of those companies that offer writing services for a fee. I thought this was quite expensive, but then I learned that competition for these services is quite fierce, and some like Go2Essay or CustomResearchPapers now offer custom written papers for as low as $13.95 per page. I was against it, but it seemed to work just fine for Joshua.
ACADEMIC HONESTY DOESN’T PAY OFF
My other friend Kim was from a wealthy family of a self-made businessman, who owned everything he had to his own persistence and discipline. He didn’t want Kim to grow as a spoilt offspring of a wealthy family. When Kim was applying for a college, her father said that if she gets accepted, he would pay for her education, but would leave all other expenses up to her. So, Kim had to find a job when she was a freshman.
Not a big deal, when you still can count on your parents to support you. However, in Kim’s case she couldn’t afford quitting her job even if there were too many college assignments to cope with, because she wouldn’t have means to support herself otherwise. Her father didn’t care much for Kim’s grades as long as she could get through another semester. He only advised her to learn hard at those classes that she thought were interesting or useful for her future career, while the rest was permissible to skip as long as she could get a passing grade.
In her junior year Kim had finally decided that she would go in advertisement. She was very good at drawing and really enjoyed her creative design classes. When hired for one advertisement agency as a logo designer, she was soon making $15 per hour and working full-time almost always, so the end of each semester was a real catastrophe for her, since she felt too much pressure from her deadlines both at work and at college.
Kim didn’t feel that there was something wrong with hiring people for writing her academic papers, which were not of particular interest or relevance to her career. However, she never cheated on her creative design assignments. She held them sacred and was truly the best student in her group.
Perhaps, it was her father’s influence, but Kim valued her time and was quite picky with how she spends it and whom she spends it with. None of Kim’s friends, including me, could tell that she was lazy or had a lot of disposable income to spend on her custom written papers. For Kim these services were the only way to ensure that she wouldn’t loose her job spending half of the day writing her paper on a subject of no relevance to her, and than turning it with no guarantee of a passing grade and no reward for her time.
At the end of a semester with so many writing assignments coming from different classes it was not just a matter of making some extra money, but a question of life and death: either she writes all assignments herself and goes broke next month, or she survives the pressure by delegating some of her essays to other people. Even if it looks like an academic dishonesty for other people, I know Kim was always honest to herself in pursuit of her goals, and after all it’s the only thing that matters.
These are just few examples of how the perception of plagiarism as a disastrous crime can be challenged if viewed from different perspective. I don’t think that plagiarism is the best solution for students and I do not defend its practice, however I do believe that the roots of plagiarism should not be looked in the nature of modern students, but instead – in the nature of modern education system, which values grades higher than knowledge and is designed to respond to the national standards rather than student needs.
Thus, plagiarism detection software may help to combat plagiarism in a short-term run, however, unless we re-evaluate and improve the existing system of education, the root of plagiarism will not be extirpated for a long-time benefit.