Stanley Fish on Plagiarism

In lieu of this week’s teaching tip, and in honor of the plagiarism season which we have now entered, here’s an excellent article by Stanley Fish for your enjoyment.  And, he had to write a follow up column to deal with all the comments the first column generated.  I hope for your comments too.  Happy Thanksgiving!!


Put This Guy Out of Business

Using the pseudonym “Ed Dante,” an academic ghostwriter (that is, a plagiarism pusher) describes in the Chronicle of Education his lucrative career writing other students’ papers.  And theses.  And dissertations.

Reading “The Shadow Scholar,” I admired his skill and questioned his ethics.  An independent contractor with an essay mill, Ed Dante earns about $66K a year enabling cheating.  He says he draws clients primarily from three groups:  “the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.”

(He’s good, but he’s not perfect.  What are those semicolons doing there?)

He may number Marymount students among his clientele.  How do we put him, or his likes, out of business?

The article has drawn a lively tail of comments, including this challenge from an English professor in Alabama:

My undergraduates have to write their essays in class, with nothing but paper and pen and a dictionary (no electronic gadgets), and the specific instructions for their writing assignment comes at them just minutes before they start writing. When they or my graduate students write research papers, they have to show me their work in progress – sources and everything – at two different times before the paper is due. If they can’t do that for me, they can’t turn the paper in: the paper fails before it’s turned in. This also ensures that they can’t cram for it; they have to work slowly and deliberately, and this gives them a chance to see how real learning happens. It also forces them to look me in the eye several times during the semester.

Try to sneak your way into one of my classes, Mr. Dante. If your “work” succeeds in getting a passing grade for one of my students, I’ll send you a hundred dollars in cash.

Requiring in-class writing and assigning and collecting drafts are two common anti-plagiarism strategies.  Did you know that Microsoft Word has a feature that allows you to see the changes made from one draft to another? Look under the Review tab and choose Compare.  You’ll just have to ask students to submit papers electronically.

Another plagiarism-busting technique is challenging students to reflect on their writing process.  You might ask students to hand in a cover sheet with questions about how they tracked down their sources and what they think is working/not working in the draft.  I suppose they could hire Ed Dante to write that reflection as well, but eventually they’re going to go broke and have to do their own work.