Plagiarism Thread
ACW-L October 1997
Reviewed by Bill Marsh

[note: "name" links to original post in archive]

Intro / Cover

Sometimes the most resounding questions come from the quietest corners. On October 12, 1997, Ilyssa Green, self-described "shy" and "quite participant" on ACW-L, entered the foray with a question that would initiate one of the more lively discussions I’ve seen since joining the list: "if a teaching professional suspects that a research paper, whether in whole or in part, has been plagiarized, what should s/he do and why?" Responses were rapid and varied. In addition to direct answers listing specific suggestions for how to assess and respond to plagiarism infractions, several list members came forward with explicit challenges to both conventional definitions of plagiarism and the institutional policies issuing from them. The result was a volatile debate on an academic issue which only begins with the ostensibly simple matter of guarding against and punishing student cheating. Underneath the plagiarism issue lie larger issues involving authorship, copyright law, cultural, economic and class difference, as well as aesthetic and ethical values informing contemporary composition theory. A complex set of concerns indeed, and one which led Ilyssa Green to generalize, two days and dozens of responses later, that "the jury for the most part is still divided."

Perhaps much of the general disagreement surrounding plagiarism stems from the fact that instructors approach the issue with often widely divergent experiences. Dean Rehberger, for example, admitted that in his many years of teaching writing, "[he had] never had one problem" with plagiarism, while Roger Easson stated that at his institution plagiarism "is and has been epidemic." While most instructors’ experience would probably lie somewhere between these two extremes, for all involved the plagiarism issue obviously raises a host of related questions, and it was to these questions that List participants turned during the ensuing discussion.