Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plagiarism and Cheating: How Wrong is it Really?

How wrong is it to plagiarize or cheat?  Count the ways.  Read about it on a PDF by clicking here or read on this blog by clicking "Read more" below.

Plagiarism and Cheating:  How Wrong is it, Really?

                      W.J. Holly, Ph.D., Philosophy

            I.  Allowing Cheating Harms Cheaters:

            (a)  When we allow academic dishonesty, we are remiss in our duties to the cheaters, and are doing them no favor.  Part of our job is to help them acquire knowledge and skills they need to be competent employees and good citizens.  When students are allowed to cheat, they are not acquiring the knowledge and skills they need.  These deficits could cause them serious difficulties in later life.

            (b) When students cheat and plagiarize, they are practicing lying, and they are corrupting their souls.  They are lying to the instructor, to the institution, and to future employers, fraudulently presenting themselves as having acquired knowledge and skills that they do not have.  When instructors and administrators allow academic dishonesty, they are accomplices to the fraud that is being perpetrated.  When they give credit for dishonest work, they are actively rewarding and reinforcing dishonest behavior.  They are contributing to the moral corruption of their students.  

            II. Allowing Cheating Harms Honest Students:

            (a) Honest students may receive lower grades than they deserve when the class is graded on a curve.  Indeed, the grades they receive might be lowered by comparison to undetected plagiarism even if the instructor is not consciously grading on a curve.

            (b)  It is a violation of justice to  announce that all students will be graded on the quality of their work, and then to grade the honest according to this rule, while allowing others to get equal or even better grades through cheating rather than through learning. 

            (c)  Allowing cheating can corrupt honest students who see dishonesty rewarded.  They may come to think that dishonesty is the only way to compete in a dishonest environment, or that it is not so bad after all because so many people do it and because the instructors and  administrators do not seem to take it seriously.  Corruption of these students deprives the community of contributions (intellectual and other) these students might have made, had they not become corrupted.

            (d)  When the instructor discovers that some students have cheated, honest students can unfairly fall under suspicion of being cheaters too.  Moreover, honest students whose work is plagiarized can be penalized for crimes they did not commit.


            (e)  Cheating deprives honest students learning experiences that they might otherwise have had.  Instructors today can be reluctant to assign take-home essays and papers that the students can write, mull over, and rewrite, because instructors have no way of knowing whether or not papers written at home are the students’ own work.  They can be reluctant to assign questions on tests that require the use of calculators because electronic devices today can be used for cheating, for storing answers, and for communicating with other students inside or outside the testing area.  Even translators and dictionaries must be denied students taking tests because these too are easily used for cheating.

            (f)  Dealing with cheating can be enormously time-consuming (checking the net and text to document plagiarism, using markers to highlight copied sentences, etc.).  This is time stolen from honest students, time that should be spent preparing better lectures, writing helpful comments on their papers, correcting their grammar, etc.  

            (g)  Since the space available in classrooms is limited, there are many honest students who cannot enroll in the classes they need or want because those spaces are occupied by cheaters, students who are abusing the educational opportunity financed by taxpayers.

            (h)  The value of an honest student’s diploma is diminished when the community becomes aware that the awarding institution allows cheating.

            (i)  Honest students who earned their grades are at a disadvantage in applying for scholarships, graduate school, and jobs.  They are competing with people who have equally good and perhaps superior transcripts that have been fraudulently obtained.  Jobs, scholarships, and places in graduate school that should have been theirs, are given to liars and cheats.

            (j) When you take another preson’s ideas or writings without their permission and without giving them credit -- it is theft, it is stealing their work.


            III.  Allowing Cheating Harms the Larger Community:


            (a)  Part of our job is to help students to become well prepared and competent employees, and to certify their competence.  When we certify cheaters, we are harming employers who will be hiring people who lack the skills and knowledge that we have certified -- and who will be hiring liars and cheats on our recommendation.


            (b) The customers who hire or who are served by cheats also will suffer by being served by people with substandard skills, knowledge gaps, and character flaws.  In some areas, this could be fatal. Suppose that one of our students is allowed to obtain a degree in respiratory therapy through cheating.  A patient could die as a result of this student’s incompetence.  Even language deficiencies that we ignore when graduating students might result in clerical mistakes that could cause economic and health related disasters for the people being served by those we have certified to be linguistically competent.

            (c)  Allowing cheating harms parents, taxpayers, the State, & those who contribute money for scholarships.  We are paid to educate, not to pass on cheaters.  To the extent that we allow cheating, we are not doing the jobs we are paid to do. 

            The job of students at MJC is to gain an education.  To the extent that they cheat rather than doing their job, they owe a refund to the taxpayers, their parents, and others who have provided money for their education.  To cheat and to allow cheating in college is to engage in fraud and theft, to take money under false pretenses from those who are paying good money to provide the opportunity for education. 

            I once heard a person say, "Cheaters only hurt themselves."  Obviously that person had not given the topic more than a half minute of thought.

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