Caught by a Computer

Caught by a Computer

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Caught by a Computer


As I sat in his office, sweat dripped off my long brown bangs onto my light blue collared button-down shirt. It was not because I was nervous, it was because it was the end of April and unseasonably warm in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was there, in my professor’s office, in my mind, because he wanted to get caught up with me about my future plans after graduation. He was curious about my plans for the summer, plans for my fiancé and I, and plans for my career as a high school teacher at the public school in my hometown, Mclean, Virginia. I was alone in his office, waiting for Dr. Bloomfield to show up to his office for our casual meeting scheduled for 3:30 that afternoon. The heat was becoming unbearable. The University of Virginia’s century old buildings on the quad were not air conditioned, and I was beginning to wish that I had paid the extra tuition to have them installed. I sat in his small dimly lit office, becoming impatient because it was nearing four o’clock. I began to notice the pictures that cluttered Dr. Bloomfield’s overrun office. Pictures of his wife, his twin daughters, who appeared to be roughly the same age as I, and his younger son, in his early teen years, sat atop stacks of periodicals and yet to be graded finals. I noticed my final research paper on the top of the stack. This seemed odd; however I guessed he only wanted to discuss it while we met, as foreclosure to the popular Intro. To Physics class for upperclassmen of his that I was enrolled in, as it was our final assignment. I was distracted once again by the array of pictures throughout his undeservedly small office. Among these were more pictures of his boat, his bay house on the Chesapeake Bay, and his chocolate lab Mocha, whom I was familiar with at this point due to several stories he shared in class. Dr. Bloomfield was a family man whom I had gained great respect for over the years. My aspirations for what I wanted my life to turn out like very closely replicated his own life. Sitting alone in his office gave me time to think about what I wanted to become, who I wanted to marry, how many kids I wanted to have and so on.

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It became frighteningly clear to me, all of a sudden, that my rowdy college days were over. I was out on my own. My father was no longer around to pay the tuition or the insurance for my semester-old BMW 328i.

As these thoughts flooded my brain, I heard the familiar voice break though saying, “Hey Paul, sorry I’m late.” Shrugging it off, I accepted his apology and segued into chit chat about his bay house, a place I had been to numerous times before, as our was minutes away via the waterway. He did not seem so enthused as I. Cutting me off, he interrupted, “Paul, I have some concerns about you and your future that I feel we should discuss.” Curious and alarmed, I assumed he meant my scattered attendance to class, or my half-hearted participation in class. I piped up, “Sir, the class is all but over, I’ve earned a C in your class; can we ignore my recent poor attendance?”

Showing uncertainty with the look on his face about how to address me, he paused. At this point I realized that what we were about to delve into was a bit deeper than sparse attendance of lack of interest in the class curriculum. All of a sudden, my heart sank. I realized why my research paper was on top of his stack. I had not written the majority of that paper on my own. I only needed to receive a passing grade on the paper in order to receive a C in the class, so I copied the majority of it off of an online compilation of previous students’ work. Dr. Bloomfield had no proof that I had plagiarized my work, and I was going to play dumb until proven guilty. I would like to say I had nothing to lose, however if I failed this essay, I would not pass his class, and consequently, not graduate. Much worse, if I was accused of cheating, I would fall victim of U.Va’s strict one-strike policy, be expelled from the university, and be denied of my diploma. The sweat from my brow began to flow faster, and at this moment I would have given my right leg to be on the cruise through the Virgin Islands, planned for the week after next, celebrating my graduation as Secondary Education major. Somehow I felt my plans changing before my eyes.

“Paul.” Dr. Bloomfield started, and paused again. “I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but I have been testing a newly developed computer program with the intention of catching students in the act of plagiarism.” My heart sank through the floor. Continuing, Dr. Bloomfield went on to explain the details and workings behind his program. “I scan all my students’ papers through my computer, and compile them with a little over 2000 databases. Library databases, search engine databases, and previous students’ work are all included. Any submitted work that shows up phrases or paragraphs containing six or more consecutive words that match a source from my compilation triggers a red flag, and is scrutinized for plagiarism.” I began to realize that at this point it was impossible to call a bluff.

“The good news is,” Dr. Bloomfield said, “is that out of the 130 papers suspect of plagiarism, all but twenty-five of them were coincidental phrases that appeared in other papers, not worthy of point deduction. The bad news is, however, that still ten contained blatant plagiarism, worthy of expulsion under our one-strike policy, and currently await trial. Even worse news…” and I knew what was coming, not even listening at this point, “…is that your research paper is one of the worst, most obvious, papers submitted.”

Not knowing how to react, I decided not to. All my previous thoughts about my future life, my family, my job, and my aspirations all of a sudden came crashing down in front of me as though I had willingly destroyed them myself. He could have been talking still, I didn’t notice if he had. I was alone with my thoughts, thinking about what my father would say, a University of Virginia alumnus himself. What would my mother say? What would my grandparents say? Cheeks the color of the red vest that Dr. Bloomfield wore every day to class, I was deeply ashamed of how I had so blatantly let down my parents, and insulted the virtues and integrity they so proudly had instilled in me. I couldn’t face them. It was at this point I broke down in tears. I was a 23 year old man, crying, in an office in front of a professor whom I had so great a respect for. Denying the claims at this point was out of the question, and I could never work up the nerve to present a litigation case against the professor that I had grown to know and love. I gathered myself together and lay my hands at the mercy of my professor.

“Judging by your reaction,” Dr. Bloomfield quietly stated, “I take it that you admit to the fact that you have plagiarized; a wise move.” I nodded, head and eyes lowered. “I have still have a great deal of respect for you as a student, based on previous work and the friendship we have created during our shared years at this university. However, I am left with no choice but to submit you and your paper to the Honor Committee, at which point you and your paper will be further scrutinized and a verdict will be decided.” I was aware of the school policy, and the professor knew that, so he decided to wait for a more appropriate time to deal with that subject.

Gathering myself to leave his office and face my parents, thinking that nothing else needed saying at this point, I felt a gentle hand placed upon my shoulder. “Paul,” he said, dropping his professor role, “This is not the end of the world.” The last thing I wanted to hear was his consolation. I was in no state to talk, as I knew my voice would crack because of the lump in my throat. I sat back down though, to hear what he had to say. “Paul,” he continued, “you’re a well-know, respected student. I have seen the way you conduct yourself in and out of the classroom. I happen to hold a fairly significant say in what goes on around here, and am willing to pull in your favor during your trial. I cannot guarantee anything, but here’s what I will suggest.” For the first time since my paper was brought to my attention, I made eye contact with my professor.

“I am willing to suggest that you redo the research paper on a topic of my choosing, and submit it to myself. If it is satisfactory, and original, I will give you a passing grade in my class. This will allow you to receive your diploma. However, in order to please the Honor Committee, I am going to have to suggest that you do not walk with your graduating class, and are not admitted to U.Va’s grad school in the fall. All of this, keep in mind, is based on the fact that I have a certain amount of trust in you and do not want to see the past four years of your college education go to waste.” Continuing, he made a bit of a disclaimer. “Like I said, I cannot guarantee that the committee will give any less harsh of a verdict than immediate expulsion and denial of your diploma. All appeals ever presented before a court have been denied and the ruling of the university was upheld. Thomas Hall is also known for his strict and appropriate verdicts. However, a suggestion in one’s defense such as this has never been made before, and a case such as this, dealing with detection via a computer program, has never face the judicial committee before. You have nothing to lose in trying.”

Skeptical, I gathered myself a second time and realized that I owed whatever scraps were left of my college career to this professor who sat across from me and his mercy. Not knowing how to start, I tried apologizing. “Sir,” I quietly began, “it kills me that I have let you down like I…” Cutting me off with a firm, but understanding tone, he replied, “I know, Paul, I know. It’ll be ok.” With an exasperated yet grateful nod, I walked out of his office.

The walk back to my apartment was seemingly the longest walk I have ever made in my life. I don’t know if anyone was relaxing on the quad at that moment. I don’t know if I passed anyone I knew. For all I know it could have been raining outside. I was unconscious to the world surrounding me. Engulfed in my thoughts, I regretted the very day I copied and pasted the internet site I had found so easily. It seemed almost too easy, almost too good to be true. I would have taken it all back in a heartbeat and spent the grueling hours writing and editing my own, original work. I would have been proud of the grade I had earned. My parents would have been proud of their graduating senior. Instead, I was being faced with their disappointment because I was lazy and simply thought that I wouldn’t get caught. If only I could finish what I started with pride.

"My generation used printed materials that we understood were sanctioned, authored and owned. Now, text is fluid. It's downloadable, copyable, clipable and insertable, and a lot of it has no attribution." –Chris Anson, Professor at North Carolina State University

I decided to conduct research on the topic of plagiarism and the recent movement to catch students through technological programs that detect repeated work. Plagiarism, by definition, is presenting someone else’s ideas or work as your own, without attribution. This was a very interesting and relevant topic to me because I write papers frequently for school and wanted to find out more about the rules, policies, and consequences regarding plagiarism. Also, all of us who have ever cheated on anything and you know who you are, have always feared the consequences, yet have never truly understood what they are. This was my opportunity to lay out the harshness of the typical university and explain the legalities that ensue getting caught blatantly copying other people’s work. Plagiarism and cheating was also a topic that I had not read too much about in the past, and was eager to learn more about.

After researching, I wrote a story based on what I learned and what I thought would take place once a student was suspect and caught plagiarizing. The encounter between Paul and Dr. Bloomfield replicates similar situations that took place at U.Va in the past. Dr. Bloomfield, teaching an Introduction to Physics, was the actual professor who began the whole trend, and Thomas Hall is currently the head of the Honor Committee. I attempted to imitate the feelings that a student of Paul’s age would be feeling at that time in his life, along with the feelings he would be living through once charged with plagiarism. Often, a strong bond is made between professors and students, and a respect is built that will not usually be crushed by a single incident. I tried to portray a bit of understanding and mercy on the part of Dr. Bloomfield, as I feel he would have done with a student who he has gotten to know fairly well over the years. The professor had the student’s best interest in mind and offered a solution that would allow the student to redeem himself, but learn a lesson during the process. The story cuts of before the reader finds out what actually happens to Paul, with the intention of making the reader question what he or she would do in the shoes of Dr. Bloomfield and Dr. Hall. Hopefully we can all empathize with Paul, as we were all once, or currently are, student’s at a university.

In order to add ethos, or credibility, to my story, I most importantly needed to research what exactly constitutes plagiarism and what usually trips up the average student. How the program works and what universities policies are once students get caught were important as well, as they take center stage in my story. I attempted to learn just how drastic of a problem plagiarism actually is, and find out why students feel so immortal when cheating. Finally, I wanted to learn more about the legal entanglements involving plagiarism, and read up on individual cases from specific universities. The following was found in my research.

According to Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity, plagiarism is a rising problem. They continue to claim that 41% of students say they have copied or plagiarized work in the past, a noticeable 10% increase over the past four years. (http://web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/242/74/35120003w2/purl=rc1_EAIM_0_A97173172&dyn=4!xrn_6_0_A97173172?sw_aep=viva_jmu) Why you might ask? Gretchen Pearson of LeMoyne College says it is because students who get away with plagiarizing tell others about their success whereas those who are caught tend to keep to themselves out of embarrassment. This creates the illusion that cheating is easy to get away with, she explains. (http://www.lemoyne.edu/library/plagiarism.htm)

Adding to this illusion, Pearson continues, are websites that students feel safe using, with the belief that it is impossible for a professor to notice copied work from such sites. Popular sites of this nature include Realpapers.com, Topicpapers.com, and Literaturepapers.com. According to Pearson, simple search in any internet search engine will turn up thousands of websites directed towards aiding students in cheating.

Pearson continues to explain in here article that the most common types of plagiarism that students commit are blatant copying, changing words around without proper attribution, quoting too closely, using someone else’s paper, particularly other student’s, and believing information to be common knowledge. Common knowledge is defined as facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people. What catches people, says Pearson, is the fine line between fact and interpretations. Interpretations require proper citation. Attorney at Law, Ronald Stradler states that self-plagiarism is also an extremely common infraction of plagiarism laws. Stradler continues, explaining that many students use papers, written by themselves, for more than one class without the awareness of the teacher or professor. (http://www.rbs2.com/plag.htm)

Stradler also brought several interesting legal issues to my attention while researching for this assignment. First of all, the Double Jeopardy clause (5th Amendment), as explained by Stradler, is usually dismissed in court meaning that a student may be faced with several different charges for a single infraction. These may include expulsion from a university, a lawsuit in a civil court by the owner of the copyright, and trial in a criminal court on charges of fraud. The second legal issue, explained by Stradler on his law firm’s website, is how the threat of litigation against those reporting cases of plagiarism often acts as a fairly strong deterrent, meaning that the fear of a lawsuit due to false accusations often discourages professors and fellow students from reporting cases of plagiarism. (http://www.rbs2.com/plag.htm)

The University of Virginia, according to writers for the Black Issues in Higher Learning periodical, was the pioneer of this technology based cheater-catcher system and has since seen a dramatic decline in works containing plagiarism. Dr. Bloomfield, a U.Va professor, was the first professor to implement such a program, according to the Washington Post. Since then, numerous other schools and professors have developed similar programs, often at the request of students who are doing their own work and are receiving lower grades than students who are believed to be copying other’s work. Similar programs include Turnitin.com, an internet based program used by thousands of high schools, colleges, and universities worldwide. Turnitin.com marks questionable work, as well as lists the corresponding websites that were seemingly copied from. Community College Week writers mentioned the possibility that Iowa professors, the designers of this particular program are planning on implementing a $12,000 a year subscription fee. (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_plagiar.html) Similar programs for private use can be bought online, such as the Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program. Claiming to be foolproof, according to its designers, this program can be bought as uploadable software for $250.00. (http://www.plagiarism.com/screen.id.htm)

Currently, U.Va, as described by the Washington Post, has a zero tolerance policy for those caught cheating, meaning those students will have no opportunity to challenge their case, and will be immediately expelled from the university. Student’s who have already been expelled and denied their diplomas have been covered by large news corporations such as CNN and the Daily Telegraph in England. Obviously this is a major concern to upstanding universities such as U.Va. Despite harsh punishment, students still continue to plagiarize, as stated previously by Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity. Plagiarism in High School is often dealt with, according to attorney Ronald Stradler, by informing potential colleges of the infringement.

In conclusion, I hope to have explained plagiarism in a way that can be easily understood and applied. For useful tips, guidelines, and clarifications for avoiding plagiarism, please visit these helpful websites:

• http://www.lemoyne.edu/library/plagiarism.htm
• http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/wts/plagiarism.html
• http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_plagiar.html




Works Cited:


“An In-Depth Look”. Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program. http://www.plagiarism.com/screen.id.htm April 6, 2003

“Avoiding Plagiarism”. Owl Online Writing lab. June 2, 1998. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_plagiar.html April 6, 2003

“Judge Throws out Plagiarism Case”. Africa News Service. Feb. 13, 2003. Carrier Library Infotrac. April 6, 2003. http://web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/242/74/35120003w2/purl=rc1_EAIM_0_A97544840&dyn=4!xrn_2_0_A97544840?sw_aep=viva_jmu

“Online Tools Help universities, colleges fight plagiarism”. Community College Week. Jan. 20, 2003. Carrier Library Infotrac. April 6, 2003. http://web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/242/74/35120003w2/purl=rc1_EAIM_0_A97173172&dyn=4!xrn_6_0_A97173172?sw_aep=viva_jmu

Pearson, Gretchen. "Plagiarism." Electronic Plagiarism Seminar. Noreen Reale Falcone Library, Le Moyne College, 2002. http://www.lemoyne.edu/library/plagiarism.htm. April 6, 2003

“Plagiarism: What it is how to recognize it and avoid it”. Writing Tutorial Services http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/wts/plagiarism.html April 6, 2002
Standler, Ronald B. “Plagiarism in Colleges In USA”. 2000. http://www.rbs2.com/plag.htm April 6, 2003

“UVA Honor Committee Drops 25 Plagiarism Case”. Black Issues in Higher Education. Sept. 13, 2001. Carrier Library Infotrac. April 6, 2003
http://web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/242/74/35120003w2/purl=rc2_EAIM_1_plagiarism,+UVA&dyn=sig!1?sw_aep=viva_jmu.
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