Plagarism at St. John’s

Widespread concern over plagiarism in St. John’s College has drawn the attention of the Faculty Council. Out of 35 faculty members surveyed by the General Committee, 34 were supportive of plans to begin drafting an official, college-wide policy on plagiarism in the hopes of reducing instances of academic dishonesty and formalizing procedures for dealing with it.

“The question of ownership of words is a very complicated concept,” Granville Ganter, assistant professor of English and member of the General Committee, said. “Part of the job of the University is to teach students what the limits of that ownership are. I throw this gauntlet to any faculty member who thinks he can tell what is and isn’t plagiarism: the more you think about it, and the more you are given different examples from different disciplines, the more you start to realize, ‘hey, this isn’t obvious.'”

The statement under development is expected to clarify the various standards of plagiarism and serve as a guide for students unfamiliar with the requirements of citation for a particular discipline. The statement also deals with the more frustrating issue of students purchasing papers for the express purpose of plagiarism.

“This has the faculty hopping mad,” Ganter said. “They are looking to convict and hang a couple of the more gross offenders from the yardarms as a symbol.”

“We have had rashes over the past two years now,” he continued. “Several students have been brought up and successfully convicted of buying papers, largely because several students in the same class end up buying the same paper from the same student or from the same source of the Internet.”

The business of academic dishonesty can be lucrative. One student, who did not wish to have his name revealed, reported receiving payments of almost one hundred dollars for a single assignment. “I didn’t feel too bad about it. I mean, hey, a hundred dollars. That buys a lot of beer. I’m doing another one right now.” His client, who was paying twenty dollars for the service, also had few qualms. “I never feel bad about it,” he said. “Well, only when I fail.”

Both students saw the practice as completely legitimate. “I’m here because society says I need a piece of paper to get a decent job,” the buyer said. “If I didn’t need that, I wouldn’t be here, but once I get it, it doesn’t matter.” Despite this, he still said that he was getting an education. “I still learn things, but I’ll learn them after

The business of academic dishonesty can be lucrative. One student, who did not wish to have his name revealed, reported receiving payments of almost $100 for a single assignment.

“I didn’t feel too bad about it. I mean, hey, a $100. That buys a lot of beer. I’m doing another one right now.” His client, who was paying twenty dollars for the service, also had few qualms. “I never feel bad about it,” he said. “Well, only when I fail.”

Both students saw the practice as completely legitimate. “I’m here because society says I need a piece of paper to get a decent job,” the buyer said. “If I didn’t need that, I wouldn’t be here, but once I get it, it doesn’t matter.” Despite this, he still said that he was getting an education. “I still learn things, but I’ll learn them after the work is over. I take time to learn it, but I’m a procrastinator. When it comes time to do an assignment, I’ll copy, but then I’ll read all the material so I don’t get behind.”

Even so, freelance students are not the only source of term papers. Internet sites like buypapers.com and findpapers.com offer thousands of pre-written papers on almost any subject. Local groups like A & B Term Paper Specialists hand out business cards on campus. All three organizations are quick to point out that their papers are intended only to be used as references, but the purchased papers often find their way to professors desks.

“If I assign a paper due on the last day of class, I can guarantee that 20 percent of my students would submit a [plagiarized] paper,” Ganter said.

Internet sites seem to be the most popular organizations for purchasing papers. According to A & B Term Paper Specialists, whose services extend throughout Queens, only 5 percent of their clients come from St. John’s. “If students are lazy enough to buy a paper on the last day, they are lazy enough to buy it from the cheapest, easiest source they can find, and you run right into the source if you’re looking for it,” Ganter said.

Although the Student Handbook lacks a concrete definition of plagiarism in the section on academic discipline procedures, it outlines stiff penalties for students convicted of academic dishonesty, which can be as severe as expulsion at the recommendation of the Provost.

There is talk of introducing an honor code at the University, but there are questions of how effective it would be. “I don’t think honor codes have done anything, in any school, anywhere, ever,” Ganter said. “I think they are a sham.”

Student Government, Inc. president Aion Hoque disagreed.

“If we do get an honor code and it deals with plagiarism, the University would be responsible for teaching the students what plagiarism is. An honor code would be effective because students would be unable to plead ignorance.”

Despite this, the student selling papers was unconcerned that the honor code would hurt business. “It’s candy coating. It makes things look good. We had an honor code in high school, and that didn’t stop me from writing papers for people. If drug testing in sports hasn’t stopped athletes from using steroids, how the heck is an honor code going to stop someone from cheating?”

The General Committee’s statement on plagiarism will be made available to individual faculty who wish to use it in their courses, and the committee hopes to have an official version by next fall.