Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cheater, Cheater, Pants on Fire!: Plagiarism Rears Its Ugly Head

A dean from a university contacted me via email because a student borrowed liberally from the writings of at least three of my entries and submitted the results as her own original work.  I'm unsure as to what my reaction should be. On one hand, someone stole from me! On the other hand, someone considered something I wrote to be worthy of plagiarism! I'm simultaneously both angered and honored, but not very grievously angered, as I have too many real problems in my own life to devote much energy to this non-issue that really doesn't concern me to a very great degree.

The dean who contacted me requested that I submit phone records, bank records,  and passwords for email accounts and social media accounts so that he can determine that I am not actively involved in aiding and abetting students in plagiarism. My guess is that he or someone else suspects that I'm selling compositions or at least wishes to rule out the possibility that I am doing so. I understand why someone would suspect this or desire to rule out the possibility or likelihood. On the other hand, if I intended to operate such a business and expected to make any sort of profit by doing so (And why would I operate such an enterprise if I did not expect to make a profit?), one of the stupider things I could ever do would be to post on my blog the compositions I had sold.  

I have mixed feelings about the degree to which I desire to assist this administrator of this educational institution in his investigation of plagiarism, which now includes an investigation of me. First and foremost, I have nothing whatsoever to hide.  Part of me says that, because I have nothing to hide, it makes perfect sense to hand over everything that is requested. Then again, perhaps I should consider the words of Edward Snowden of Wikileaks infamy, who either said or wrote, "Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."  

The bottom line for me, I suppose, is that I made it through my undergraduate studies without resorting to plagiarism, and I'm not especially appreciative of anyone else taking shortcuts to the fulfillment of a degree by using my work. Had someone in some way gained access to any of the work I produced by the sweat of my brow for university or even high school credit, I would be outraged.(This did happen to me once, and I was more than outraged.) That someone was either lazy enough or desperate enough to lift writing off this silly blog, antithetically, is more a source of amusement to me than of outrage. Really, I want to ask the person who borrowed my work, with everything now available on the Internet, you couldn't find anything better than this to steal? Moreover, I truly hope that the person who borrowed my work took the time and trouble to edit for typographical errors, as the entries of this blog are, more often than not, written between the hours of midnight and four o'clock a.m., and, also more often than not, I don't return to the site to fix my typos.

Note: Some universities come down very heavily against the idea of re-using one's own work, sometimes going so far as to refer to the practice as "plagiarism." While an institution has every right to create and enforce policies against the re-use of one-own work, the re-use of one's own work does not constitute plagiarism, and saying it does will not make it so. Institutions do not have the privilege of re-inventing the definition of plagiarism.

I have two legal sources I have relied upon in the past. At some point I'll consult at least one of my attorney friends for advice as to what are my rights and responsibilities in this matter. My instincts tell me that no harm would be done in allowing the administrator to have my password to my blogspot site. Nothing here, whether published yet or not, is either private or personal. I'm more reluctant to hand over email and social media passwords, and more reluctant still to turn over banking information. As far as I know, the administrator with whom I have corresponded has no security clearance. I have no reason to trust him. Suppose I give him the information he has requested, and suppose I am the victim of identity theft five weeks later.  Who is going to help me remedy the damage done? Probably no one. 

Furthermore, giving the university dean my online information would clear me of nothing. All he could conclude after reviewing it would be that nothing incriminating had been found in the accounts I had given him. He would have no way of knowing if I had given him an only  partial listing of my accounts and sites. That conclusion could be reached only after reviewing any and all computers I had used in whatever time period is being investigated. I'm not about to turn over my personal computer or my cell phone to this guy. My medical school is even less apt to grant the man or the university he represents access to their devices.

If, after hearing from the university in question, the F.B.I. were to choose to involve itself in this matter, I would cooperate fully. It would be massively inconvenient for me, but I would suck up the inconvenience in the interest of the common good. I probably wouldn't even ask for warrants, though my educational institution would require them before granting access to any of its devices I might have used. I would not exactly relish the invasion of my privacy, mainly because I would have to change all my passwords once the investigation were concluded, but I would certainly survive it.

I don't know what specific entries were purloined. I hope to have that information at some point just for the purposes of my own entertainment and to satisfy my own curiosity.

To any potential plagiarists who may be reading: If you, for some reason, have spent the last several years in a cave and don't already know this,  when your professor asks you to submit your work to or whatever anti-plagiarism site or program used, it will detect any unlikely similarities between your work and this blog or almost anything else you may have located on the Internet. You have been forewarned. If you insist upon proceeding in your efforts to use work that is not your own, please plagiarize from someone else other than I. It's not so much that I am especially possessive of anything I have written here, because it's not worthy of any particular possessiveness,  but I don't need the inconvenience of having to deal with your school's dean or whomever else they sic on me. 


  1. Um, yeah, NO. No they can not have your bank info, passwords, or anything else. You do not know the dean, it isn't your university, and you have no responsibility. Unsolicited advice: DO NOT GIVE PERSONAL INFORMATION TO ANYONE YOU DON'T KNOW. If the dean of the school has cause to have you investigated, a third party will audit your records. Some random administrator from a school that you don't attend has no business in your affairs. Wish them well, then no more contact. Just my two cents.

    1. Thank you. I told his that. He asked if he could forward several essays so that I could look for similarities to my writing. I told him I would not open files from someone I do not know.

  2. I'm with Heather. Fuck that guy.

    1. I checked his info against the college's web site, and the phone number matches, as does the email. He's probably legit, but that's neither here nor there. He's not entitled to any info from me. Even if I were selling papers it wouldn't be his problem. He needs to turn it over to the authorities, of which he is not one. His problem is to deal with students caught cheating at his university or college or whatever it is. He's acting like he thinks he's MacGuyver or Deep Throat.

  3. What the hell has ever been on your blog that would be plagiarized?? And for what possible reason?
    Way back when I was in college (shortly after the invention of the wheel) we had to sign a pledge at the end of every exam and most quizzes that specifically stated that we did not give or receive assistance. That wouldn't actually stop anyone, but it would at least impart a severe guilt trip if we did.
    The Dean needs to confront the thief before anything comes your way and I am with Snowden on the privacy thing.

    1. I assume some fool was too stupid, lazy, or both, to come up with his or her own bonehead English essays. I'm also guessing the prof was too lazy to assign topics specific enough that grabbing something random off the Internet would result in a failing grade on grounds of not having been written to the topic, never mind where it came from.