Fighting Back Against Students Who Cheat In College

August 26th, 2010

Fighting University Cheating: Reconsider the Moral Crusade ; Guest blogger Angelita Williams

Very recently, the New York Times ran a series of op-ed pieces discussing plagiarism in institutions of higher learning. The articles’ author, Stanley Fish, suggested constructing the problem of cheating as an issue that is more about violating professional codes of conduct, rather than universal or philosophical moral laws. After his first article, Plagiarism is Not a Big Moral Deal, Fish wrote a follow-up piece in response to the legions of comments he received which accused him of being lax on the issue of plagiarism.

Quite the contrary, Fish’s argument, I believe, proffers a much more pragmatic approach to plagiarism that could stem the rising tide of cheating among students. What Fish is basically saying is that if we frame plagiarism as defeating the whole point of higher education–learning–then students may actually think twice about cheating.

Fish’s argument may be a better way of appealing to Generation Y simply because it becomes more and more difficult to see plagiarism as an absolutist, black-and-white moral issue when the Internet traffics in appropriating others’ work constantly.

Case in point–a recently published book by essayist David Shields entitled “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto” explains how art in the twenty-first century is becoming increasingly more of a communal effort that leverages the hyper-connectedness of the Internet. In an article in the Huffington Post, Shields described what his intentions were with his book: “I want to make manifest what artists have done from the beginning of time–feed off one another’s work and, in so doing, remake it, refashion it, fashion something new.” Upon the book’s publication, many were scandalized by the idea of thinking about plagiarism with such a cavalier attitude.

But Shields does note, in the same article, “The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship…” Shields’ caveat loops back to Fish’s entire point–that plagiarism in the academy cannot be discussed in terms of right or wrong since academic writing and standards aren’t even concerned with these bigger philosophical questions in the first place. Academics are purely concerned with the acquisition of knowledge. In this realm, plagiarism isn’t wrong; it simply undoes the academy’s aim.

If professors and administrators were to explain to students that plagiarism and cheating are unacceptable within institutions of higher education because it impedes the institution’s, and therefore the student’s,  goals, then students will perhaps be able to understand that plagiarism isn’t just bad, it’s actually bad for them. For a generation that supposedly focuses more on “Me”, this line of argumentation may be more pragmatic and effective.


This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online college courses.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7