Campus copycat

With the increasing reliance of students on the internet, Bridget Fitzsimons explores the effects of plagiarism in UCD.Plagiarism. It’s almost a dirty word on the UCD campus. We’re all warned about the dangers and pitfalls of the ‘p’ word. Our first week of lectures and tutorials are brimmed full of cautionary warnings about the dire consequences of plagiarism and even first year students should be aware that it’s completely frowned upon.As a place of learning, UCD understandably doesn’t want its students stealing instead of studying. We’ve all heard stories of people being accused and people who seem to get away with it, but how is UCD really dealing with the issue of plagiarism?With the advent of the internet came many more opportunities for students to plagiarise. It has opened a wealth of information for us, both for good uses and bad. But with this mine of information for people to copy from comes a range of resources for lecturers and tutors to detect plagiarised work. Software is now readily available, and with a quick scan, an essay can be deemed to be original or plagiarised.For both staff and students, the plagiarism discipline policy can be an infuriating one to deal with. It seems as if it can only really be implemented on a basic level, making things difficult for staff who wish to properly deal with serious incidences of genuine plagiarism. A member of academic staff feels that UCD does not take plagiarism seriously enough, saying that the university “doesn’t have the moral and academic conviction to make a stand and to see it through and send a signal that will make students realise that they’re serious about it.”Some academics feel that UCD is far more concerned about the prospect of a legal battle than the defence of academic standards and integrity. It seems as if the task of dealing with this contentious issue does not lie with the university but with each individual School. While theoretically students who genuinely plagiarise should be brought in front of the Disciplinary Committee, a number of academics feel this rarely happens.
“UCD doesn’t have the moral and academic conviction to make a stand and to see it through"
When asked, one staff member stated that, “our experience has been that there is no point in taking them any further because when they were brought for Disciplinary Action or the Registrar, basically they did nothing. We’ve given up on pursuing it, we simply now fail a student.” Schools are implementing their own rules in an absence of help from the university.What happens on the other side, when a student is accused of plagiarism? While academics may think that the UCD plagiarism discipline system is lax, some students have fallen foul to it accidentally. A student who was downgraded after accidentally forgetting to cite a reference from their essay commented that, “It’s policed but it’s policed probably too well and I don’t understand 100 per cent why they do it.”The main worry for this student was the permanency of the accusation, which will haunt them in their postgraduate career. The student stated, “I still don’t know if it’s on my record. If you’re convicted, even if it doesn’t go to Appeals Board or anything like that, you really should be told if it’s noted because I have no idea.”While the module convenor in question was “civil” to the student, the student involved said that they could not help but feel frustrated by what they described as a “faux-pas” on their part by forgetting to cite. Rules of citation and reference are key knowledge for any student and good awareness of these rules could have, in some cases, saved an A essay from being downgraded to a D+.With the availability of plagiarism detection software and the fact that tutors and lecturers usually know texts relating to their field inside out, is it really worth plagiarising? The work you do to write an essay that won’t be detected as plagiarised can just as easily be channelled into reading your core texts, going to the library for secondary texts and just using your imagination in writing a competent essay of your own.A grade achieved on merit usually feels a lot better than one that’s been cheated into, especially if that cheated mark ends up being downgraded. It can therefore be seen that plagiarism really just is not worth it, considering the effort needed to achieve it and the fact that it ultimately cheapens the degree that you came to university to get in the first place, as well as cheating people in your class out of a fair marking system.