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Reading To My Students

We always try to have someone in the office with us when we do it, since an unverifiable conversation could lead to nasty accusations. This usually isn’t a problem, and I don’t expect it will be for me. With 40 teachers on one floor, there’s always someone around. As soon as I realize what’s going on, I send the them an email requesting, sternly, that they meet me in my office to discuss an essay they’ve turned in. Sometimes it’s difficult to coordinate, and this can be problematic since the University requires that there be a face-to-face meeting. Adding to this are a series of deadlines, since this all usually happens at the end of the semester.

Once they’re in my office, the conversation (and I have had many at this point) usually goes something like this:

“Do you have any idea why I’ve asked you here?”

Generally, the answer is no. I tend to exhale quietly at this point, since now the course is set, and I can switch to auto-pilot. At this point, I don’t have to think about the words that come out of my mouth, I’ve said them too many times. I don’t have to worry about being compassionate. I don’t have to empathize or understand.

I gave them what might appear to be a choice between confession (and perhaps receiving a reduced sentence) and maintaining the deception (and perhaps getting off). But this isn’t a real choice. The penalty is determined before they even walk in the door. It’s determined before I send them an email requesting a meeting. It’s determined before they even set foot in my classroom on day one. It’s in my syllabus. It was in my syllabus last semester, and the one before. It’s been in my syllabus for years.

And even if it weren’t, the university policy clearly establishes what I am allowed to do in this situation. Auto-pilot kicks in, even though my heart is pounding so hard that I worry it is making my shirt move. This is not unlike the way my hands shake on the first day of class every semester, even though I’ve been teaching for 7 years. My tone hardens, and other than the next question I ask, which isn’t really a question, I speak in simple, declarative sentences.

I’ve had two stacks of paper, face down, sitting in front of me this entire time. One of them is the essay the student has turned in.

“I was wondering if you could explain to me why [I pull out the student’s essay] these passages in your essay that I’ve highlighted…”

At this point, they begin to realize what’s going on. I turn over the second stack of papers.

“…are identical to the highlighted passages from this website I found?”

Other than confession, there’s no answer to this question. Most of the time they confess. They kick themselves. They mutter that this was the stupidest thing they’ve ever done. They don’t know why they’ve done it.

What they don’t realize is that it doesn’t matter.

The next words out of my mouth I have said, in precisely this way, somewhere around 6 times. I’ve said them so many times I don’t even count them anymore.

“I want to inform you that I am charging you with academic dishonesty under university policy 2-0822. Section 1.02 defines this as….” I read it to them: “Academic dishonesty is behavior in which a deliberately fraudulent misrepresentation is employed in an attempt to gain undeserved intellectual credit, either for oneself or for another.”

I continue. “Specifically, ” I say, “I am charging you with plagiarism, which is defined as…” I read to them again.

As I write this, I am struck by the irony of the situation. I read to my students a great deal in my classes, and they consistently tell me that they “understand better” when I read passages to them as I make my points. I am reading to them now for the same reasons. I’m making a point, and I want there to be no room for misinterpretation.

And then it comes.

“As I have explained in my syllabus, my policy on plagiarism is clear. You will receive an F in the course. You will receive a letter from me explaining all of this in no less than 10 days. Copies of this letter will be sent to my director, my department head, your department head, the office of student conduct, and your advisor. You have the right to appeal this decision.”

The conversation is over at this point, and I look them squarely in the eye and say “That’s all.”

But usually, it’s not over. They don’t leave when they should. I know what they’re thinking. They think this is all a very serious bluff. They think that if they sit there, dumbfounded, navel-gazing and silent, I’ll grant them mercy.

But there’s no mercy this time. I almost always have to repeat myself:

“That’s it.”

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Written by srogers

July 2, 2011 at 2:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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