While thousands of fans awaited the season-opener against Purdue University, the College of Arts and Letters presented its annual Saturday Scholar Series at the Snite Museum’s Annenberg Auditorium, with Susan D. Blum’s lecture on “Plagiarism and College Culture.”
A professor in the department of anthropology, Blum began her lecture by asking the audience, “What is plagiarism?” When presented with choices, a few responded “a crime,” while others considered it a “moral lapse of judgment.” After piquing the audience’s interest in the subject, Blum explained how anthropology uses the concept of cultural relativism when studying their prime subjects: human beings. A concept distinct from moral relativism, cultural relativism permits scholars to understand how human beings regard their own behavior. Blum further articulated that we as individuals “are responsible for own behavior, but are embedded within different social structures.”
Blum then began to explain that between 30% and 80% of students have committed an act of plagiarism. The penalties, Blum highlighted, could range from either no admonishment to what she called the ‘academic death penalty,’ expulsion. She suggested, however, that plagiarism diverges into two categories- what she called a “huge gamut of behavior,” where ‘plagiarism 1’ can be an unintentional act and ‘plagiarism 2’ is deliberate. The latter involves the attempt to dodge rules. At its most extreme, ‘plagiarism 2’ includes buying a term paper or having an individual write the paper for them.
Blum then stated the rationale for the rules of attribution and citation. On economic grounds, Blum argued that authors make a living by writing books and treatises. These writers deserved credit for their ideas, and, by not citing them, the student was committing a crime.
Next, Blum discussed the moral element to plagiarism. Individuals can be creative and formulate significant original contributions to society; for example, Blum stated that William Woodsworth “was regarded as a genius, a unique individual” who crafted masterpieces in the poetic world. By failing to acknowledge the author, a student had a moral lapse of judgment.
In the legal realm, Blum explained that within the academic guild, a student is expected to indicate his sources and allow others to trace what influenced the writer’s train of thought. Without indicating this train of thought, the act of plagiarizing indicates ethical failure. The same applies to the pedagogical sphere: A student’s failure to provide citations essentially facilitates an educational waste.
Blum discussed further that if plagiarism is wrong, why do students plagiarize in the first place? Blum stated that on the textual side, students either plagiarized because they were ignorant or battled inconsistencies. But on the contextual side, students plagiarized because of distractions, lack of interest, time constraints, or desire to please the teacher.
Following through with her reasoning, Blum wondered what the real purpose of higher education is. Of course, getting a degree and fulfilling expectations were important, but intrinsically, Blum argued that higher education’s purpose is to attain skills and improve a student’s character.
As a result, Blum emphasized that plagiarism needed to be tackled both by the student and by the instructor. As teachers should “rethink the nature and goals of education,” implementing engaging assignments and reprimanding the acts of plagiarism, so students should “become curious, offer their own contribution to knowledge, and be an active participant” in the learning world. Society also has a role to play; it must emphasize learning, not just credentials, degrees, grades, and credits.
Adriana Garcia is a junior theology/sociology major who double-checked this article with Dr. Blum to make sure she was not going to be convicted of any form of plagiarism. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.