In theory, committing plagiarism is supposed to be the surest way to get yourself expelled from college. (The second surest way would be joining Duke’s lacrosse team…) But believe it or not, plagiarism often goes unpunished or lightly reprimanded. Let’s have a look at some of the people who make this situation possible:
The Professor. If the professor discovers plagiarism, he will have to spend an extraordinary amount of time moving the case through the proper administrative channels. He knows full well that his time is much better spent on editing the 52nd annual Yearbook for Frog Intestinal Studies. Kermit’s wrath is far greater than what the professor can expect from the department chair, and if the plagiarists give him good course evaluations as a reward for being lenient, he might receive a small pay raise from the university.
The Department Chair. This person spends his time counting the number of students enrolled in his department’s courses. He has no motivation to push his professors to crack down on plagiarism because the students would no longer be able to enroll in his department’s courses… and that would cost his department money. To maintain the appearance of upholding academic standards, the department chair may ask the student to complete the plagiarized assignment “a second time.”
The Judicial Committee. If a case somehow makes its way to the administrative powers-that-be, there are still reasons why a plagiarist might come away unscathed. The committee members know that tuition dollars pay their salaries and keep their employer afloat, so why hurry to deprive themselves of a source of income? It is mandated that they punish the student now, perhaps with a reduced course grade and a notation of “plagiarist” on the transcript. That notation can often be removed after a year or two if the student figures out how not to get reported again. (The students who get caught often aren’t the brightest, so I wouldn’t hold out too much hope on that one…) Exception: students who receive scholarships quickly lose out on some payments.
Potential Employers after Graduation. Yeah… try telling students that they shouldn’t plagiarize because the corporate world looks down on cheating. Students might believe you if you tell them that businesses look down on getting caught cheating, but professors usually can’t afford to tell students the truth. And if students would want to work for an ethical business, they probably wouldn’t be considering plagiarism, right?
Classmates. If you report your classmate for plagiarism, his friends will sneak into your dorm room, strangle you with a tube sock, and burn the place down. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?