Letters to the Editor

In Our Own Words

At the beginning of every year, hundreds of students electronically sign a Plagiarism Primer on PAnet designed to explain the nature and dangers of plagiarism. Some of these students go on to commit plagiarism later in the year. A few of these cases are purposeful plagiarism, where a student copies word-for-word part of an existing essay. Many of these cases, however, are examples of accidental plagiarism. A student could receive help from their parents or a friend and not credit their work. Or perhaps they don’t credit a source thinking it is general knowledge. How can such accidental cases of plagiarism be prevented? Why do so many students feel that help from their parents is different than help from an internet essay site or SparkNotes? One issue is that departments have different standards of acceptable collaboration. In math class, students often ask each other for help or are even required to collaborate on a major assignment. In some English classes, on the other hand, students are expected to work on their papers in isolation, without any help or influence. Another issue is that students often fail to cite their parents or friends simply because they forgot they were not allowed to get help. Finally, some parents are eager to help their sons and daughters, but in doing so, cross the boundary of permitted assistance. There are several things that the administration could do to educate parents and students on plagiarism. A potential approach could be to start more conversation of what constitutes plagiarism during, perhaps, Junior Orientation at the beginning of the year. Oftentimes, new students come from academic backgrounds that do not emphasize the same academic values that our institution does. By focusing on the importance of academic responsibility and making clear exactly what does or does not cross the line, we could prevent much unnecessary anguish. In the end, the disciplinary response to plagiarism is fun for neither the administrators who must delegate it nor the students who must face it. Andover must make an effort to educate parents about the potential consequences of helping with their child’s work. Whether this takes the form of a letter or a post on the Parent Portal (the parent analog of PAnet), something must be done to educate parents. However, the students are the ones that must carry a burden of the initiative. As Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, said, “You are not allowed to forget. You can’t be willfully ignorant.” We must understand one very simple concept: you are expected to do your own work, without outside help. You came to Andover to be independent, and it is expected of you to form and write your own thoughts, not those of your parents or peers. The intricacies of citations and bibliographies are often hard to understand. Sometimes, it’s hard to differentiate between something that is general knowledge and something that is unique to one author’s perspective. In such cases, the best thing to do is listen to Marc Koolen, Instructor in Biology, who said “The safest thing to do is ask or cite it. Why risk it?” We are an academic institution. Part of our motto is “goodness without knowledge is weak.” Because of this academic emphasis, we have such high standards for values like academic honesty. That is why the consequences for violations like plagiarism are so strong, on par with the discipline delegated to social infractions like drinking or cruising. According to the Blue Book, you only get two shots for plagiarism. First time, probation. Second time, dismissal. Remember, personal integrity is more important than any grade. This editorial represents the views of Editorial Board CXXXIII.