Plagiarism at the University

There’s an interesting discussion over at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Making Light regarding the University of Kent student dismissed for plagiarism. The comments from Teresa’s regular readers, including those in the UK, are especially good.

My university has recently subscribed to Turnitin, a database and searching service that compares instructor-submitted files of student papers to those in its database, and to data on the web, in an attempt to identify plagiarism. The instructor then receives an annotated color-coded version of the paper, that includes citations to “sources” from the database, or the web, and an indication of the percentage of the paper that “source” equals.

The school doesn’t require faculty to use the service, and they’ve done a good job of integrating TurnItIn into official web sites, (well, integrating TurnItIn into the site; the pedagogical and philosophical integration is missing) but I really loathe the idea and the service. I think Turnitin is a potential violation of student rights, and I think it could cause more problems than it eases.

UPDATE: 06/06/2004 10:59 AM: Teresa has posted an additional reflection “Not the case for the Defense” regarding her suggestion that Mr. Gunn repeat his entire university program. I actually think her suggestion has some merit. If, in fact, it is true that he plagiarized throughout his three years, then the university failed part of its mission in not catching and responding appropriately. Mr. Gunn’s transcript would indicate that he took six years to earn a three year degree, and the university will doubtlessly be paying much more attention to the quality of his work. The argument that Mr. Gunn would somehow “displace” a more deserving student doesn’t really seem realistic to me. Admit however many new students the univeristy would ordinarily admit. You aren’t so much readmitting Mr. Gunn as allowing him to repeat his coursework, legitimately.