In a recent op-ed for Inside Higher Ed, Steven Mintz makes the case that professors, deans, and the public at large are looking at plagiarism all wrong. Instead of condemning the perpetrators, labeling them lazy or dumb, academics should instead look at the larger, systemic, structural reasons that so many students turn to this tactic.
Mintz's argument could be boiled down to a very simple question: Do students plagiarize because they want to, or because they have to?
A Culture of Cheating
One of Mintz's points is that there's a culture of cheating on many university campuses. So-called “homework help” website Chegg and its ilk are wildly popular; it's an open secret that college athletes are often provided with similar “help” writing papers. Fraternities, too, have been known to enable cheating. The fact of the matter is that plagiarism and other shortcuts—despite being serious acts of academic dishonesty that the school takes very seriously—have been normalized.
That's in part because of the extreme pressure to attend college and graduate, placed on them by not just parents but by the job market and society in general. In many fields, the bare minimum used to be a high-school diploma; now it's a Bachelor's degree.
The Factors That Can Lead to Cheating
Plagiarism and other types of cheating don't occur in a vacuum, nor are post-secondary institutions awash with unscrupulous, Machiavellian students. Instead, it's possible students unlearn their integrity once they arrive on campus and begin feeling the pressure. Plagiarism, at its heart, is a structural problem born of:
● The intense demands put on students to maintain a high grade-point average
● The stiff competition for scholarships, prizes, and spots in graduate school
● The fact that colleges enroll too many students who aren't properly educated in fundamental skills—critical thinking, academic writing, basic math
Added to the usual stressors of attending classes, maybe holding down a part-time job, and maintaining a social life, this pressure can lead to desperate measures on the part of a student with sub-par grades.
Academic Discipline Issues
In some ways, higher ed has only itself to blame. But critics of the system argue that it's pretty hypocritical of these institutions to turn around and take such a firm stance against cheating and plagiarism when they catch students doing it. While the repercussions of violating conduct codes will vary widely, many schools react by punishing students harshly. Overly harshly, in many cases.
It can seem awfully unfair to be suspended or even expelled for trying to live up to a school's—and a society's—high expectations. Students who find themselves in this conundrum need to fight back against the system. In doing so, they might even be able to shed a little light on the reasons that so many of their peers feel driven to crib answers or buy papers on the internet—and that, in turn, might eventually help bring about systemic change.
Don't Let the System Get You Down
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm can help students who have been called on the carpet for code of conduct violations. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm Student Defense team are committed to seeking out a solution that works for everyone involved, but their priority is formulating and carrying out the best possible defense for students facing disciplinary proceedings.
To ask questions or to book a consultation, call 888-535-3686 or fill out this form.