Cheater camp: like fat camp, but with more plagiarism.

Mostly this blog is about my experiences, but I am making a departure and today to tell you this fantastic story of a plagiarizer one of my colleagues experienced, partly because it is awesome, but also because I had all my crazy at the beginning of the semester and not much is going on.

So, the Poetess, who teaches creative writing, previously mentioned for meanness involving the Starbucks recruiting ad, comes fuming up from a creative writing class, and naturally, I enquire as to the nature and origin of her fuming state, hoping for lulz.

“It’s this student. I am pretty sure he plagiarized his creative writing piece, but I am not sure if I can catch him,” she said.

The circumstances are these: in creative writing, students submit pieces of writing to be workshopped by the class. The Poetess circulates copies and then the writer reads his or her work, and then she and the class discuss it. Or so I gather. Anyway, there is definitely reading aloud involved.

Her suspicions were aroused when the student was having trouble reading “his” story. He was stumbling over words, and then when someone asked him which character was saying a particular line, he didn’t appear to know. The Poetess followed up with a question about the character’s motivation, which left the student similarly stumped.

So, she was pretty sure he didn’t write the story, but she wasn’t sure how to get proof. “Well, if all else fails, not knowing who is saying what in his ‘own’ story is pretty damning,” I said, “but have you tried google?”

“No one is that stupid,” she said, indicating what I admit is a distressing degree of naivete.

“It will take 60 seconds to try. Just pick a sentence with some unusual words in it.”


There it was, the whole story, with only one thing changed – the title. The Poetess was both impressed and horrified. “Who does that?” At least one person, it would appear. Later that day, she googled the previous assignment the student had handed in, and found that it, too, was just copied and pasted from the internets.

Now, there’s a rule that says two incidents of plagiarism is enough to get a student a suspension trial with the Cheater Board, but there’s a grey area about whether or not the incidents can be reported together. In other words, a cheater has to be convicted once, or at least meet with a prof about the problem before a second incident is counted as a separate offense.

On the other hand, who the FUCK cheats in creative writing – a subject where you can really write whatever you want? It’s not like fiction needs sources or facts like an essay, nor is creative writing a required course, unlike composition, where the hapless are inclined to try their luck with essays from the internet. This is usually a class filled with overblown egos of emo cutters who fancy themselves geniuses, not slackers with low self-esteem.

She sent off the report, requesting that the incidents of cheating be counted as 2 instances, given their egregious nature. I agreed that it was worth a shot, anyway. I also wanted to know if she was going to meet with the student (so that I could pruriently be within earshot), but she said she was only emailing him. “I think he is in a gang, so I would rather not see him in person,” she admitted.

Oh, great. Our other office-mate has a paranoid schizophrenic with violent tendencies in his class this semester, so that pinboard with the “read this if I turn up dead” notes is getting pretty crowded.

A few days passed before the student bothered to get in touch; he made an appointment with the Chair, no doubt to complain about unfairness, and then didn’t show. The Poetess was invited to attend the rescheduled meeting, and I was hanging out to hear the outcome.

“What did he SAY?” I asked, because, as you can imagine, the possible explanations for his behaviour had a pretty good chance of being outlandish.

Well, it turns out that mostly what he had to say was a string of excuses about how he had not been to class because he was sick, and intimidated by all the good writers in the class. None of which, as the Chair pointed out, explained the copypasta of the stories. No admission, no explanation, just a refusal to even address the issue. Very dull. The least cheaters can do is provide entertainment in the form of hilarious weaselling.

The sentence for his crimes is delicious, though. Instead of outright expulsion or suspension, the student is sentenced to several hours of plagiarism re-education camp, which must be completed before he can enroll in any more classes. The Poetess confessed herself reasonably satisfied with the outcome, although, “I would have been happier if he had been kicked out.”

“This is so much better, though,” I said. “Can you imagine how MAD this is going to make him?”

8 thoughts on “Cheater camp: like fat camp, but with more plagiarism.

  1. zugenia

    I have a few prime candidates for plagiarism camp. Did I mention the student who plagiarized an UNGRADED IN-CLASS WRITING EXERCISE? As in, went on the internet the night before her tutorial, hand-copied an essay on Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18,” brought it to her discussion section, and reproduced the copy word for word from her “notes.” When confronted, she claimed that this was the result of “too much research.” Because, you know, she tries too hard.

  2. extemporanea

    Absolutely my favourite plagiarism story ever happened to a colleague of mine: a student in his seminar handed in an essay which was not only plagiarised word-for-word, it was simply printed out from the website with the URL and date information still on the top, and a cover sheet with the student’s name stapled to the front. Bonus Darwin Award point: it was a set critical essay printed out from the course website created by the lecturer to whom the essay was submitted. History does not relate how the student responded to the inevitable sky falling on their head.

    (Emerging from several months of lurkdom, btw – I love reading about your travails. Apart from the fact that they’re amusing and the snark is spot-on, I derive enormous consolation from the fact that by and large my students aren’t quite as bad as yours seem to be.)

  3. Bobbie

    Glad to hear your semester has dulled down–and THRILLED that you’re still in the neighborhood to pick up on such delightfully distressing stories.

  4. fillyjonk

    “No one is THAT stupid.”

    Ah, but they are. I now do an internet search on one or two characteristic phrases out of EVERY paper that I get turned in…partly to avoid being accused of “profiling” students (“He can barely put three words together to make a sentence on an exam, but he writes a paper as good as what I could do?”) but also because sometimes you do catch people you don’t expect.

    We have a two-strikes-and-you’re-out policy, but NO ONE’s ever gone more than one strike with me. I guess getting the printout of the website stapled onto their paper, along with a big fat O and a “Come discuss this with me” tells them I don’t dink around when it comes to plagiarism.

  5. fillyjonk

    Of course, then there was the time a student plagiarized a previous semester’s paper, and it was partly sheer luck that led to my being able to prove that incident. (And I now require an “archival” copy of every research paper in that class, to prevent that happening again).

    Though the degree of “scary” in my demeanor the day I told the class I had a plagiarism incident may help deter future cases. I understand the students STILL talk about it and it was a year ago.


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