I think rather than write a super lengthy comment in response, I’ll just post my response to your comments from yesterday’s post re: plagiarism.
First of all, thank you so much for your comments and advice.
I think one of the problems, and I wasn’t sure how to phrase it yesterday without sounding like an elitist bitch, is akin to what Dr. Crazy mentioned about admissions standards. I think right now, in this economy, we have none, and that why I think the college is short sighted. Look, I know it works for some who need a third or fourth chance, who tried college when they were 18 and flunked out. And again when they were 23 because it still wasn’t right, and then jerked around for a year or two trying to figure out what to major in. But I think when you’re taking transfer students who have been in college successively, or every other semester for five semesters and have been at three different schools and left each school with a D/F average, I think you need to consider more at this point than "can you pay tuition? Do you have a pulse?" Perhaps I am judging my institution unfairly, but what I saw a lot last year in the lower level classes were the good students asking for LORs so they could transfer to a better school because the majority of their peers act like 13th & 14th graders, and they’re ready to leave HS. Let me say there are a lot of positives about my college. I love my colleagues. I have made some wonderful and excellent friends here, and I think the fact that the people who work at the college get along, for the most part campus-wide, and that our little "group" spans from admissions to HR to three other divisions and student activities, and all our spouses/partners get along, I think that’s remarkable, and if there weren’t that kind of availability of friendship and camaraderie, then the college wouldn’t be able to thrive and things would be a whole helluva lot worse. And I get a shit ton of vacation time here, too, and a 12 month contract so I don’t have to teach in the summer if I don’t want to. However, the people in charge of the financial health of the school are only looking at the next 3-5 years I feel. So these problems that we’re having with students now aren’t going away because if you keep lowering the bar, then standards decline. And I see people getting tired. I see some hope ("when I run things, if we can hold on for a few years, this shit’s gonna change" for example, which is good and far sighted and what we need). Anyway, I think that’s part of the problem. Admitting a lot of students who a) think education is a joke, b) think college is beneath them but they can’t get a job, so why not, c) just don’t give a shit and don’t care if others are trying to learn or help them learn. I think even raising the standards just a tad would help with a lot of the disciplinary problems and academic integrity issues.
I do agree that some do plagiarize because they are overwhelmed and/or scared. And two of them I totally chastised for doing that–I have a whole "it’s better to take the honest F than the dishonest one because you can recover from the honest F" speech coupled with "if you had spent the time writing the paper that you did looking for sources to steal to put in the paper, you probably would have had a mediocre enough paper to actually pass, but now you can’t" speech.
That being said, you guys have given me a lot to think about as I put my syllabi together for the spring, and my experience with the plagiarizers in the "intro to the major" course along with your suggestions has helped to start thinking about how I’m going to teach that class in the fall. I think ironically, one of the reasons it’s not my freshman plagiarizing is because I do the things in those classes that you all commented on–transparency, drafting, focused and directed assignments, etc., although not restrictive if that makes sense, but not so broad and open as to be equally as overwhelming as "you all must write on this." I think I do fairly well with giving a variety of topics, but I think one of my problems is that that is sometimes seen as a lack of direction. I am starting to realize that even once we get to the upper division classes here that the students still need guidance. I mean, I don’t want to sound like an old fogey, but I do remember having to sink or swim (and I went to an undergrad institution very similar to the one at which I teach), and it never occurred to me, even as I was failing classes, to plagiarize. And I don’t ever remember anyone I know or ever hearing about anyone getting busted for that in our English classes. So I have to admit, it is hard for me to think about upper division classes needing more guidance than I give them. And while I spent a lot of time in class in the Intro course talking about the text in terms of "this is how you need to think about your essay," it clearly didn’t work. I know that the reason one of the three from that class who plagiarized did so because ze was in over hir head and afraid to ask for help. The other two–I explained to both of them on earlier drafts why they had plagiarized, that I didn’t think it was intentional but that unintentional is still plagiarism, how to fix it, what it means to have done that, etc. I made comments and sat down with each of the them one-on-one. These were also two students who never brought their books to class, one participated in discussion about three times and left every class 15 minutes early. But I digress.
Part of the problem with the Intro course was that it was my first time teaching it–I’ve never taught wanna be majors how to be a major. I’ve either only taught freshman or majors. But there need to be more steps. More work on the front end. And honestly, I’d rather have a little bit more to grade and go over and do more prep work (although as many of you have suggested it’s not any more work) than to have to spend all that extra time dealing with the plagiarism issue at the end of the semester when I’m ready to forget about the previous 14 weeks. More transparency. I like that. And I’m going to have to insist on collecting drafts for each and every paper in the Intro course next time around. And I think I might even take Dr. Crazy’s suggestion from a few posts ago and have them do presentations on their final works as well after they turn their essays in, which if I’m going to have them do that in my upper division classes, they may as well learn early, right?
I think my other problem is largely because I feel like my chair is wishy-washy in his support. Like that in the case of my fan, he actually asked the psychologist, "ok, if ze does become violent, with the issue of retention on the table, what do we do if ze threatens to leave the school?" The psychologist was like, "uh, if it’s a safety issue, retention is not an issue." Which that’s another story, but you get my point. I still don’t fully trust him after last year’s student stupidity with "I didn’t follow directions and it’s not fair that she’s counting off for not doing the work I was supposed to" and his agreeing with her. I think if I felt like I had support against student complaints, I wouldn’t get so anxious about the plagiarizing. Once I find one place in the paper that’s plagiarized, I feel like that should be enough, but I’m so afraid that it’s going to come back at me with "well, it was just 3-4 sentences. Give hir another chance" that I spend hours tearing through the rest of the paper (which aggravates me too). And the whole improper citation and heavy borrowing without citation, changing one or two words and rearranging the sentence, no works cited page, no full source information for one of the sources which isn’t cited in the paper all the time–to me, that screams plagiarism. But I’m afraid that it’s not "serious" enough for the higher ups and that I’m going to be undermined. I know it’s a stupid thing to worry about until it happens, but I don’t think I’m out of line in being afraid of being undermined, and that causes more anxiety than anything else. And that really sucks. Stu, personally, I really don’t care if the grade made in my class means that you are going to lose your scholarship. Nothing you’ve done in my class indicates that you can write your way out of a paper bag, even if it were on fire and your life depended on it anyway, so I’m not interested in keeping you here as a student. And I have no idea how you got a scholarship in the first place. You’ve made a C or lower on everything you’ve done in my class.
I hate how all of this makes me feel as a professor and a person. And I hate that they take the focus away from the really good and really great students that we do have. For most of us (and I mean all of you out there, not my college in particular), our jobs are hard enough without having to deal with this shit. No before you say that it comes with the territory, I agree, it does, to an extent. And while part of my job is upholding academic standards in my department and discipline and field, I find the overwhelming amount of academic dishonesty to be defeating, and being defeated is not part of my job description.
To that, I say keep the faith peoples, for myself and for you, and here’s hoping for a good semester (I know some of you have started already, some are still on snow delay, and some, like me, still have a week or so to go–and thank god, because clearly I’m still detoxing from last semester!).
You all have given me lots to think about here, and I’m really super appreciative of it.