In terms of embarrassment, drafting a university honor code that discourages
plagiarism, and then finding out the code itself had been plagiarized, would
be right up there with walking across a commencement stage with toilet paper
stuck to the heel of your shoe.
Note the red faces on students at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Oh, well, at least their shoes look clean.
Students tried to draft an honor code, and, mistakenly, carelessly or lazily
(depends on which version of the story you read), used the exact wording
from another school's honor code.
Let he who has never borrowed a phrase, cast the first paper wad.
It is time to admit that nearly all of us have at some time, some place,
during the educational process, probably committed a small act of
plagiarism. Perhaps a sentence, a phrase, a line may have slipped from a
book to your paper, from a periodical to your notes, from copy to paste, as
you toiled through the night on a dreaded research paper.
The problem, as I see it, was always in the instructions, which, if I recall
correctly, were routinely: "Do your research and then put it in your own
Personally, I may have committed some acts of plagiarism in writing a
fifth-grade paper on South America. (If you're still around Mrs. Higgins, it
was unintentional, just as it was with the students in Texas.) It was a time
when my own words often bore an uncanny resemblance to the words in World
Seriously, how many ways are there to say, "Lima is the capital of Peru"?
And if the World Book said it first and you repeated it, were you
plagiarizing the encyclopedia?
So then the scholar's task is to say the same boring thing in a creative
manner to make the words your own: "In Peru, many citizens regard Lima as
"Lima! The capital of Peru."
And what about that gray zone of switching the subject and the predicate,
inserting a clause, then splicing it all together with atrocious
punctuation, to render it your own words?
"Lima: a city with high elevation, fresh coffee beans and home to many
llamas, is the capital of Peru."
The purists simply put their entire paper in quotes.
I'm the last one to give a pass on plagiarizing. Ten years ago, I wrote an
essay on "The Death of Common Sense." That piece has been copied, stolen,
plagiarized and sent to me at least five times a year every year since then
in e-mail forwards with the essay attributed to Anonymous. Anonymous he
gets all the credit.
The worst renditions change a few lines here and there, then tack on a
closer saying, "If you love G-d, you'll send this to 10 people in the next
Just once, I'd like G-d to smite a computer.
No doubt the Texas students have learned their lesson, and in the future
they will be meticulous about noting every source. And if they can't do
that, they could at least work harder at putting the same ol' same ol' into
their "own words."
Here's a start: Thinking of plagiarizing? Thinking of stealing, cheating,
ripping someone off? We may not catch it today, we may not catch it
tomorrow, but we have large search engines and cheating software and we will
catch you someday. You can run and you can hide, but we will find you
even if you flee to Lima, the capital of Peru.