Plagiarism in the academic world is almost as difficult to blot out as it is to spell. An exaggeration? Listen to the story of Earl Naumann. It will chill every bone in your body.
Naumann is now an assistant professor of management at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. But a couple of years ago, as he was finishing up his doctorate at Arizona State University, he was teaching three sections of an introductory undergraduate business class. The total enrollment was about 180 students.
Naumann had made it very clear to the students that plagiarizing the term paper would result in an automatic F for the course. But that did not stop two short-cutters.
They submitted what Naumann calls "outstanding" papers. It was little wonder. One was cribbed word for word from Business Week magazine. The other was copied almost exactly from the Journal of Marketing, a prominent academic publication. Unluckily for the students, Naumann had read both articles.
But Naumann wavered on his pledge to trot out automatic F's. "It was 13 weeks through a 16-week course," he explained. "I'm not a hard-hearted guy. I felt they had a lot invested."
So he made the following statement to his students:
"While grading your papers, I have found two that are clearly plagiarized, which should result in an F. However, since the semester is almost over, I will give the students who plagiarized a chance to salvage the course. If they will stop by my office, admit their mistake and explain their reasons for plagiarizing, they can write a paper on a different subject and possibly receive a C. Otherwise, the stated policy will be strictly enforced and they will receive an F."
Thirteen students came forward.
The two obvious plagiarists were not among them.
In addition, several other students "seemed extremely worried and asked if I had graded their papers yet. I suspect that the extent of the plagiarism fell in the range of 8 to 10 percent of the students, possibly more," Naumann wrote in an article about the incident in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Interestingly, the admitted cheaters said their primary reason for doing what they did was not to get a better grade. Most said they just didn't have time to research and write an original paper. The second most popular reason: they couldn't think of a topic.
And chillingly, the students who came forward were not those headed for a D or an F. Their grades on exams given earlier in the course ranged from A to D.
Naumann said he has received two kinds of reactions from his fellow professors: "Outrage that I didn't flunk all of them on the one hand, and amusement on the other." He is "pleased that so many people see me as courageous." But he admits he is "discouraged. I wish there wasn't so much pressure on students today."
Is he surprised by the incident? "No," said Naumann. "I'm not surprised at all."