Opinions
Paul Baker/the Gauntlet

Cheaters never prosper, and liars go to the library

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The first week of school marks a time when every class you go to, the exact same thing happens. Yes, it is the motion of picking through each and every course outline, syllabus, or overview in such gross detail you sometimes wish the professor will actually start teaching the class. However, you'll soon regret that sentiment.

Along with this procedure comes the review of academic misconduct, a set of rules to be followed relating to things such as plagiarism, cheating, and so on and so forth. I find this section is often passed over quite quickly, yet the knowledge of what is at hand here is vital to your very university survival. In other words, if you are sentenced with academic misconduct, you may not be coming back to class, ever.

Call it my pet peeve, but to barely review this section really eats away at me. Not only is this most likely the most serious academic offence on campus, but the way cheating and plagiarism is defined creates so much grey area you feel like you're standing in downtown Toronto smog in the heat of the day.

Plagiarism, a line I'm sure we have all walked on at least once, is one of these offences. The university defines it in a broad sense including "the work submitted or presented was done, in whole or in part, by an individual other than the one submitting or presenting the work" and "parts of the work are taken from another source without reference to the original author."

The definition seems simple enough, but the implications are read between the lines. Where do group projects and study groups fall in this? Are we saying that while doing an assignment with a group, the entire work handed in is authentically of one person? The answer is absolutely not, some "part" of the assignment was surely thought of or "done" by another group member.

Does that mean anyone in a study group is guilty of plagiarism? According to the definition, you would have to say yes. Stepping back to look at the bigger picture, however, we can see the effectiveness of working in a group, and know that this type of behaviour is encouraged.

Citing works becomes an even greater spectacle, and even becomes foolish to a point. I wonder exactly how many words long a quotation must be to require a citing and exactly where "common knowledge" ends and a cite-worthy idea begins. It is often difficult to determine, and could start to become ridiculous.

Suppose I use the Pythagoras Theorem to solve a problem, and in my haste to complete the assignment, I forget to cite poor old Pythagoras as I used his idea. It would seem ludicrous to call this plagiarism, but why is it different in this case, as I "stole" his theorem without referencing it?

Another example. A big scholar has a certain sentence in a piece of his writing. Does he now own this sentence? Is one required to note this in a report of their own? According to policy, the response is yes. Following this logic, Metallica could claim ownership of the E F chord progression--which they did once, as a joke. We can see the line of stealing thoughts and ideas are too fuzzy to bring into focus and could become ridiculous in certain situations.

And while it is such a serious offence, the numbers tell a different story. In a study done by William J. Bowers (I don't want to set a bad example by not citing my info), it is estimated that somewhere between 50 and 70 per cent of university or college students have cheated or plagiarized something at least once.

A staggering number, but then comes in the grey area of true cheating versus accepted cheating. Again, group work should be considered cheating according to definition, yet this is evidently overlooked all the time. Certain items are required to be cited, while others can go unrecognized. This is why the numbers are as skewed as they are.

Universities have to take a step back a re-evaluate this whole academic misconduct issue once and for all. Too many occurrences are subjective, leading to cheating and plagiarism, exactly what is being fought against. They need to pull back the definition a bit, ease up on the students, but make the rules more precise and more accurate in order to maintain their interest in protecting ideas. When reading the definition there should be no grey area, but a line drawn in the sand. You are either cheating or you are not cheating, plain and simple.

This is a serious issue we face in every class everyday. The thoughts and ideas of others should be protected, and cheating needs to stop. We need to re-define the ways we look at these things and avoid the silly loopholes. Otherwise, over half of the university may get away with it again, and the problem remains unsolved.

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