Plagiarism & Academic Integrity: Talked to death? Or not?

“DePaul University is a learning community that fosters the pursuit of knowledge and the transmission of ideas within a context that emphasizes a sense of responsibility for oneself, for others and for society at large.”

You will most likely recognize the above passage as it is required to appear on every class syllabus.  And although many students feel like plagiarism and academic integrity policies are talked to death and  citation rules incessantly pounded into their brains, there is little discourse in campus classrooms as to why we abide by these rules.

The reasoning behind this academic integrity policy is often described as common sense (cite the material you did not come up with, don’t directly copy sources without proper punctuation and documentation, etc.), but this offers little guidance or understanding to students who were raised in other countries or cultures.   As an UCWbL tutor, I have encountered international students and writers who have shared with me personal narratives about their first run-in with a university’s plagiarism policy.  These narratives delve into the frustration and confusion the writers experienced when unknowingly violating the policy and subsequently were publicly shamed for what others interpreted as the student being lazy or blatantly disobedient.

But the university academic integrity policy isn’t a universal idea.  In fact, many other cultures view source citation quite differently.  We live in a culture that values and rewards individual contribution and authorship.  Thus, in academic discourse, distinguishing between synthesized and original ideas is important. However, in other cultures, it may be considered condescending to cite sources or texts that are part of the country’s history or from a government leader. Similarly, other cultures place emphasis on the finished product and collective effort versus the individual contribution; therefore, what Americans might view as “sharing answers” is actually the norm.

While I am not advocating to revoke our current academic integrity policy, I do think that information about the values our policy reflects needs to exist.  Furthermore, our discourse around plagiarism needs to be presented through a cultural lens to all incoming university students.  To read more about the values and ideas around plagiarism, intellectual property, and academic integrity, check out the following article:

“The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem