Plagiarism on the rise at USU and nationwide


EVAN MILLSAP, staff writer

Plagiarism is increasing at universities across the country, along with a more casual attitude toward cheating, according to a recent study done by The New American, a world news magazine.

An earlier survey by CNN stated more than 75 percent of students engage in serious cheating, and more than half have engaged in plagiarism.

Smartphones, the Internet and a growing number of students who don’t find anything wrong with cheating are the major reasons for the rapid rise, according to the study.

“I doubt USU is at over half,” said Eric Olsen, associate vice president for student services. “But plagiarism is definitely a big deal here, and it is increasing.”

Last year USU had 26 reported cases of academic dishonesty, said Krystin Deschamps, student conduct coordinator, but that number only represents the proportion of cheaters who get caught.

“Many students don’t get caught, and many students get caught by their professors but aren’t reported to us,” Olsen said. “It’s a big unknown.”

Part of the plagiarism problem yet to be tackled is the fact that educators and administrators don’t have a real handle on just how often it occurs, he said.

Another difficulty, Deschamps said, is some students do not know what plagiarism is, or they don’t realize the major negative consequences that come from such academic fraud.

Deschamps said international students, especially Chinese students, are much more likely to engage in plagiarism than others. American concepts of intellectual property don’t translate readily to students from a country where individualism is anathema, she said.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the task of educating Chinese students about American ethical standards is something universities across the country are dealing with. In Delaware, one Chinese student memorized four Wikipedia entries so he could regurgitate whichever one seemed most appropriate on an in-class essay, the report said.

“Previously the students who were most likely to cheat were those from the former Eastern bloc countries,” Olsen said. “They did whatever they needed to get ahead.” This is a tendency, Olsen said, that now seems to be more prevalent with Chinese students.

However, plagiarism is certainly not associated with only one group, Olsen said, but is widespread across the board. He said the one common denominator in plagiarism is the use of technology.

Brigham Young University recently exposed a network of large-scale, high-tech, sophisticated cheating rings, Olsen said.

Though, nothing like that has ever come to light at USU, there have been rumors, he said. A far more common form of cheating is when desperate students resort to copying and pasting from the Internet.

“We see a lot of freshman English papers plagiarized from online sources,” Olsen said. “Some students unknowingly copy from their own professors’ dissertations and research papers. The majority of plagiarism we deal with is far from sophisticated.”

Images are also often stolen, Deschamps said. Although many students do not consider it stealing, when students use re-blogging sites like Tumblr and Pinterest without citing the original creator, it is plagiarism.

“The Internet is both my greatest tool and my biggest problem,” said art major Denice Brown. “I use the Web to help put my name out there and to sell my work, but then it is much more difficult to keep my art from being stolen.”

The Internet is where most students plagiarize from, but it is also increasingly how administrators catch those who cheat, Deschamps said. Websites like help identify stolen works and catch those who plagiarize.

Once students do get caught, they face serious consequences, Olsen said. If it is their first infraction, they are placed on academic probation; but more importantly, they usually have a notation placed on their transcript.

“Let’s say you are a journalism major and you are applying for a job at The New York Times, but you have a notation on your degree that says ‘plagiarism violation,'” Deschamps said. “You are probably not going to get that job.”

Students who plagiarize have their credibility seriously damaged, Olsen said.

“If you cheat in classes — especially those of your major requirement — then there are far-reaching consequences, more than just that class. Professors talk to each other, and it will take a student who cheats a long time to live it down.”

A lot of students have a casual attitude toward plagiarism, but it’s a serious thing, Deschamps said.

“You have to almost feel sorry for some of them,” she said. “They plagiarize as a spur-of-the-moment thing, but when they get caught, their academic career is hugely affected for the long term.”

The good news is repeat offenders are extremely rare, Olsen said.

“The majority of students I usually deal with are embarrassed and repentant,” he said. “Either they become amazing at plagiarism and don’t get caught anymore, or they really do change their ways — because as far as I know, almost all of them never cheat again.”