see no evil, hear no evil, especially if that evil is plagiarism

Time-old professorial question: “Is it worth it to pursue students who cheat?” Here is the conclusion of a business school professor who caught a fifth of his class cheating: hell, no. In addition to being an incredible timesuck, he claims it cost him money:

Instead of the usual evaluations that were in the region of 6.0 to 6.5 out of seven, this time my ratings went down by almost a point: 5.3 out of 7.0. Instead of being a teacher in the upper percentiles, I was now below average.

The Dean’s office and my chair “expressed their appreciation” for me chasing such cases (in December), but six months later, when I received my annual evaluation, my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my “teaching evaluations took a hit this year”.

Granted, it sounds like he felt more comfortable pursuing plagiarists in the first place after he was awarded tenure, and probably if there is something that one is averse to doing because one is concerned about its implications for tenure, it shouldn’t be completely surprising that doing it afterward might have salary implications. Still pretty dispiriting.

(None of which is me saying one shouldn’t pursue cheaters. I do think if one starts thinking about it strictly in cost-benefit terms, one never will. Which is why it is a good thing many academics take pride in having an idealist or irrationalist streak.)

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

20 thoughts on “see no evil, hear no evil, especially if that evil is plagiarism”

  1. Whuh? “my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation” Time-old professorial question: where is this world where people get annual salary increases?


  2. Well, I’m no economist, but if inflation is less than 2%, and your raise is “significantly lower,” and you can notice the difference between that and no raise, then you’re salary is pretty high. Anyways, I also got below-average evals after a 9-student honor court situation (they were acquitted, and had a lot of friends).


    1. At our university, the incentives are truly perverse to turn students in. If you catch cheating, you offer them the opportunity to have it officially reviewed. If they are found to be guilty, they are — I do not kid — put on secret probation for 6-12 months. No one knows if any student is on probation or not. If they are caught cheating again while on probation, they are *then* subject to more severe penalties. If they are not caught during that period, their probationary record is expunged. Thus, unless one has strong beliefs that a student is likely only on probation, taking the official review route is likely to yield no penalty.


      1. That is truly out-frickin’-rageous. IMHO first offense should be a semester’s suspension with a public notice of the measure, second should be expulsion. Particularly since at least at UNC we’re really good at failing to prosecute and failing even to notice. Oy.


    1. The link worked before, so the post must have been taken down. I was a little surprised at the extent the author was putting himself out there, especially in terms of talking about the details of the case and his criticisms of the lack of support from his employer.


    1. My horrible tenure and retention proceedings of my last year on the clock revolved around student evals. The students were full of shit and the Dean was using them as an excuse to deny. Luckily, I keep very careful records and actually give evaluations of my own that connect student performance with evaluations, and was able to come back with data, argue my case, and get tenure despite the students and the dean. My point being that student evaluations, while sometimes pedagogically useful, are deeply problematic metrics for tenure, retention, and promotion (and raises). Let’s face it: Students aren’t experts either in pedagogy or in our stubject areas, and teaching evaluations have been demonstrated over and over again to be tightly correlated to the ease of a course and/or the looks of the professor. Peer reviews or reviews by expert pedagogs only should be allowed in RTP decisions.


    1. Thanks for the link. The odd thing is that the lengthy excuse he quotes (someone else’s laptop, grandmother having a stroke)sounded like something a colleague had gotten from a student. I can’t find it on the Internet, but it occurs to me that this student may have taken even his excuse from other sources.


  3. Tra la, no such raise-pegged-to-evals worries for me. Another reason why adjuncting is so awesome.

    Yes I turn in plagiarism when I find it. I agree with Jeremy and with Drek @3, it’s sporting.


    1. Forgive the naivete, but isn’t retention of adjuncts often pegged to evals? I’ve always thought of this as potentially a bigger problem for adjuncts to face. Has this been a mistaken assumption?


      1. You could be right, but here’s my anecdatum: when preparing to move, I sent cold letters to area Soc Depts and got three adjuncting offers. So I’ve never been worried about being retained; but if I were at a place with decent pay & benes & a seniority system, I would probably start to care.
        Apologies for the derail.


    1. It’s true that it’s difficult to get something off the Internet after one has posted it, but it seems likely that this person regrets the post or has gotten flak he wasn’t expecting for it. So maybe the humane thing for us as fellow academics is to move on…


      1. I guess the author of the post says: “I took the blog post down after NYU received a “cease and desist” letter, and I was advised by my superiors that I may be liable for legal liabilities if I keep the post up. They could not perform a full legal analysis, and as a precaution they asked me to take the post down. For work-related issues, the employer has the right to restrict “free speech”, a ruling supported by many decisions of the Supreme Court. It made no sense for me to disobey and try to fight the C&D letter by myself.” From that, it sounds like he wouldn’t be bothered by people still reading the post on other sites…


  4. There are perverse incentives for requiring much reading, giving hard tests, and pursuing cheaters. It’s probably worst for going after various kinds of cheating, because it’s so time-consuming. The best I’ve been able to come up with is to set up structures that make cheating harder and more conspicuous (e.g., assigned random seating for the exams; writing assignments that are focused explicitly on course materials and current events). It’s not enough.


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