Apparently, Ethics Means Something Different Than I Thought

Since I'm still kind of out of it from the anesthesia, you get to read two of the letters I had to write this week to the members of my group in the Ethics class.

The first one:
Hi, everyone.

We have a big problem with the group project. Several members have been flagged as having substantial portions of their work listed as plagiarism. From our syllabus slide 21, plagiarism is defined as follows:

Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism is defined as "literary theft" and consists of the unattributed quotation of the exact words of a published text, or the unattributed borrowing of original ideas by paraphrase from a published text. On written papers for which the student employs information gathered from books, articles or oral sources, each direct quotation, as well as ideas and facts that are not generally known to the public at large, must be attributed to its author by means of the appropriate citation procedure. Citations may be made in footnotes or within the body of the text. Plagiarism also consists of passing off as one's own, segments or the total of another person's work.

*Punishment for academic dishonesty will depend on the seriousness of the offense and may include receipt of an "F" with a numerical value of zero on the item submitted, and the "F" shall be used to determine the final course grade. It is the option of the instructor to assign the student a grade of F or FF (the latter indicating academic dishonesty) in the course.

The original source of the material can be found here:

As this is a group assignment, ALL members are graded upon the work of others. Personally, if you want to submit a paper without using proper citations and it's just your grade that is affected, have at it. When three members of this group have no citations or work that completely comes up as suspect in plagiarism tools, it has to be addressed.

We are all juniors and seniors here, am I correct? By now, everyone has written at least a couple dozen papers in their college career and has had review in at least that many classes on how to reference your source material. If you are unsure how to cite sources at this stage of the game, please consider using the many resources that USF provides us to be effective writers.

Using source material that you haven't listed in your references isn't going to pass muster, either. There are tools at every instructor's disposal to check your work. In fact, one of my professors gave us links to the ones she uses so that students can run their work through ahead of time to avoid getting an F on the papers she assigns.

It boils down to this: we have to have a group decision on how to proceed from the five of us whose works came up as acceptable. Professor would like us to decide whether we want to be graded on our individual efforts. The alternative is that the three people who have not accurately cited their references and/or lifted the majority of their work from other published material have to resubmit their works.

Please email me if you have questions, and email the group AND Professor what your vote is-Individual grades for the five or give the other three a second chance. If we opt to do that, we have to give the Professor a deadline for the completion of the resubmitted portions.

If you're wondering whether I mean you, odds are good that you are NOT one of the people whose work has come into question If you KNOW you didn't properly cite references, then you need to figure out whether you are going to let your work stands as is or you want to knock yourself out doing the assignment over again.

This requires a vote-and the majority will rule the decision. My vote is a tough one, for I feel that one of the parties just got careless in not citing any of the sources. However, one person has lifted mine and another person's group critiques (and a discussion case) verbatim (with timestamps to prove it) on many occasions. I would be more lenient with a first offense than the repeat offender-but I cannot be sure if that is what the rest of you wish to do.

If it is called for by the majority, in order to accurately assess the severity of plagiarism, all the incidences will be provided to you.

Those who wish to verify the quality of their ability to rephrase what they've read into unique thoughts may google "plagiarism checker" and find quality sources. Upon request, I will provide the links given in my Research Methods course materials.

It is appalling that this type of email has to be written to a group at all, but it is mind blowing that it has to be written in an ETHICS class.

This discovery was made Saturday night, and many emails went back and forth between me and the professor, then the members of my group. The one I thought who got careless with citations had block quotations in her portion of the assignment, but no citations on them.

The other two? 100% taken from other websites. One had listed three sources, but jigsaw puzzled his work together from three websites that he hadn't cited. (this is the guy I'd written about earlier in the semester). The other one took the entirely of his work from two websites.

Saturday afternoon, as I was doing the hyperlinking for the project (until this project, I hadn't considered how many people don't know how to do this) on one member's submission, I took a break to grab dinner. On the phone with a friend, I commented that in reading some of this work, I realized that I wasn't as well versed as the average person on IT matters. Little did I realize that I was comparing my knowledge to PhD's in IT.

The one who had copied completely from other websites came forth and then proceeded to send me tons of emails, asking me to tell me what his fate was. I politely told him it was a group decision, not mine-and in this case, he should be happy for it. One person fixed her citations within the hour of that email going out. The third party had not responded by Sunday night. Everyone else in the group had been given copies of the works in question, so they knew what was up. Time to make sure he did, too.


I haven't heard from you since I sent yesterday's email. If you haven't read that already, you need to read it and the Professor's ASAP

In reviewing your contribution to the group project, every single word of it came up as being from two different websites, with most of it attributed to a Georgetown University professor. I understand that you used 4 citations within your work, but that does not excuse the fact that there is not one word of it that came from you.

The purpose of this project was not to see how well we cut and paste, or whether we know how to do citations. The goal was to see how we think-to see how well we applied what we've learned about ethical situations to a topic of the group's choosing. To cut and paste paragraph after paragraph leads others to believe that you do not understand what the word ETHICS even means.

Originally, the decision regarding your plagiarism was left to the five members of the group who spent many hours researching materials, reading websites and then forming what they learned into unique thoughts into a portion of the group project. They did not only the best the could for their own grade, but for YOUR grade, too. To cut and paste someone else's work, subjecting all of them to a possible FF grade for academic dishonesty, because this is a GROUP grade, is deplorable.

You're in luck, for of the three that had weighed in, two wanted to kick you and J out of the group, with a third saying 'do whatever you want and I'll back it up'. That's a majority, but we were waiting for the other two to respond. However, Professor has given you a gift of a new deadline for all work to be completed, following the guidelines set forth in the quoted slide in my email. This was restated in her email. There is a link in both emails to the source material at the university web site that gives direction on what is acceptable citing. To add a point made in three of the syllabuses I received this semester-the majority of your submission has to be YOUR work. Simply adding cites to everything does not excuse the fact that it is not your work.

At this point, it seems clear that this is a class wide issue and not just our group. You can take that to mean that everything submitted is going to be held under a microscope. If you have questions in redoing the assignments, the library staff has been incredibly helpful for other matters I've contacted them for in the past (over the phone, even) and you are directed to them for assistance.

Every lecture that has covered the topic of written assignments in the six I've taken so far at our school has been quite clear that professors will not tolerate plagiarism and will use the many tools available to them. You have to decide for yourself if the time savings of simply cutting and pasting another's work is worth risking an FF grade. It stays on your transcript for the duration of your time at USF and will prevent you from graduating with any honors. Is it worth it?

Yesterday, one sent a half hearted apology. Today, the other decided to send one as well. The deadline for them was 10pm. I'm wondering what the resubmitted work will look like.

One thing is for certain-I never expected cheating in an Ethics class!


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