Plagiarism: Defining a Dangerous Culture

The pursuit to excel in any particular subject, in both the professional world and in high school, often calls for some unethical measures to reach certain means. Yet does the end justify the means when such immoral means such as plagiarism is involved? The lack of confidence a writer may have in himself or herself may tempt the student to consider borrowing phrases from a published writer, knowing that its celebrated work was not unmerited. High school teachers and college professors stress and bold their caveat to students to not fall into this temptation to borrow or copy others’ work and be original or as Emerson puts it, “Imitation is suicide.” Perhaps suicide can be synonymous for the terrifying zero on that essay weighted at two-hundred points.

In the case of former CNN-host, Fareed Zakaria, his borrowing of words caused his one-month suspension. This New York writer, well-known for his Oct 2001 emotional piece “Why They Hate US”, faced consequences after similarities between his TIME column about gun control and an earlier New Yorker article written on the same subject.. While apologizing to the writer on the New Yorker piece, no amount of sympathy would allow for such an offhand decision, yet quite unethical action as CNN saw to his removal as host of the television show and from writing in the TIME magazine.

However, the gravity of plagiarism is often dependent on the immediate action. Such consequences often vary from public embarrassment that  Russian President, Vladmir Putin advocates, to two-semester suspension from universities such as Yale. However, perhaps the most effective punishment lies with harsher consequences such as the immediate expulsion from college such as in the case of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. Onlookers may argue the consequences in the educational institutions may be too severe, stressing that students are still in the learning-process. Yet, high school and college are grounds where students need to learn real-life consequences, where even a fail on an essay worth ten percent of a student’s grade is perhaps not realistic enough. Take, for instance, the story of ex-Washingtton Post writer, Laura Parker, who was immediately fired from her position as Miami bureau chief after writing an amusing column about Florida mosquito infestation and not providing sufficient credit to sources referenced. Is it harsh? Perhaps, but it is also the real world. Even from the high school level, a failed course can prevent career goals to remained unfulfilled in the compeitive world of science, education and business. In the real world, persons represent the institution which they take part of, just as Chaminade students are ambassadors of the school, and no organization can take pride of such a person. The reality is these mistakes of copying words or stealing ideas are not branded as mere academic dishonesty but a violation of policies and a defiance of authority of one of the highest measures. And the consequences do not stop at being released from a prime career or suspension from colleges. Rather, plagiarism remains as a blemish on a college transcript or career reference, easily limiting options of pursuing passions. A two-second decision may take a lifetime to reconcile. Mistakes cost jobs, college admissions, and self-dignity.

It turns to the underlying problem, why do we plagiarize? The influence of writing, whether in popular magazines or an argumentative essay in a class, allows for this culture of plagiarism to develop – the thoughts of the writers, the critical reception and the shaping of beliefs. Writing informs the public of current events, allows the ordinary citizen to share thoughts on a controversial topic, all writing which allow people to form an opinion or enhance a life experience. A 2010 survey conducted by business professor of Rutgers University, New Jersey, revealed that of the thousands of students questioned, forty percent of college students admitted to copying a few sentences for an assignment and another forty-seven percent of high school students admitted to the same, with the resource of the web. A third of this percentage did agree that this is cheating. So it begs the question, are we creating a culture of plagiarism?

Perhaps before even taking measures to discipline plagiarism, educators and students alike need to consider the real-world consequences such as those issued by the Washington and Lee University and the Washington Post and understand that failure on that heavily-weighed Lord of the Flies essay is only a fraction of the consequences when plagiarism often accounts for expulsion from careers and college lives, tarnishing a credibility which can never regain its former state.