a, Student Life

Plagiarism: If you didn’t write it, cite it

On Sept. 1, revisions to the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, which were approved last April, came into effect. The result is a more organized Code with clearer established procedures for hearings and disciplinary interviews.

A major change in terms of academic offences is the removal of the “intent to deceive” defence for plagiarism. Under the previous Code, it was possible to make certain arguments related to intent, which sometimes resulted in exonerations and the dismissal of the claims. Now, students who plagiarize will be found guilty of an offence under the Code, regardless of whether or not the plagiarism was intentional. Put simply, “I didn’t mean to” or, “It was an oversight” just won’t cut it.

Plagiarism is defined in the new Code as representing another person’s work as one’s own. Students should be aware that sharing their work with the knowledge that another student might use it also constitutes plagiarism. Furthermore, fabricating sources or reusing parts of a paper you submitted in another course constitutes cheating under the Code and both carry the same penalties as plagiarism and are taken just as seriously. Additionally, plagiarizing, or cheating on an assignment that is worth only five per cent of your mark carries the same consequences as plagiarizing or cheating on an honours thesis. The same goes for plagiarizing a portion or the entirety of the paper.

When a professor suspects that a paper or assignment has been plagiarized, or that there has been cheating, they are required to report it to the disciplinary officer in the faculty, who institutes disciplinary proceedings against the student. The student can be accompanied by an advisor (which Student Advocacy can provide) to these proceedings.

At the end of the process, the student is either exonerated, admonished or reprimanded. A reprimand results in a permanent record, which can affect a student’s eligibility for graduate school and professionnal programs. An admonishment is less serious and remains confidential, but there will be an indication that there has been a violation of the code. Generally, for a first offence, an admonishment is the most likely outcome unless it is a very egregious case of plagiarism or cheating.

If admonished or reprimanded, the student is usually placed on conduct probation and receives a failing grade for the assignment or paper. A student who has been placed on conduct probation and who is accused of a second offence will have their case immediately referred to the Committee on Student Discipline, a body with wider powers than disciplinary officers, including the power to expel students.

The removal of “intent to deceive” is in line with the importance the university places on academic integrity, and with the definition of plagiarism in the Regulations Concerning the Investigation of Research Misconduct. Upon arriving at McGill, it is incumbent upon students to inform themselves about the high standards to which they are held, and about how to properly cite to avoid an allegation of plagiarism.

There is an incredible number of resources available to McGill students to help them protect their academic integrity. Students should take the initiative and make use of them. A great strategy is to spend some time on the McGill Student Rights and Responsibilities website, http://www.mcgill.ca/students/srr/honest, before writing your first paper or assignment.

Basically, if you didn’t write it or think it, cite it. When it comes to plagiarism and cheating, being pre-emptive is the best strategy for keeping your slate clean.

Kiran Ross is the director of Advocacy and University Affairs of the Legal Information Clinic at McGill and can be reached at [email protected]

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