So, a week into my semester I’ve had a case of admitted plagiarism on a one page (!) assignment. In the past at other schools, I’ve been completely zero-tolerance, and have automatically failed people for just this. I know some people talk about “teachable moments,” and for some incomprehensible reason I am feeling slightly less heartless in this case. As I pointed out to the student, the stupidity of his act goes beyond what he did but also concerns WHAT assignment he plagiarized. The students were asked to figure out what Socrates could mean by saying that a good person can’t be harmed. Of course, the implicit view informing Socrates’ statement is that the sort of harm he sees as truly bad is harm to the “soul,” and that the only person who can harm one’s soul is oneself, by doing wrong. (Say, by knowingly plagiarizing your philosophy homework…)
So instead of kicking this student out of class, with an F, I’m thinking about requiring this student to read some related parts of the Republic (Books I, II, and IX), and to relate all of this, as well as the in-class reading (the Apology and the Crito), to his case, in the form of a substantive paper (much more work than the original assignment, and for no credit. But if the assignment isn’t done to my satisfaction, the student fails). My topic idea is something like, why is Socrates right that it’s better to be caught doing wrong than to get away with it? This is somewhat pedantic, but could be eye-opening for the student. The student will also be required to prove that at least one visit was paid to the Writing Center. It’s also a pain in my butt, but a more interesting pain than all the paperwork I’ve already had to complete. I guess I’m a little worried, however, that I’ve “gone soft” by even thinking of giving the student this opportunity. My policy simply says that my “default” sanction for academic dishonesty is an F for the course, so I’m operating within the realm of stated possibilities in my syllabus. Maybe I should only do this if I’m willing to do it every time (even if the violation doesn’t involve readings of Plato). Is it worth it?
What say you ISW readers?