Friday, May 21, 2010

Solving the Problem of Plagiarism at SFSU

To: Administration

Helen Hegermann, the 17 year old author from Berlin, had her first book in the bestseller list and became a finalist for a major book prize in 2010. A blogger noticed that some of the material in Hegermann’s novel was taken from another novel called “Strobo” which is less known and there was even one case in which an entire page was copied from the book with just a few changes made to it. Helen Hegermann did not ask the author of the book if she could use the text nor did Hegermann site her. The blogger, along with others, believes that she had plagiarized saying, “To take an entire page from an author, as Helene Hegermann admitted to doing, with only slight changes and without asking the author, I consider illegitimate”, but Hegermann defended herself by saying she “mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” (Kulish, 2010). This was a controversial issue regarding whether or not what Ms. Hegermann did should be considered plagiarism and what the punishment should be, if any at all. There are many other controversial issues regarding plagiarism because it’s a concept that is difficult to understand and has many gray areas therefore it is hard to come to an agreement on issues regarding it. Most students at SFSU probably know the basic definition of plagiarism which is “the act of taking credit for someone else’s work” (2006) but it is most likely, these students don’t understand the concept of plagiarism in depth which is why many may end up plagiarizing without even knowing it. The administration at SFSU should deal with plagiarism in a way that helps students and professors understand what it is and it’s policy specifically at this school. 


There are many different ways that a student can plagiarize from buying papers to failing to cite to mixing, borrowing and patch writing. Papers can be bought off the internet, or among friends meaning that the student doesn’t do their own work so it is plagiarism. Failing to cite is using someone else’s work without giving them any credit at all and mixing and borrowing is like in Ms. Hegermann’s case using someone else’s work but changing it to make it your own. Rebecca Moore Howard from My Word who has background of composition studies defines patchwriting as “copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one synonym for another”. (Blum, 2009, p.26). These are just some ways that students can plagiarize and students and administration probably knew about buying papers and failing to cite sources but were not aware of what mixing, borrowing, and patchwriting are, nonetheless that they are considered plagiarism.  

In my English 114 course we had a project in which we surveyed undergraduate SFSU students and my group in particular was to analyze the relationship between demographics and plagiarism. When we conducted the surveys, one of the questions was, “Have you ever plagiarized?, and if so check all that apply” and some of the options were buying a paper, copying from the web, copying from a person, re-using your papers, copying without citing, and having others write papers for you. Through our findings we discovered that 50% of SFSU students have plagiarized in some way and the most common way was re-using their own papers for different classes and many students were shocked in finding out it was considered plagiarism. Also, another one of the most common ways of plagiarizing was failing to cite which is a complicated branch in plagiarism because there are some things that you didn’t create yourself but you don’t have to cite because they are considered common knowledge, something that everyone already knows, and many times it just depends on who you are writing to. (Acala, K et al, 2010,  p.6). According to our findings, at SFSU half of the students are plagiarizing whether they know it or not and many of the students didn’t realize  that some of the things we listed down were considered plagiarism which shows the lack of knowledge in the aspect of plagiarism and why the plagiarism courses should be mandatory. In our groups we also interviewed a few undergraduate students and one of the questions we asked was if they had ever plagiarized and in what way. A few of our interviewees had plagiarized by having their friends write papers for them or just copying off others. Plagiarism is a problem at San Francisco State University that should be dealt with. 

The administration should require an introductory course on plagiarism to be taken when the student gets into this university and in their department when they get into their major because of the differences in common knowledge. Something that is common sense in one major, may not be common sense in another major which is why it is important for the policy to be clear to all students. The course should discuss the different ways one can plagiarize and also emphasize the importance of being consistent with the consequences and policy. For example in my english 114 class when we did our report, a couple of us agreed that there are “two types of plagiarism and each should have its own punishment: intentional and unintentional plagiarism. Someone who is knowingly plagiarizing should be punished however the student who simply doesn't know how to site his or her sources, should be educated on how to do so rather than be punished”  which makes a lot of sense.(Acala, K et al, 2010,  p.6). It doesn’t make sense to punish someone and not explain to them what they did wrong because that’s the only way they will learn how not to make the same mistake over and over again. Plagiarism is something taht is pretty common at San Francisco State University which is why there should be plagiarism courses so students and professor can be well informed and on the same page. 


Valeska Zuniga

Works Cited

Acala, K., Guillen, C., Zuniga, V., Stus, A., Sedlak, G., Eschavez, F. (2010) Plagiarism: SFSU vs. Notre Dame. English 114.04, Spring 2010, San Francisco State University

A Definition of plagiarism. (2006, December 8). Retrieved from

Blum, S.D. (2009) My Word: Plagiarism and College Culture. New York: Cornell University Press

Kulish, N. (2010, February 11). The New York Times: Author,17,Says it's 'mixing', Not Plagiarism. Retrieved from

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It was interesting to see how demographics plays a role on plagiarism. From the interviews, I noticed that stereotypes of students race can lead to them plagiarizing. Some students felt that the stereotype of their race was to be smart and they wanted to fit into that category and therefore plagiarized to get good grades and seem smart. Also, when the stereotype of the students race is that they're not very smart then they don't want to fit into that stereotype and plagiarize to prove others wrong. One student believed that demographics had nothing to do with plagiarism and that it didn't affect their views on plagiarism. Overall, it was interesting to hear about the students' views and experiences through the interviews.