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I am a university student, doing a scientific bachelor study. I plagiarised multiple exercises from multiple homework sets for three different classes, all in all about 50% of all the homework for those three classes. I passed the final exams of those three classes. Realizing what I have done, I am considering turning myself in, unless the punishment would be too severe. What do you think?

Edit: I actually got caught once before for plagiarising on a single homework set.

Edit2: I calculated that redoing the courses would cost me at least $7000, this is also a consideration for me personally.

Edit3: I actually copied the homework of a friend who gave it to me because he trusted me. I broke this trust, and now he terminated our friendship. I asked him about it and turning myself in is the only way to earn back his respect.

I'd like to know from more people what kind of punishment I could expect. If I turn myself in, I would find it fair to only have to redo the three classes.

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Did you pass the finals without cheating? If so then you did something wrong, but you proved that you know the material. Take that comment as you will. –  horse hair Jun 27 at 20:28
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In which country are you? –  Relaxed Jun 27 at 20:42
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@user17965: Relaxed wants to know because punishments for plagiarism can vary greatly by country. Also, it would be helpful to have a better sense of what exactly you did wrong. Did you copy another student's work, lift solutions from a website, or something else? Also, what sort of "honor code" does your university have? –  aeismail Jun 27 at 21:04
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@Relaxed Edit two would indicate the USA (given $'s). –  Thomas Jun 27 at 21:05
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@Thomas The following are some countries which use the $ symbol: HK, Canada, Singapore, AU, US, NZ, (maybe others) and some like Chile use the $ sign even when they refer to pesos (I know, confusing). –  earthling Jun 28 at 9:43

7 Answers 7

I am considering turning myself in, unless the punishment would be too severe.

You are describing an extremely serious violation of most university's academic integrity policies. The most likely punishment is that your credit for those classes would be revoked, your grades would be changed to Fs on your transcript, and you would be suspended or expelled. (That would certainly be the most likely result at my university.)

Nevertheless, I believe you should turn yourself in.

Ari gives a good summary of the ethical argument, but there is also a selfish practical argument. Since you mention being caught once, there is good reason to believe that your work will face additional scrutiny. If you get caught before turning yourself in, the result is much more likely to be permanent expulsion. If you admit your plagiarism, the punishment will be slightly less severe; in particular, even if they decide on expulsion, the university will be much more likely to readmit you after 2-3 years.

Even if you decide not to turn yourself in, I recommend taking a short break from university, if you can afford it. The amount of cheating you describe indicates that something is very wrong — maybe you were overwhelmed, maybe you were scared, maybe you were lazy, maybe the homework were insultingly stupid, maybe you just didn't want to be there — but something was preventing you from engaging in those classes as a responsible student. You need to figure out what that something is and address it, or you'll just fall into the same pattern again.

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Thanks for the indication of the punishment. I know why I did this, I know it is a matter of my past, and I know I will never do it again. –  user17965 Jun 27 at 21:45
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I've also caught students clearly cheating as a grader, reported it, and found that the students in question got a slap on the wrist. So I don't know if I would agree with JeffE's assessment of the "most likely" punishment here. –  aeismail Jun 28 at 2:06
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Hell, as a grader I've caught people who were obviously cheating on multiple assignments, and the end response was to do nothing. (Granted the total HW was only 10% of the grade, but still...) –  chipbuster Jun 28 at 3:34
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Also, the OP did not copy an entire masters thesis, but a subset of the homework assignments. Expelling a student for that seems too harsh. –  Paul Hiemstra Jun 28 at 19:16
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In my department, the penalty for plagiarizing part of one assignment is a zero on that homework, for the first offense. The penalty for a second offense in the same class is an F in the class. All offenses are reported to department, college, and campus, to catch patterns across multiple classes. Failing three classes for cheating normally results in suspension. Plagiarizing on half of the homework in three different classes means about 10-15 separate offenses. No, expulsion doesn't seem overly harsh at all. –  JeffE Jun 28 at 20:40

As a student in the sciences, I see cheating all the time. My undergraduate institution had a strict honor code we had to sign; Many people cheated. I'm not sure how aware or unaware professors really are to the fact; I remember having one very strange conversation with one of the professors I'm closest too:

"There is good cheating and bad cheating"

is the exact phrase he said. He wasn't advocating to cheat, but what he said was that as long as the cheating didn't hurt anyone else directly (curved grades) or undermine the point of the class ( doing poorly on tests) then one could say that you cheated not because you weren't capable of doing the material, but moreover you cheated to save time. In undergrad, I think, many people get away this this type of cheating.

I would not turn myself in. I have never cheated, but I don't see why turning yourself in helps the university or yourself as long as you never cheat again. You obviously learned the material; make sure you try your best to be as honest with your work as possible from now on.

Not all lessons learned need to have punishment, having to learn is sometimes consequence enough.

Now, if your courses were curved, and you might have harmed someone else's grade, that is a totally different story.

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I appreciate your honost comment. My grades were not curved, and no-one's grade has been harmed. –  user17965 Jun 27 at 22:58
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Don't take this as an excuse to cheat; If I were a coworker or your teacher and found out, I would find it very hard to trust you again. –  Neo Jun 27 at 23:18
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+1: don't turn yourself in, and don't do this in the future. Turning yourself in is pretty much the end of your academic career at least, and quite possibly a big bump in your life's road. That said, with cheating commonplace in my phd in California (what honor code?) which appalled me, you at least show moral conscience, and suffer for it. It happened; don't again; and move on. –  gnometorule Jun 28 at 16:44
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@gnometorule, the reason why I plagiarised was actually because I suffered intensely under psychological problems for a few years, the plagiarism was an aftershock under pressure to graduate. I think my past suffering would be a sufficient punishment for what I've done. –  user17965 Jun 28 at 22:36
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Doesn't your honor code contain a clause that if you don't report any observed cheating, you are cheating yourself? –  TemplateRex Jun 29 at 16:28

You should talk to an ombudsperson at the university or an academic dean and tell them the whole story. They will likely punish you, but the punishment should be mitigated by the fact that you voluntarily provided the information even after "getting away with it".

If you keep this to yourself, it will either haunt your conscience for the rest of your life, or you will learn to be comfortable with wrong behavior. If that's the type of person you want to be, you don't need me to tell you otherwise. However, the fact that you've published this question suggests that you know that this needs to be rectified.

Either way, there is clearly an endemic problem at your university that the administration should know about.

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Without wishing to get all judgemental about the practice of awarding course credit for homework: the number of questions on this site about catching and punishing homework cheats, and the prevalence of plagiarism detection software for that purpose, both suggest that a lot of universities have an endemic problem with it. If the administration doesn't already know then that's classic avoidance at an institutional level ;-) Which is not to say that another data point isn't useful to them. –  Steve Jessop Jun 27 at 22:33
    
@SteveJessop - It's also possible that staff are aware of the problem, but have chosen to manage it in other ways (eg, mandatory pass marks on final exams, low homework weightings, grading interviews where students have to explain their reasoning). I'm not saying that's necessarily the most ethical solution, but it's one I've seen used a lot, and when you have 500+ students in a course, it's understandable. –  sapi Jun 28 at 14:46

Your university likely has rules about academic misconduct. At my university the rules and penalties about academic misconduct are pretty clear. The minimum penalty we can apply to second offenses is a zero on the piece of work and the maximum penalty is a zero for the year. For third offenses the penalty starts at a zero for the class.

I sit on our academic misconduct committee and in general we try and be forgiving, especially to students who admit guilt. Other committee might simply expel you.

For our committee, you admitting copying 50% of the course work would make it difficult to conclude anything other than that you committed an academic offense. We would then be left with trying to mitigate the damage within the rules. We would likely argue that all the copying is a single offense (i.e., nothing falls into the third offense category) and that all the pieces of work that have copying should get a zero. We might be so lenient as to only penalize the first piece of work. Then again we could be mean and argue for multiple offenses and expulsion.

I think if you turn yourself in, the penalties could range from rather light (a zero on one piece of work) to expulsion. Getting caught without turning yourself in would likely increase the minimal penalty, potentially to a zero on all pieces of affected work. It is not clear if this additional penalty would have an affect on your ability to graduate or make a substantial change to your transcript.

That said, I would talk to a lawyer and figure out your legal responsibilities and weigh those against your moral/ethical responsibilities. It is not clear that a university would be able to retroactively amend a degree for academic misconduct related to homework, especially if, if all the affected pieces of work were given a grade of zero and you would still pass.

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I suggest you approach a guidance counselor at the school (or a school psychologist, or equivalent). I think they are in the best position to help you in this case. (You might want to check first if your conversations will be treated confidentially.) The punishment you will receive for confessing will greatly depend on what the school policy is and I think the school's guidance counselor would know how cases like yours were handled in the past.

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Honestly, no one cares. I plagiarised in all 3 of my degrees and I am a doctor. Do NOT turn yourself in. Everyone does it. The lecturers did it. Your children will do it. Uni is a process to get to where you need to. Your real learning starts in your career. Not on an exam paper or essay that is double spaced, size 12 arial narrow font and referenced in Vancouver style. Seriously, it will not affect any part of your life going forward. To everyone else who is getting cut at this, move on. Assignments are there to reduce the workload of the lecturers. Our thesis was 100,000 words. I copied at least 30% from other people and made up half of the references. My lecturer (after uni and over a couple of beers) told me he reads the intro, picks 10 pages, adds comments and reads the conclusion. Move on and enjoy your life.

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"Honestly, no one cares" Ex-Doctor zu Guttenberg (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causa_Guttenberg) would disagree. –  xLeitix Jun 29 at 10:30
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The question is jot about sweeter the student should or shouldn't tun himself in, it is about the possible penalty if he does. As such, I don't see how this answers the question. –  StrongBad Jun 29 at 10:48
    
To be fair, the text of the post states the question more generally: I am considering turning myself in, unless the punishment would be too severe. What do you think? and several other answers neglect to answer the titular question. I think this is an answer, albeit possibly a very bad one. –  ff524 Jun 29 at 12:41
    
It would greatly contribute to the value and sincerity of this answer if you would tell us your full name. If you are not willing to do so, then your answer simply seems to be a lie. –  Pete L. Clark Jun 29 at 20:13

For whatever your reasons may be, you choose to submit someone else's homework as your own and received credit for being able to do so. In the real world that is not any different than benefitting from work given to you by a volunteer or an employee. These things happen thousands of times day in the normal course of life.
The important thing here is that you passed your exams on your own demonstrating that you had a mastery of the material, which is the purpose of education, isn't it? Your exams reflect your own ability and since those were done without cheating, you should simply continue on with your life. If you've resolved not to continue this behavior and are done with it, I see no reason to submit yourself the school or any of its representatives. They have your money, You have the knowledge. The transaction is complete.

Einstein was a "poor student" yet revolutionized physics. Henry Ford, had no college degree yet revolutionized the fledging auto industry. What matters here is not what school, "a self appointed authority" thinks of you, but what you think of yourself. If you can resolve to work harder at your studies, or find something you're actually interested in and can change your behavior so as not to put yourself at risk, I suggest you are done and should quit punishing yourself for the past.

As much as they would like us to think otherwise, schools are a very poor place to learn most of the real knowledge you need to survive and prosper in real life. Let it go.

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Careful! The success of Einsteins and Fords (poor student/no college degree) does not negate the seriousness of cheating... Einstein and Ford persisted despite outside opposition, not the inward opposition of a guilty conscience. –  J. Zimmerman Jun 28 at 1:06
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In the workplace, it may be expected that a volunteer or employee gives you work. In academic settings, it is expressly forbidden to get work from others. I cringe when I see my peers cheat in engineering classes -- I wouldn't want to fly on a plane or drive over a bridge designed by somebody who couldn't do the homework themselves (whether for lack of time or lack of knowledge). –  tpg2114 Jun 28 at 4:00
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The Einstein argument is wrong on so many levels, I won't even start to explain. –  xLeitix Jun 28 at 8:56
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The whole idea of Einstein being a bad student is a myth (based on the fact that his first biographer confused the Swiss and German grading systems - in Switzerland a higher grade is better, in Germany the best grade is a 1). –  Voo Jun 28 at 13:27
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The question is about possible penalties and not whether he should or should turn himself in. As such, I don't see how this answers the question. –  StrongBad Jun 29 at 10:50

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