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Summary

I was assigned to write an autobiography for a course and copied some sentences from a personal statement for an application. Those sentences in turn included material by somebody else, which I referenced in the application, but I failed to reference in the autobiography. Due to this I was accused of plagiarism by my professor, who I feel is making a mountain out of a molehill.

What happened

I am a mathematics PhD student. I am taking a course outside of the math department in the education department. For the first week of class we have to submit an assignment essentially showing that we're in the class for financial aid purposes and what not, creating the impression that the assignment is not necessarily for credit. My professor wanted us to write a short autobiography for this assignment. It was about 1% of the total grade.

I had previously done an intense personal statement for NSF-GRFP, a prestigious fellowship. I took one paragraph from that personal statement for this autobiography assignment and forgot a reference that I had included in the NSF-GRFP personal statement. Unfortunately, the plagiarized portion was not in quotations and just merely had a footnote in my original NSF-GRFP proposal that I mistakenly overlooked.

Thus, two sentences (out of the five paragraphs) came up flagged as plagiarism and my professor indicated that they were going to submit this to the student-conduct office. Now needless to say I'm freaking out. I understand what plagiarism is, and I understand it does not matter whether it is intentional or not, and I do not what kind of sanctions will be placed on me for this oversight. This all happened today and I'm meeting with my graduate adviser tomorrow to discuss what actions need to be taken.

What the professor and the rules say

I went to explain my situation to the professor. Before I could even finish explaining I was interrupted and told that I committed self-plagiarism as well by taking material from my NSF-GRFP personal statement. This professor is now completely unwilling to hear me out and told that I will be assigned an "F" for their course in addition to whatever penalties the university places on me.

Upon reviewing my institution's self-plagiarism statement, it says that the assignment/paper must be submitted for academic credit. Clearly an NSF-GRFP grant proposal is not for academic credit. So the self-plagiarism issue should be resolved rather quickly, I hope. I emailed my professor and she said that she will still be reporting me to student conduct for plagiarism and that she would give me a 0% on this assignment and take 30% off of my final course grade, i.e. if I get a 100% on every assignment for the entire term I can pull off a 70% "C" passing grade. I'm confident in my abilities but I'm sure I would end up losing a point or two along the way and end up with a "D" or worse. So that much has been retracted.

What my graduate advisor says

I met with my graduate program adviser, and he indicated that there is nothing that he personally can do about the matter as the instructor of record has the right to submit any form of plagiarism to student conduct at their own free will if they have any form of evidence. He indicated that there is nothing the department can really do about the matter and that I need "roll with the punches." I found this quite discouraging.

On the other hand, he mentioned that I will not lose my position (graduate teaching assistant) in the department due to this, and that as far as he is aware, the grade I receive in the course won't impact my graduation or progression through the department. However, he fears that if the university places severe sanctions on me (i.e. semester probation, expulsion) that there is nothing that can be done. All in all, his advice was to simply go through the procedure and do not fight it.

This conflicts with advice I have received from some other professors that I am in good terms with in the department, they said at worst I should receive a failing grade for that assignment and nothing more. However, it all boiled down to their mere opinion of the matter. I still have not heard from the student-conduct board, but I anticipate to receive that email on Monday if not sooner.

If I choose to appeal I have seven business days to put in a formal appeal plea. I guess my new crossroad is whether to: appeal or not? If the accusation is self-plagiarism, I will certainly appeal it because I have a strong case for that. However, if it is merely plagiarism I don't know... I guess it comes back to the title of this question: where's the line between plagiarism and missing a reference? The student handbook at my university defines plagiarism as:

whereby another’s work is used or appropriated without any indication of the source, thereby attempting to convey the impression that such work is the student’s own.

Taking away all the circumstances of this event, I have done that. Considering how this actually happened, it was more of a clerical error. I will update again after I receive the official email from the student conduct board.

Question

I do not know what to do or what I even can do right now.

I actually have aspirations to one day become faculty at a university. Moreover, I am on an assistantship through my university teaching courses and I fear that I could lose that position and thus my stipend money.

closed as off-topic by David Ketcheson, Morgan Rodgers, louic, Enthusiastic Engineer, Buzz Jun 10 '18 at 0:54

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only someone familiar can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others. (See this discussion for more info.)" – louic, Enthusiastic Engineer, Buzz
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 6
    I do not know what to do or what I even can do right now. Find out about the appeals process at your university. Talk to someone who is familiar with it; many universities will help students find someone to represent them in the process. Go to the meeting with your advisor and don't do anything until then. – Nate Eldredge May 31 '18 at 22:25
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    So these two sentences were a quote written by someone else? Was it in quotation marks? Also is self-plagiarism as serious a charge as plagiarism at your school anyway? (even though it clearly doesn't sound like it fits) In any case the person is a major jerk for such severe penalties over two sentences in an assignment, even if you intentionally plagiarized them. I'd submit everything he ever wrote to a copyright checker, especially including comparing himself to his own writings, and see how many sentences you can find. I'd bet many. – A Simple Algorithm May 31 '18 at 23:31
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    I'm not an academic, but @ASimpleAlgorithm's question seems on point to me: were these two sentences marked as quotations? If not, then their presence would be a problem even if you'd listed the paper they were taken from as a reference; surely including a citation is not a license to copy and paste prose from the cited work into yours as if you'd written it? If they were marked as quotes, then, while sloppy, it's not plagiarism to have included them even without the reference, because then you were not trying to pass off the other author's writing as your own. – Mark Amery Jun 1 '18 at 12:59
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    Could you just withdraw from the class and avoid a bad grade altogether? You mentioned it's a class outside your major anyways. – Jean-Bernard Pellerin Jun 1 '18 at 20:58
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    I would expect the self-plagarism charge to go away on its own, once the relevant bodies find that one of the places the text appeared was not an assignment or a publication. If not, I'd appeal. As for the other - technically you did plagiarize, I guess, but hopefully common sense will prevail and people will see that it is (a) minor; (b) accidental. Whether common sense exists in your school on such matters, I don't know. I'm not sure that anybody here can provide a canonical answer as to what you should do... – Flyto Jun 2 '18 at 8:02

10 Answers 10

81

While you are technically guilty of plagiarism for forgetting the reference, you are not guilty of self-plagiarism—the work you have plagiarized is not published anywhere, nor is there an expectation that material submitted for a grant proposal cannot be recycled for later use.

Therefore, the professor's response is overblown and is not likely to survive a review process. As Nate Eldredge mentioned in his comment, you need to see your institution's appeal process for academic violations and pursue that. You should expect to get zero credit for the assignment, and there may be a penalty against the remainder of your grade beyond the zero, but an automatic F for the course is clearly, as you said, making a mountain out of a molehill.

  • 87
    I'm not sure I'd expect a zero on that assignment (at least not if I'm expecting something fair), unless it was his only citation that he forgot. You just don't give zeros to a student who was obviously doing acceptable work in good faith and made a human clerical error in the process. You give zeros when you believe there's been conscious misconduct or gross/reckless negligence, which clearly doesn't seem to be the case here. – Mehrdad Jun 1 '18 at 10:02
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    @Mehrdad While I agree in principle, policy may not make such a distinction. – aeismail Jun 1 '18 at 12:16
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    " nor is there an expectation that material submitted for a grant proposal cannot be recycled for later use." Indeed, universites would be empty if this were true! – Matt Jun 1 '18 at 23:47
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    @D.W. You're missing that it wasn't an intentional omission. OP never meant to pass off someone else's work as their own; they did it because of a clerical error. In the same way as you wouldn't sentence a court clerk to life in jail for a minor error in paperwork that granted a deed to Jame Smith instead of James Smith, you shouldn't punish a student for accidentally omitting a reference as though it was intentional. Of course, something should be done, if only to encourage the student to be more careful, but treating it like they'd done it intentionally is unfair. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jun 2 '18 at 6:38
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    @NicHartley, Let's set aside the self-plagiarism as that's now moot, and focus on the 2 sentences. It sounds like when writing the GRFP, the original poster copied two sentences from someone else, word-for-word, without using quotation marks, but did add a citation. That already is plagiarism. It's not enough to include a citation. One must also indicate that the material is a quotation and was written by someone else. Then, when writing the essay in class, they copied those 2 sentences again, this time without the citation. If that's what happened, that's plagiarism, both times. – D.W. Jun 2 '18 at 16:16
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In my opinion, "self-plagiarism" is an oxymoron invented by crooks and publishing houses. To hear that a professor makes such a fuss about it is quite sad. Besides, it is teaching, not Final Judgement. Unless you had a history of plagiarism, not including a reference should be at worst viewed as a mistake more or less equivalent to making an arithmetic error in a long computation, IMHO. A few points off, a gentle rebuke, and a clear explanation of what is expected is all it really merits.

Alas, this opinion is easy for me to say but hard for you to use. Looks like you'll have to go through some formal appeal procedure. Just go the the department chair office, explain that you got into a conflict with your teacher, state the situation in a matter-of-fact way without emotions, accusations, or attempts to defend yourself, and ask for advice and formal appeal rules and procedures. You should definitely be given the information on the latter but if you behave nicely and the chair is not in a terribly bad mood, you may get a former too.

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    Self-plagiarism in education has even less merit. The assignments should help you develop skills and check if you have developed them. Of you have already done it before and can just hand in a result - perfect! – Džuris Jun 1 '18 at 9:25
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    I have seen people publish essentially the same paper over and over again. Sometimes identical, sometimes with small differences in a page or so. Never mentioning all the prior occasions. It seems like a genuine, serious problem rather than just "an oxymoron invented by crooks and publishing houses". – Andrés E. Caicedo Jun 1 '18 at 12:08
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    The question isn't asking for your opinion on whether "self-plagiarism" is a good name for the practice that it describes. – David Richerby Jun 1 '18 at 13:02
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    As I said in another answer, self-plagiarism is not a special case of plagiarism (which is what makes the name so horribly confusing, to the extent that you are somewhat justified in labeling it an oxymoron), but it is still unethical as it involves misrepresentation. Fedja, surely you will not “openly declare” that it would be okay for me to take one of my published papers and submit ten identical copies of it, each with a different title, to ten different journals, without disclosing that I am “reusing my own creation”? – Dan Romik Jun 1 '18 at 14:49
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    @Mehrdad it seems like you are badly misinformed. Either that, or we're talking about completely different things. Ethics is precisely the reason why the behavior I described is unacceptable. – Dan Romik Jun 2 '18 at 1:10
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For the purpose of this answer I assume that the original reference in your application was flawless – which is you have to ascertain yourself.

If we ignore the existence of your application for a minute, the professor would have a strong case against you for committing plagiarism. Yes, you can say that you forgot a reference due to a clerical error, but that’s an easy claim to make in hindsight and is usually not considered a valid defence. This would be your typical case of plagiarism that is usually severely punished for a good reason. The only thing in your favour is that this is only about two sentences in a minor assignment.

Now, thanks to your application (which is probably on record somewhere), you are in the fortunate situation that you can actually prove that you only committed a clerical error: You copied some context which includes the offending two sentences; you lost the reference in the process. While this opens the door for accusations of self-plagiarism, this is a lesser offence and can be easily dismissed for reasons you already noted.

This is how I would build my defence: Acknowledge that you can understand where the accusations are coming from and that this is brought before the student-conduct board. However, state that the alleged plagiarism did not happen out of malice but merely was a clerical error – which you can prove.

As already mentioned by others, it might be wise to seek for support from the student union or similar for the conduct board’s inquiry.

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    “is usually not considered a valid defence” — That entirely depends on whether there’s a pattern of doing this. Accidental plagiarism (i.e. forgetting to properly quote or reference individual sections) is somewhat common, and most reasonable people should accept OP’s description of the events that led to it as plausible (most people here do, after all). It’s nothing less than excessive to assume bad faith and to treat such a simple mistake as intentional fraud. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 4 '18 at 14:55
  • @KonradRudolph: That entirely depends on whether there’s a pattern of doing this. – An autobiography does not leave much room for even having a pattern. Also, as far as I know, a considerable number of fields (especially those who would give an autobiography as an assignment) have a strong anti-plagiarism policy, which I can understand given that they hold phrasing and similar to a much higher value than say scientific fields – in which the kind of plagiarism we are talking about here is not a relevant problem. Finally mind that I did say usually and the last sentence of my fist paragraph. – Wrzlprmft Jun 4 '18 at 19:32
  • I think that this is the cleverest strategy to follow. I would not be concerned about the self plagiarism accusation, since the document was not published anywhere and was never submitted as an assignment. – The Doctor Jun 6 '18 at 8:00
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I don't have personal experience with this, but if it were me I would go to my faculty ombudsperson and explain the situation just like you did to us here, and ask him(/her) for advice.

Most likely he'll suggestions on what you should do. If he seems particularly sympathetic, and you get slapped with a harsh punishment (in my eyes, a zero is too harsh if (a) the assignment is worth a lot, (b) you only forgot one citation out of many, and (c) your work otherwise didn't have major problems) then you may hint if there's a chance he could informally chat to the professor and see if he could impose a lighter penalty (e.g. maybe X% off and letting you redo the assignment with original content?) so that it doesn't affect your grade so disproportionately.

Barring sympathetic faculty members to talk to privately, I would just try to stay calm and go through the process. For a first offense I just don't see a humane punishment for an unintentional oversight like this that goes beyond that assignment, and frankly your professor will likely make himself look bad if he can even manage to push for harsher punishments on this.

Whomever you talk to (including but not limited to the professor), ask them if there's a chance this could make it into your permanent academic record. I have no idea what the consequences are, but I know if it were me I would plead them to help me avoid that when I was clearly doing my best and not anything wrong. But see what they say.

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To offer some thoughts that go in a different direction than @aeismail’s excellent answer, I am somewhat taken aback by your description of the assignment:

For the first week of class we have to submit an assignment essentially showing that we're in the class for financial aid purposes and what not

You haven’t said what kind of class this is, and I don’t know what institution you’re in (or what you mean exactly by “what not”), but I think you may have a legitimate claim that the mere act of assigning you a task that is completely unrelated to the topic of the course (if the impression I’m getting is correct) constitutes an abuse of the professor’s authority. Financial aid may be very important and all, but I don’t think it’s within a professor’s authority to force students to take any action to apply for such aid or to help their department or university claim aid on their behalf. There are all sorts of legal and ethical concerns that this raises. Admittedly, I’m not a lawyer and cannot say anything authoritative about whether this is okay or not, but I’d advise you to look into the matter by consulting the university ombuds office, your student union representative, other friendly parties, or even a lawyer.

If my intuition about this is correct and the professor has abused their authority, you may well have a strong counterargument to help you in your defense. While this wouldn’t necessarily invalidate the claim of plagiarism (since two wrongs don’t make a right as we all know), pointing out that the professor should not even be allowed to base your course grade on irrelevant and illegitimate assignments would certainly complement your other defense arguments (which also sound pretty reasonable) nicely and increase your chances of success. Good luck!

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    My reading of that part is rather different (and more benign) than this. I understood it as this being an assignment that was meant to be essentially trivial to complete, because students would not be officially considered to be taking the course until they hand in an assignment, and their (i.e. the students') financial aid is dependent on being actively participating in the course. – Tobias Kildetoft Jun 1 '18 at 9:44
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    @DavidRicherby the latter. – Dan Romik Jun 1 '18 at 13:50
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    @Tobias the question is not how trivial the assignment is to complete but whether it has any pedagogical value related to the goals of the course. If it doesn’t, the student (and other students who are not accused of plagiarism but are annoyed at being assigned work that has no value) would have a reasonably good case to argue it should never have been assigned, that assigning it is a (perhaps mild, but still relevant in the context of the question) abuse of the instructor’s authority, and that its grade should not factor into the course grade. In other words, it is not “benign”. – Dan Romik Jun 1 '18 at 14:00
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    Clearly we don't have all that much information, but "I'm not sure I see a ton of academic value in this assignment" is a far cry from "professor is engaging in abuse of authority and/or legally/ethically questionable practices". I just don't see the justification for the latter here (at least with the info we have). – BradC Jun 1 '18 at 16:46
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    Yeah, this answer takes some huge leaps. – Fomite Jun 6 '18 at 3:35
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I'm assuming you are in the US and had a US undergraduate education given your NSF application.

First, you should stop minimizing the offense and rationalizing your violation of academic standards with comments like "mountain out of a molehill" or calling it a "clerical error." If you were an undergraduate at any reasonable US institution you would be subject to sanctions for what you did in your NSF essay if you had turned it in since you failed to use quotation marks. This is something that you should know at high school graduation and certainly at the end of your first semester or year in college. Undergraduates get 0s for just a few words without quotation marks not to mention several sentences.

As a graduate student you should hold yourself and be held to even a higher standard; care in writing should be second nature. For example any college graduate should be assumed to be familiar with and able to apply in their writing definitions such as that given here. Just search the web for others. As a potential faculty member you are actually charged with implementing this in practice.

So the first thing you need to do is to admit that you did the wrong thing and apologize to the professor, and accept the appropriate punishment. Not a fake apology, a real one. Of course if you really don't understand or agree with your university's policies on academic integrity by all means, make a stand, but know that those documents and procedures represent years of faculty and legal discussion and consensus building. This is reflected in the way your advisor says that this is up to the other faculty member. Faculty are absolutely going to support their peers' right to handle these matters even if they would handle them differently.

However, you have compounded the issue by being dismissive of the importance of the assignment, which is a standard first week kind of task for a discussion based class especially where students are from a mix of departments and backgrounds. These assignments are helpful for the professor to understand the class. I'm also guessing that since you said the class was in education that the professor is modeling a way that you as a future possible professor (or TA) might gather information about who the students in the class are and any concerns they might have. This has nothing to do with financial aid; it is insulting to the professor for you to characterize her assignment as some kind of busy work.

The bigger issue is that you are acting as though the faculty member in the class is not in charge of determining what is important or not important, and that is very insulting to the faculty member. This is not helping your case at all, beyond being rude and obnoxious. You don't want to be in the class? Guess what, the undergraduates don't want to be in your college algebra or calculus recitation. You are still in charge if you are the instructor, and it is not okay for them to be rude to you.

You need to apologize to the instructor for not taking her assignment seriously. I hate to say this but you are living up to stereotypes of mathematicians who think that they are much smarter than people in every other discipline, in your case even as a first year student encountering a faculty member. If you are male and (as indicated by the pronouns in your question) she is female you should also be aware that she is probably assuming that the patronizing way you are treating her and her course is not just because it is not a mathematics course but also potentially because of sexism on your part. You have made numerous bad mistakes in your interactions, and you will have to work very hard to recover. When you go into that classroom you need to be positive, take the work seriously, and be willing to learn and not be a passive aggressive presence.

My feeling is you should even now just say to her that you accept the punishment and say that you hope that by being a positive and constructive contributor to the class over the rest of the semester you will make up for your mistake.

In terms of appeal or not, you probably should consult with the designated person about this. There should be someone who serves in the role of advisor to you. If there isn't go talk to someone in Student Affairs. If you do appeal, obviously the facts are against you, the only thing would be to appeal the severity of the sanction. If you appeal you can throw yourself on the mercy of the board by expressing remorse and asking for a chance to finish the course with the possibility of a passing grade (and you can point out that 30% punishment means that this leaves no room for error).

tl;dr Stop insulting the Professor.

Throw yourself on the mercy of the instructor and also when you get whatever you get from the conduct board you should also apologize profusely. Work very hard all semester and be a positive contributor to the course.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Jun 4 '18 at 14:22
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It's hard to tell exactly what the facts are, but if they are what it sounds like, I'm not sure you fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation yet.

Let's set aside the self-plagiarism as that's now moot. Instead, I am going to focus on those 2 sentences. It sounds like when writing the GRFP, you copied two sentences from someone else, word-for-word, without using quotation marks, but you did add a citation. If that is indeed what you did, that is plagiarism. It's not enough to include a citation. You must also indicate that the material is a quotation and was written by someone else. When you don't include any indication that those sentences were written by someone else, you are giving the impression that you wrote those sentences.

Then, when writing the essay for class, it sounds like you copied those 2 sentences again, this time without the citation. If that's what happened, that's plagiarism, both times. You should be realizing that it violates academic integrity policies. In particular, when you copy material written by someone else without indicating that it is a quotation, you are "convey[ing] the impression that such work is your own", and that directly violates academic policies. This is true even if you had put a citation at the end: to indicate that it is someone else's work, you must both mark it as a quotation, and also credit the source (e.g., with a citation).

If these facts are correct, the problem is not that you forgot the citation; or it's not just that you forgot the citation. The problem is that you copied material written by someone else, without indicating that it was copied -- and you did it twice.

What should you do now? If I've understood the facts correctly, you should stop minimizing the situation. Stop trying to minimize it by calling it "unintentional", "a clerical error", "merely two sentences out of five paragraphs", or saying that the professor is "making a mountain out of a molehill". This is a mountain. Universities take academic integrity policies very seriously, for good reason, so it's not likely to help your case to suggest that violations of it are unimportant.

Instead, I recommend that you take this seriously. Recognize that you screwed up. We are all human; we all make mistakes. It happens. Arguably, what matters most is how we deal with it when it happens. Rather than minimizing, learn from this situation. Learn about academic integrity policies, what they require, and why many in academia care about them so strongly. Apologize sincerely to the professor. Tell her that you are sorry and you realize you screwed up; and make no excuses. You'll have to work hard over the semester to recover from the mistake, but I suspect you'll find that you can put this behind you.

I agree that you might want to appeal any self-plagiarism finding. But while it might feel harsh, 0% on this assignment and 30% off the course grade doesn't sound like an outlandish penalty for the plagiarism (those two sentences), and it might be within the realm of what discretion is afforded to the instructor. In many places, I suspect the policies allow for penalties up to giving you an F for the course or suspending or expelling you from the graduate program if you violate the academic integrity policy. So, I am not sure I would recommend appealing the plagiarism violation. A poor grade on this one course won't end your life and won't sink your career chances. Take this as an opportunity to learn and show good character for the future. If you learn the lesson and demonstrate that you work hard and take your studies seriously, then I would imagine that there's a good chance you can put this behind you and reach your career goals.

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    Oh come on it's not a mountain it's a class assignment. I agree the student appears to be spin doctoring the story. But this is terrible advice. If you had followed the whole story, the professor did initially seek to fail the student, and they have argued their way this far. They might get even further if cooler heads prevail. – A Simple Algorithm Jun 3 '18 at 5:48
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    The OP says, "Unfortunately, the plagiarized portion was not in quotations," which I take to mean it wasn't indicated in the text itself in any way that he was quoting someone. I'm not an academic, but I really don't see how that is ever acceptable. And had he properly quoted the text, it would have been obvious to the prof. that, though the reference had been dropped, the OP was not trying to plagiarize another text. I think that this answer is correct: this minimization is a serious problem. That may explain why the OP is getting punished so harshly. – Curt J. Sampson Jun 3 '18 at 13:09
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm A student who has gotten all the way to a PhD program without figuring out how to properly cite text is a mountain. – Fomite Jun 6 '18 at 3:38
  • @Fomite It's not a mountain if it can be resolved with a warning and an hour of reading on the student's part. I completely disagree with this dualistic mindset that tries to categorize people into defective and defect-free. – A Simple Algorithm Jun 6 '18 at 11:26
4

Severity of the "crime" matters, and it can be debated on logical grounds. So if you are to defend yourself in front of a committee, make sure that you can show to them to the best of your ability that "it was a clerical error" indeed, as you write, and nothing more. Was it? How central/critical to your assignment were these two sentences? What would you stand to gain by plagiarizing these specific two sentences?
Some punishment towards creating an alertness reflex for the future may come down on you, but the principle "punishment must fit the crime" is almost universally accepted, and it warrants a "quantification" of the crime.

Also, the extend of the crime matters. If these two sentences were not that critical to the work, well, they are only two sentences after all. This is a second way to quantify the crime.

1

copied ... included material by somebody else ... failed to reference

For a "brief autobiography"? That's enough. At 1% of the grade, the instructor was not expecting perfection or a great deal of work, but it was the start of a new course, and you were supposed to write at least a little something original about yourself for the course. The copypasta just doesn't make the grade.

-7

Wait, let me get this straight: This Professor wants to bring you up on formal disciplinary charges for a mock autobiographical text which is a homework assignment in some class, because you had a few sentences in there that you didn't write yourself? And you're a Mathmatician (i.e. not training to become a biographer)?

That's patently absurd. The most ridiculous thing I've heard since, well, Donald Trump's last tweet I guess.

Here are some hopefully practical suggestions. They are quite assertive and confrontational - but we're not dealing with reasonable action towards you, so some boldness is called for:

  • Find friends, colleagues and class-mates who support your position.
  • Talk to your graduate student union / graduate employee union. They should want not merely to protect you, but to prevent the very dangerous precedent of frivolous disciplinary procedures being countenanced by senior faculty (or later on, disciplinary authorities). It is also something that should be politically easy to do, since no funds or employment condition changes are involved.
  • Your graduate program advisor was brushing you off when he "indicated that there is nothing that he personally can do". What he should have said that this is an abuse of the course teacher's position, a distortion of the regulations, and that the regulations regarding plagiarism are intended for academically meaningful cases. He could and he should talk to that course teacher, demanding that this case not be reported, telling the teacher he would protest, formally and in writing, such a report; testify in your favor at any procedure; and initiate an administrative procedure against said teacher.
  • In fact, you should check how you yourself may be able to "counter-sue". It's better if a member of the senior faculty supports this/sponsors this/co-signs this; and it's better yet if it's the graduate student union.
  • One of the things the union should do for you is assign a lawyer, or an experienced defender in disciplinary procedures, to help you form your defense (and possibly a counter-suit). Other answers suggest what certain defense lines might be, and of course it depends on the specifics of your university bylaws and state law.
  • If you have enough classmates annoyed about this happening, they could disrupt the course classes until the Professor promises to not report / rescind the report of the incident. Union support can help this happen, including possibly by gathering more people to support such an effort.
  • If you have enough people supporting you overall, get them all to write letters of protest both to the course teacher and to your graduate program supervisor. If you have been reported, these could also be letters to whoever is running the disciplinary procedure, demanding that it not be conducted.
  • If you have enough people supporting you overall and/or union support, and there's a disciplinary hearing, then in addition to mounting a defense - you want to have a noisy crowd in and outside the room/hall where a hearing is held, protesting it.
  • If you have enough people supporting you overall and/or union support, the union or one of your supporters could first threaten, then carry out the threat, of involving news media (both inside and outside campus). But don't do that, nor be too threatening, before the incident has been reported.

I could write more but you catch my drift.

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    @Elin: Nope, no sarcasm here except perhaps for the Donald Trump reference. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jun 3 '18 at 15:50
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    Okay than I am downvoting since it is such terrible advice, likely not only to get him an F but also to damage his professional reputation for years to come including when looking for a postdoc or faculty job. – Elin Jun 3 '18 at 15:58
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    As I said it is not only likely to backfire short term, but it will damage their reputation for the rest of their career. Whenever someone asks about them (not to mention searches their name on the Web) the best case scenario will be "nice guy except that he plagiarized in first year grad school" worst case would be "trouble." – Elin Jun 3 '18 at 16:55
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    -1. Academic integrity issues are not resolved based on being able to bring a contingency of supporters to make one's case. Quoting someone else without putting quotation marks around it is plagiarism, plain and simple. This is extremely bad terrible advice. – Just_to_Answer Jun 3 '18 at 22:16
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    @Just_to_Answer: Luckily, this is not an issue of academic integrity. And as for your definition of plagiarism, I always like to say quoting someone else without putting quotation marks around it is plagiarism. What a terrible plagiarizer I am, now aren't I ? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jun 3 '18 at 22:19

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