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I submitted an assignment in February and I recently received an email accusing me of academic misconduct. I have just finished my second year of university and this is the first time that I have ever been accused of something this serious.

The accusation says that I plagiarised the algorithm from someone else. However, I did not look at anyone's code nor did anyone else got to see my code which they could've later copied. Prior the the assignment deadline, me and couple other students (who I do not know closely) attended the in-person office hours of the course's Teaching Assistant (TA). The overwhelmed TA decided to take in all our concerns simultaneously instead of private sessions and perhaps tired of our inefficient (and buggy) code implementations or solution proposals, finally got up and instead wrote on the whiteboard what he called "the most efficient and best possible" algorithm for the code. He explained every step line by line which I made sure to understand fully and then later followed his algorithm implementation to write my own code without consulting anyone else, thinking that following the faculty's instruction isn't clearly plagiarism since I've understood everything and am confident in what I'm writing.

Much to my dismay, I have now received the Disciplinary Committee's email and have been asked to present a written statement tomorrow followed by a formal hearing later.

I have evidence of the TA explaining the algorithm as I did take photos of his algorithm right in front of him.

If I am found guilty, I'd either get a grade reduction, a straight F, or a semester-long suspension. This has me worried sick because an accusation this serious can potentially derail all my post-grad plans.

Is my evidence sufficient? What other evidence or explanations could I use to strengthen my case? Thanks

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4 Answers 4

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We can’t read folks minds or predict the future, but if everything you say is true, this seems like a case where your defense would be accepted. This is just my opinion as a faculty member. I have served on academic grievance committees but not our misconduct committee.

Note here that I agree with Bryan Krause below- it is typical to use information shared by instructors without attribution when completing assignments for that class.

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    I'd accept the defence if the student can show, live, that they've comprehended the material. The potential problem here could be that the algorithm/solution was taken 1:1 from the TA. While the TA is culpable in such a case, the OP isn't innocent either (IMHO). A brief personal demonstration of understanding would clear this up and a formal process is a bit much.
    – Nox
    Jun 14, 2022 at 10:16
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    @Nox comprehending the material or not, reusing the algorithm or not, neither of those constitute plagiarism whatsoever by themselves. Jun 14, 2022 at 13:08
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    @Nox Then it is entirely, 100%, clear cut: you cannot plagiarise an algorithm given to you by teaching staff. Jun 14, 2022 at 13:31
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    @Greg Don't confuse plagiarism and copyright or patent protection. You can certainly plagiarize an algorithm by not properly crediting the source of that algorithm. See also academia.stackexchange.com/q/81983/63475 That said, it's typical for information shared by instructors to students to not need to attribute what they've learned to the instructors in that course when they're producing course-related work.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 14, 2022 at 18:30
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    @Greg you can plagiarize an algorithm, and you can also plagiarize a theorem. Look up “plagiarism” in the dictionary, it’s very clear.
    – Dan Romik
    Jun 14, 2022 at 18:59
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If you (or the university officials looking into the case) could secure a statement from the TA confirming your account of what happened, that will surely strengthen your case.

That being said, I find your explanation already convincing enough that if presented along with your whiteboard photos, I personally would be inclined to accept it as satisfactory, and would likely not feel the matter needs to be pursued further. Good luck!

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Seems cut and dried. You explain that the teaching assistant taught everyone an optimal way to do it, and so yours will line up with your classmates. You have photos of the whiteboard, and the teaching assistant (and any other classmates) can back that up.

It's not plagiarism to do what you've been taught.

I don't think you'll have much problem with this.

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    This seems straightforward enough that I almost feel the OP must be leaving something out. If they are not leaving anything out, then they have nothing to worry about!
    – neuronet
    Jun 14, 2022 at 21:28
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These are serious accusations, and if one is considering a career in academia a finding of plagiarism may look bad for some time in your career. I am not familiar with the details in a university setting, so this advice is from experience in other workplaces.

  1. Get some help from real people not the internet. I am not sure what support you have. In the UK you would be a member of The National Union of Students who would be able to support you. I do not know what the equivalent is where you are, but ensure their responsibility is to you not the university.
  2. Say NOTHING until you are certain of what you want to say. Do not respond to vague allegations like "I plagiarised the algorithm from someone else", request in writing specific allegations and the evidence that lead to these allegations. Do not be pressurised to reply by "tomorrow", that is a totally unreasonable time frame to respond to such allegations. It sounds to me like you are assuming a lot of details, you may be right but if you are wrong you may only hurt your case by giving them information without knowing what information they have.
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    Always seek assistance and support from your student support bodies. They'll be a lot more familiar with the university process. And much more able to assist you. Just the fact that you have the support from your SU will add to the weight of your statements. Faculty are much more careful to follow the rules properly when the SU support get's involved. And bear in mind the truism 'Only a fool defends him/her self.'
    – Charemer
    Jun 14, 2022 at 11:19
  • I really wouldn't say it could have "life changing" consequences... Getting caught for plagiarism once at undergrad level will likely just result in a 0 grade for the assignment and you having to redo it with a grade cap. It's not ideal but unless it's your dissertation, it really won't have much by way of long-term consequences Jun 15, 2022 at 10:35
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    @Persistence I shall take your word on that, edited.
    – User65535
    Jun 15, 2022 at 12:28

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