So, I've edited the question to hopefully give more clarity on the situation:

I've recently learned that my friend ( A ) assisted in plagiarism for another student ( B ) by completing the vast majority of a final-project in a class I also take with student B. I know B doesn't deserve the almost-perfect grade he will receive because of A's work. I feel terrible because I know how much effort I and others personally contributed to our own projects and it makes me feel like everyone else's work has just been invalidated.

I know, beyond any doubts, that this is what occurred:

B has struggled in this class. A is experienced with the class, the professor, and the subject matter. A has been helping B with other assignments, sometimes assisting more than he should, but otherwise not at any level I would deem "plagiarism."

B asked for help with the final project in this class. A, of course, obliged. After helping for a little bit, the due date was imminant and B's project was still in the beginning stages. At this point A realizes that he has basically been completing the project himself, but feels morally obligated to not "leave him stranded," so A fully completes B's project out of a personal, moral obligation to himself. Personally being friends with A, I know that this was a momentary lack of judgement, and I know he knows much better than to cheat.

A has done all of the work on the project and B is going to pass it off as his own work.

Looking at the College's plagiarism policy, the worst that will happen to the student B is: Failure in the course in which plagiarism or dishonesty occurs.

For my friend ( A ) that knowingly plagiarized: Loss of all credit for that semester and suspension for the remainder of that semester.

My friend A has struggled this whole semester, academically and financially, to attend the College and it would be horrific if he had to leave and all of his work be for naught. I find it also unfair that, for what A found as a moral crossroads (helping his friend), and a momentary lack in judgement, will cost him so much more than the punishment B will receive.

I want to report it, but if I do (even anonymously), B will only tell the administration that my friend helped him. I can't be responsible for that.

What can I do in this situation? Report it? Keep it to myself and hope the professor knows? Meet with the professor and have an honest discussion about how I feel and how I know my friend knows the ethics of cheating but became morally confused in this instance?

I guess the overarching question here would be: what outcome provides the best result for A while simultaneously reporting B for plagiarism?

  • @ff524 I was hoping I'd receive an answer more on morality for the sake of my friend--I know I should report it, but is there a way I can do so without them getting into trouble? I know they didn't intend to help plagiarize, it more or less just "happened." – Aaron Dec 14 '15 at 7:16
  • If that's what you want to know, you should edit your question to specifically ask that: "Is it possible to report a friend who cheated without getting him in trouble?" Right now, you're asking a completely different question ("What action can I/should I take if I know a peer cheated?") which is pretty much addressed by the other question. – ff524 Dec 14 '15 at 7:18
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    @dan1111 plagiarism = passing someone else's work off as your own. (If "someone else" is a willing participant then it isn't theft, but it's still plagiarism.) – ff524 Dec 14 '15 at 8:04
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    My friend A has struggled this whole semester, academically and financially ... At this point A realizes that he has basically been completing the project himself, but feels morally obligated to not "leave him stranded," — Independent of the outcome of this plagiarism case, you owe it to your friend A to help him grow a spine. Someone who is struggling with their own classes has no business throwing themselves under a bus to finish someone else's coursework. – JeffE Dec 14 '15 at 14:34

I suggest a middle ground. Even granting that the facts are exactly as you stated, it seems to me that you don't know for sure what communication there was between A and B. A may have provided some sample code, intending that B would at least rewrite it. And, unlikely as it seems, B may have studied the code and rewritten it. So this could be a borderline case. Even if A complained to you that they had to "write B's assignment for them", that may have been an exaggeration.

So I suggest that you go to the professor and explain that you think that B had an excessive amount of help. Explain that someone was tutoring B, and may have crossed a line without intending to. I don't think you need to name A even if you are asked. And if the professor does find out who A is, well, professors are people too, and will probably exercise some judgement.

Of course, I'm not excusing what A or B did. I'm just pointing out that you don't know exactly what happened (even if you're sure you have the facts straight), so report what you know, but be careful not to overstate it.

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One possible way out: If A were to go to B's professor and claim that while A was helping B (like tutoring for free as a friend), it was never A's intention that B would turn in the work that A did to help claiming it was B's original work.

Here are the challenges with this plan:

  • It has to be believable that A did not intend the work to be turned in by B.
  • A will have to be willing to probably not ever be B's friend again, since this will be pretty bad for B.
  • It will be A's word against B's and in the end it could end up that both are punished exactly as you don't want, if A is not 100% believed.
  • You'd have to convince A to do this in the first place.

It seems likely that whatever you do may hurt your friendship with A. On that note, keep in mind that while A may be a friend and good student, that doesn't change the fact that A has knowingly done something they shouldn't have done.

It's also possible there is no good way out of the situation for you. This is the kind of problem where sometimes the best you can do is look deep into your heart and decide what is really most important to you. You may have to choose between academic integrity versus putting your friends first. When you choose, one thing to consider is how you will feel twenty years from now when you look back on this situation. Also, you should check your institution's integrity policy for anything related to students who know about cheating, even if they were not directly involved, and whether they have to report it. If you are required to report cheating, then you have to consider whether this will ever be discovered if it is never reported.

If you are required to report, then it might be wise to go with A and change the story slightly. You could say that you realized that B had stolen A's paper, then you informed A and then you both came to the administration to accuse B. Again, this is likely to make B dislike both you and A.

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Rare cases notwithstanding, cheaters usually don't get very far. As a postgraduate student I deeply regretted having to relearn, redo, resolve undergraduate problems that I did together with friends while relying too much on their input. Doing yourself is in my opinion a prerequisite for understanding. If it is only a final project for an undergraduate class, I would talk to A and tell him that he isn't really helping B by doing work for him. To graduate B will have to put in more work of his own and the fact that he didn't have the chance of testing his abilities (and getting feedback) in this final project is only bad for B.

You told us that it was more a lack of judgement on A's part rather than B controlling or emotionally blackmailing A. In that case, you could opt to let fate take its course, because if B doesn't change his way of working, it will be reflected in his final degree classification.

To make this different from just turning a blind eye to the whole situation you could talk to A or B or both, explaining in one way or another that A isn't really helping B by doing his work for him (even if B might think so). I can't judge the situation, so depending on the situation this might sound false/fishy/stupid/whatever, but even indirect comments like "Gosh, I'm so glad I got a go at doing this project now. I hope our thesis will be like this!"

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