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I had noticed a sudden change in the quality of the essays submitted two of my students. When I confronted them, they were quite frank and admitted that due to lack of time, they had assigned their papers to be written by an outside source, an essaywriting service (a booming business that must be).

What is the proposed penalty?

If I take this on an administrative level, they face a pause of educational activities for 6 months to 1 year. But since this is the first incident, I do want them to learn their lesson, but at the same time taking into account that they were honest with me, not being punished too hard.

What do you propose? Is there something I can do to keep this from an administrative level and at the same time punish them?

marked as duplicate by Stephan Kolassa, Massimo Ortolano, Cape Code, scaaahu, gman Mar 30 '16 at 14:57

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    "since this is the first incident" - if you don't officially report this, then if the students do the same thing in their next course, that instructor will also believe it's their first time. How do you know the students haven't done this before in other classes with other instructors? – ff524 Mar 30 '16 at 10:36
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    In addition, your university will likely require you to report this. (Otherwise, what's the point in setting university-wide penalties?) So I'd recommend you make sure you can legally not report them. – Stephan Kolassa Mar 30 '16 at 10:45
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The official punishment already has a fork, being the first time and honest can help them to get a suspension closer to 6 months than to a full year. Also, you can help them get a speedy process, so the penalty starts counting as soon as possible.

It is important that there is an official record of this event, so they can't pull the "it is the first time, I promise" again. They now have a record, and they know it.

This said, I can't believe they didn't know they were doing something wrong, so I don't think one should be very forgiving.

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    It's also possible that the administration will decide to be merciful. But you should leave that in their hands; your job is only to report this to them. – David Ketcheson Mar 30 '16 at 11:36
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If I were you I would give them 3 more assignments and ask them to turn them in within a crazy time-frame and in case they fail to do that; they'll be reported. This way they'll get to learn more about subject and understand that corner cutting can lead you to run several extra laps. After all your objective is to make them learn and not damage their academic career.

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    If your intention is to turn the students in (as it should), then why go to the length of giving them some crazy assignment? We're supposed to be rational here, not come up with crazy schemes for punishments. – Wolfgang Bangerth Mar 30 '16 at 22:30
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Offer a ceiling grade -- perhaps a maximum possible course grade of B.

They were honest; this would be fair.

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    Down-voter, please explain... – user51540 Mar 30 '16 at 10:51
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    This doesn't make any sense to me. Suppose the students would have earned a B if they hadn't cheated. You're essentially proposing no punishment at all. Also, your proposal makes it impossible for the university to track repeat offenses. – ff524 Mar 30 '16 at 10:53
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    (And if the students would have earned an A, but are now capped at a B regardless of the quality of the work they submit going forward, you've eliminated the major incentive for them to work hard and do well on future assignments.) – ff524 Mar 30 '16 at 11:09
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    Literally every part of this answer is bad. A grade ceiling is never an appropriate response to cheating / academic integrity issues. They were not honest. They claimed someone else's work as their own: that is literally academic dishonesty. It would not be fair according to the university's own policies. – Pete L. Clark Mar 30 '16 at 12:01
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    This answer would be more reasonable if the ceiling was set at a grade of F. – Nuclear Wang Mar 30 '16 at 13:13

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