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What shall I do with a student who self-plagiarized large parts of one of his previous work (for another class and another professor) for my own assignment (without stating it)?

Is it fair, considering he obviously chose to work on the same topic but without telling me that it was the case? I guess it happens all the time among students, to "recycle" like this...

Best

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  • Does your institution have a policy prohibiting self plagiarism? If so, what does the policy say? – Viktor Aug 19 '16 at 22:47
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This issue has undoubtedly come up before, and your university probably has an explicit policy in place for how to deal with it. For example, Harvard's policy says:

It is the expectation of every course that all work submitted to it will have been done solely for that course. If the same or similar work is to be submitted to any other course, the prior written permission of the instructor must be obtained. If the same or similar work is to be submitted to more than one course during the same term, the prior written permission of all instructors involved must be obtained. A student who submits the same or similar work to more than one course without such prior permission is subject to disciplinary action, and ordinarily will be required to withdraw from the College.

Similarly, Yale's policy says:

Students may not submit the same paper, or substantially the same paper, in more than one course. If topics for two courses coincide, a student must have written permission from both instructors before either combining work on two papers or revising an earlier paper for submission to a new course.

In particular, you should not improvise a response, unless you find out for sure that there is definitely no official policy (strange but possible). If there is a policy, then it will specify what the rules are and how they should be enforced.

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  • Your first link is dead. I couldn't find a similar policy in my university's rulebook, for example (in fact I'm not even sure how to say "self-plagiarism" in French, I have never seen this discussed outside the internet...) -- what then? – user9646 Aug 19 '16 at 16:07
  • @NajibIdrissi: Weird, the link still works for me. If you can't find a policy, I think the next step would be to ask an appropriate administrator whether there is one. If they confirm that no such policy exists, then maybe they could work with you to figure out a reasonable way to handle your case. (One big concern is that you should make sure the administration is willing to back you up, so they don't undermine you if the student complains about unfair treatment.) – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 19 '16 at 16:48
  • Is it possible that this link is only available from Harvard's internal network or something like that? – user9646 Aug 19 '16 at 16:51
  • The link works for me. (I'm nowhere near Harvard.) – JeffE Aug 20 '16 at 3:52
  • @NajibIdrissi Bonjour, En français, on emploie simplement "auto-plagiat", y compris dans mon université. Et je ne pense pas avoir de partie de règlement identique pour ce cas de figure non plus dans mon université. Sinon, le lien fonctionne aussi pour moi ;) – Jeoffrey Aug 20 '16 at 7:16
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My own opinion is that from the standpoint of generating grades, you either deal with plagiarism officially, or not at all. If you don't intend on adjusting grades, you might simply tell the student that this is wrong. If you do plan on issuing penalty, check with your school's academic honest policy, both to make sure that this self plagiarism is well described (it is in mine), and for what your next actions need to be.

You might use this as a cue to beef up the academic honesty sections of your syllabi to include this issue, so it is entirely unambiguous in the future.

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  • Thank you very much for your insight! Now, if the student had cited him, would it still be problematic? I think it might, if only because his amount of personal work would then be credited separately, but for (more or less) the same production (provided the work is good). – Jeoffrey Aug 19 '16 at 15:30
  • @Jeoffrey depends on the exact situation. Telling your prof you copied from yourself does not excuse putting no work into an assignment. – Scott Seidman Aug 19 '16 at 15:45
  • I agree indeed. These extracts from Harvard/Yale explicit policies above are illuminating on that point. – Jeoffrey Aug 19 '16 at 15:49
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It depends on what school you are at, and what the reality is.

It is possible that your school might have a policy on it, but never enforce it.

Talk with other faculty like you what they do. Talk to the chair. Don't email them, talk to them.

I say this with caution after reading that a lot of part-time (adjunct) faculty catch students with major plagiarism, and the school doesn't want to do anything about it.

So, before you do anything official, check unofficially.

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If the school offers courses with so much overlap and let's students select them in a way that minimises the time&effort required to graduate you should really be blaming the school and not the students.

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