A student has plagiarised her assignment. The lecturer gave all students a lecture on plagiarism at the beginning of the semester. The student maintains she was absent that day but the university does not keep records on attendance. However a copy of the lecture is on BlackBoard. Her excuse is that she didn’t realise she was plagiarising. As she is an overseas student a fail in a unit means she risks losing her visa.

What actions should the lecturer take?

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    What is university policy? Can you be more specific about the nature of the plagiarism? What exactly did the student do? Quantifying the degree and extent of the plagiarism is often important. Jun 16, 2017 at 2:49
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    Academic dishonesty is about the biggest violation of scholastic principles you can make. I would argue for the full penalty, whatever is allowed by school policy. Country of origin and visa status should not make any difference. Prediction: You will have to deal with it from this same student again the future. Jun 16, 2017 at 3:28
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    In my opinion, not being at the lecture where plagiarism is explained is no excuse to allow to plagiarize (in that case, students could just skip the first lecture so they can get away with it later?). Meaning: There have to be some rules and you even explained them. Stick to those rules yourself. Treat her like you would have treated any other student.
    – skymningen
    Jun 16, 2017 at 8:55
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    @zibadawatimmy Procedures for evaluating and punishing academic integrity violations vary significantly between universities. At my university, the punishment is not carried out be a separate committee, but by the individual instructors, although there is a multilevel appeals process with its own committees. I have personally failed students for plagiarism, causing them to lose their visas. (And I slept well afterward.)
    – JeffE
    Jun 16, 2017 at 11:54
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    @MichaelC.: "I thinking cheating is universally a no-no in every academic setting I can think of." - as far as I can see, the OP hasn't yet specified in what way plagiarism has occurred. I think everyone can agree with your statement, but as soon as we'd start looking in depth at what is "cheating", we suddenly realize that people from different institutions and places may have vastly different ideas about that. I've realized that after reading here on Academia SE for a while, and coming across some (in my view) totally acceptable actions that seem to count as "cheating" in some places. Jun 16, 2017 at 14:15

3 Answers 3


If your institution keeps a record of academic misconduct, be sure this gets into the record. If you don't do that, you enable serial cheating.

Do not allow a "do over." The message you send is that there's no penalty for for misconduct, even if one gets caught. Misconduct must have some irrecoverable penalty, however small. It need not be a grade penalty; it could be extra work, but see below about setting a penalty.

Follow University policy if there is one. If you have the opportunity to set the penalty, and I hope you do, consider the magnitude of the offense. A single un-cited paragraph from a work listed in a bibliography is far less egregious than a substantial part of the work copied with no attempt at attribution.

It is not your problem that the student missed the plagiarism lecture. Do not allow the student to make it your problem.

It is not your problem that the student might lose her visa. Do not allow the student to make it your problem.

  • Misconduct must have some irrecoverable penalty, however small. It need not be a grade penalty; it could be extra work... - I'm not sure what you mean by "extra work" that would be an "irrecoverable penalty." (I agree completely with all your other points.)
    – Kimball
    Jun 17, 2017 at 6:05
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    @Kimball Well, once the extra work has been done, the time spent doing it cannot be recovered. Jun 17, 2017 at 6:10
  • @TobiasKildetoft True, but I don't think most students would view this as "irrecoverable." I would also argue that they skipped the work they were supposed to do the first time around by plagiarizing, so in a net sense they are not necessarily irrecoverably using more time.
    – Kimball
    Jun 17, 2017 at 6:16
  • @Kimball Although I didn't make it clear, I had in mind a lot of extra work; something like writing an entirely new paper on a similar subject plus an essay about the importance of citation, with citations and a non-trivial minimum length, all to be graded and with a grade of A necessary to escape further penalty.
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 17, 2017 at 11:21

Just to offer a perspective on the background of international students, especially those from underdeveloped countries from Asia, the concept of plagiarism is virtually non-existent. More precisely, students graduating from high schools in those country will probably have never heard about how plagiarism is a serious offense in developed countries like such as U.S. Like, they would not have the faintest clue about the gravity of the whole plagiarism issue.

I was one of those students and know for a fact that every single student in my high school never knew how much important citation and biography are when they were writing a paper in high school. This was literally the biggest "culture" shock I had experienced in my first year of studying in the U.S

However, I am not saying that you should not penalize the student. But if a single academic misconduct on plagiarism automatically means the student will lose his/her visa and if the student happens to be from a similar place that I was from, then maybe it would make reasonable sense to arrange something so the visa stays untouched.


It's hard to imagine a better learning opportunity than this. And anyway, do we want to destroy her life, or help her learn a very important lesson?

Be creative, be effective. For example, in addition to giving her an incomplete and having her re-do the assignment, you could reduce her final grade by one letter (i.e. from B to C), and you could have her write a separate research paper describing three famous plagiarism scandals of her choice.

To quote a classic story:

At a certain school in [your region here] some girls were beginning to use lipstick, putting it on in the school bathroom. After they put on their lipstick, they pressed their lips on the mirror, leaving dozens of little lip prints.

Every night, the maintenance man removed the prints, but the next day, the girls put them right back. Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls into the bathroom along with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every night. This inspired yawns from all the little princesses.

To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

There are teachers… and then there are educators.

As a graduate student instructor, I encountered these problems occasionally. In one case, as an example, of a student who had not done his own programming, the end result was that he had to take the class again in the summer. He learned to write simple programs, and he learned to hand in his own work, not someone else's. And he got a Bachelor's degree.

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    I don't agree. If there are official procedures at your university follow them. Creativity has its time and place, but that's not when dealing with a serious offense. There I would argue that fairness is most important. And that means following the official procedures so everyone is treated equally.
    – Roland
    Jun 16, 2017 at 5:33
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    @Roland - There are worse things, e.g. cheating in a final exam; and this mistake has a remedy: redo the assignment, and do an extra project. Is our function as teachers to go around judging and punishing, or helping students understand and improve? At least now she's paying attention. Jun 16, 2017 at 5:37
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    If you believe the official procedures are too strict, work on changing them. If each professor can decide how to deal with such an offense, the same offense might get very different punishments just because it happened in different classes. I don't find that desirable. There needs to be at least a guideline as part of official procedures.
    – Roland
    Jun 16, 2017 at 6:01
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    Btw., there are probably millions of perfectly honest students who didn't even get the chance to visit your university. I don't agree with your "learning from the experience" argument because I don't buy the "I didn't know" excuse. They might not know the exact rules but these students know perfectly well that they are being dishonest.
    – Roland
    Jun 16, 2017 at 6:04
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    @aparente001 So, you were not creative but followed the official procedure. That's not what you recommend in your answer.
    – Roland
    Jun 16, 2017 at 6:10

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