Whether they’ve plagiarized material already published by someone else, or invented sources and quotations outright, I’ve found in more then 10 cumulative years of teaching at both institutions that more often than not the fabricators just don’t get that what they did was wrong. They’re more stunned than embarrassed; they’re more indignant than repentant. Looking into their eyes, I just don’t see the kind of flushed, visceral shame that you might expect from such acts. Unethical behavior is a huge problem on most college campuses, and although faculty and administrators are doing their best to tighten regulations, plagiarism, in particular, is on the rise.
Why, is still something of a mystery. The usual theory among journalism educators has to do with the cut-and-paste and sampling culture of the Internet, which has forever eroded boundaries between “original” and stolen work. But it seems to me that something more insidious is happening here. Could it be, that even when faced with dictionary descriptions of “plagiarism” and “fabrication”—terms that are discussed in most journalism classes at the beginning of each semester—some students simply agree to disagree?
This seems to me to be an example of living in the post-modern world where we no longer have any consensus on what is or isn’t “truth.” Everything is now up for debate depending on each individual’s perception and what their “reality” is. That makes it difficult to impart any sense of write or wrong into some people and also makes it hard to discipline anyone for transgressions. Sure, a rule or guideline may be written down and understood but when it comes down to actually calling anyone on violating it then the conversation turns south as the wrongdoer seeks to explain why his or her worldview or circumstances allows them to interpret that in their own way, and often to their own benefit.