One time during my eleven years as a college student, I succumbed to plagiarism. Just before the end of the semester at Kent State, Kent, Ohio, our no-nonsense American literature professor told us that our 3000 word research paper on one of the authors we had studied was due the next day.
Bewildered and a bit terrified, my classmates and I blurted out that he had never assigned us a term paper. But he maintained that he did so on the first day we met and a few times after that. What an outrageous injustice inflicted on us by an evidently absent-minded if not addled professor. He was adamant, and we were crestfallen.
I knew that it was impossible for me to write, never mind craft, a research paper in one day. At a loss, I told my unscrupulous best friend about my dilemma. He readily had a solution. Two years ago, he had composed a term paper for the same American literature course taught by a different professor. He had gotten an A. He then dredged it up and asked me if I wanted to turn it in. Even though I might be turned in to the Dean of Graduate Studies if I got caught plagiarizing, I latched onto the term paper, made a few revisions, and submitted it the next day. There were no repercussions. I received a B for the course, the grade that I had expected before the end of the semester. Selfishly, I never consulted with my other classmates to find out how they fared.
Looking back, I had other options besides plagiarism. I could have spoken to (or I could have enlisted my fellow grad students to petition) the Chairperson of the English Department about the term paper brouhaha. But expediency overrode principle: my bad.
I vowed that when I obtained a teaching position as an English instructor after graduating from Kent State, I would unambiguously list all students’ assignments on syllabi that I distributed on the first day of class. And I would especially remind students throughout the term when a research paper was due. I would not want to put any student in the untenable position that I had faced at Kent State. I did not want to give them the rationale to cheat, as I had done.