It’s been about five years since I started grading essays in some capacity or another. I’ve whined about it before, but it is mind-blowing just how horrible college essays can be. If you ever want your faith in the educational system to be eliminated, just see what incoherent drivel is constantly being churned out by those who are somehow receiving bachelor’s degrees. Worse, academic integrity is disturbingly absent. Every semester that I’ve taught or been a TA in a class that required essays from its students, I have had at least one case of plagiarism. I’ve also been in charge of tracking attendance in oversized classes where a simple roll call is too impractical. In such classes, we’ve tracked attendance by having a sign-in sheet that students must sign as they come into the classroom, or that gets passed around the classroom during the lecture, etc. Think a lot of fraud goes on there? Indeed. I estimate that, during the current semester, I receive an average of 5—6 forged signatures per class meeting. These are students who are signing in their friends, even though their friends are not showing up to class. It’s a joke.
Why do I bring all of this up? Well, as the end of the semester draws near, I realize that a lot of these scamming students are reaping the benefits of their misdeeds. Even the one or two students that have received some sort of academic penalty are not getting the punishments they deserve. There are at least three plagiarism cases this semester from the one class for which I’m a TA, but the instructor does not want to pursue them in any rigorous manner. Instead, the students receive a heavy point-reduction on their essays and a nice little warning written at the end of their paper. Yes, this will disappoint these students, since they expected to get away with the plagiarism. But it’s a slap on the wrists compared to what their punishment could and probably should be. At my previous institution, plagiarism resulted in an automatic “F” for the course, no questions asked. And there was an official note put into your file so that subsequent instances could be more severely dealt with. That’s not going on here. Neither are those committing attendance fraud going to be held accountable. The instructor of the class has informed me, in not so many words, that it would be opening a can of worms for us to deny certain students attendance points for days on which a signature appears next to their name. Never mind the fact that I know who these students are, that I specifically watched for them to come to class and verified that they weren’t there, that their signatures look vastly different on days when I also could not see them in class, that I have done a headcount and verified that I received 8 or 9 more signatures than students were in class that day. But hey, somebody signed these students in, so we better just give them the points. Way to go, dishonest students. Had you been honest, you would have lost points, but because we know you weren’t honest, we have to give you the points. Well played.
And since I’m complaining … can it really be going on midnight, going into December 1st, and I’m dying to turn on the A/C in our apartment? The answer: yes!