Plagiarism at Franciscan a serious, present issue


At a solidly grounded school like Franciscan University of Steubenville, it would seem as though crimes like plagiarism should not be a major problem, but the hard facts indicate otherwise.

“Some students don’t see it as a violation of honesty,” said professor Jonathan Sanford, assistant vice president of academic affairs and professor of philosophy at Franciscan. “I have discovered people plagiarizing here.”

Professor Frank Hermann, associate professor of English at Franciscan and director of the Writing Center, explained that there is no way to gauge the occurrence of plagiarism at Franciscan compared with other colleges. However, he said that based on anecdotal reports, while “the degree of plagiarism is not as prevalent here as it is elsewhere, it is still substantial. It’s a real problem.”

The standard procedure after discovering plagiarism at Franciscan involves failing the class and being reported to the dean on first offense, and being expelled from the university at the second offense.

Professor Stephen Lewis, English department chair and associate professor of English, said he has found a number of plagiarism situations during the time he has been at this school.

“I’ve had 28 cases since (I arrived) in 2005,” said Lewis, explaining that none of those cases were mistakes, all of them were intended, and the plagiarized material had come entirely off the internet.

“In some cases, I’ve believed people are doing it because they don’t want to be (at Franciscan) and want to get kicked out,” he said. “In some cases, somebody’s overwhelmed and they don’t know how to get help, so they cheat.”

Citing the “procrastination culture in college students,” Sanford found that students often feel too pressed for time to give their best effort, and do not know how to handle the situation, sinking into “frantic despair.” Furthermore, people have adopted a laxity about sharing in our culture.

Sanford said that once, while teaching at another school, he had to pull a graduating senior out for plagiarizing.

“(The student) said ‘I worked so hard to put it together,'” he said.

Hermann explained that Franciscan professors have specific ways of discovering plagiarizers, including computer technology to sift through potentially stolen material.

“Here at Franciscan, professors have access to a proprietary computer technology that detects plagiarism by scanning the internet and observing the degree to which student essays resemble those in a vast database of essays,” said Hermann. “Some professors here have caught plagiarizers simply by doing a Google search after reading a suspicious essay.”

Lewis said: “I did have a student contact me years later, after purchasing a paper and handing it in. This person confessed it to me.”

Sanford said it is key for students to see value in every subject, mentioning that there is a tendency to plagiarize when students see a subject as being less important.

“We need to see value in every subject,” he said. “We need a culture that articulates what is right and wrong.”

Hermann recommended budgeting time wisely and not procrastinating, so as to not get trapped. For students who feel anxiety about their assignments, Hermann also recommended visiting the Writing Center in Egan Hall.

Lewis explained that in his classes, he always goes over what plagiarism is, and emphasizes his availability to assist his students.

But, it is truly hard to generalize why any students plagiarize, he said.

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