Thinking Critically about Plagiarists


(Photo Credit: Elllo)

After learning that students are intentionally plagiarizing my piece, “Malcolm X’s ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’: A Summary,” I immediately thought about my intellectual property rights are being violated. This, of course, arms me with the power to pursue legal actions against those guilty of intellectual property infringement (namely, copyright infringement). The work I produce at Revolutionary Paideia is copyright-protected. To use it, therefore, one must give proper credit when quoting and paraphrasing material on the site—as one must do when using any source. When they stole the content, which that’s what plagiarism is—theft, academic theft, a statement about copyright and citing content on the site was present—as it has always been.

Although I have no intention to take legal action against the students, I urge them to engage in more ethical and responsible conduct in the future. Academic dishonesty can cause you to fail an assignment, fail a course, face expulsion and legal actions, and more unfavorable consequences. Let this incidence of plagiarism serve as a true learning experience. Technology has become so sophisticated that it can help teachers to identify the sources you plagiarize. When you plagiarize, therefore, you’re wasting your time: your teachers will discover your academic theft.

Instead of attempting to deceive your teacher, devote your energies to becoming effective writers. Think of yourselves as writers. While no one is expecting you to compose breathtaking prose like James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, we do expect you to pen your own ideas in your own voice. When you settle for plagiarism, you settle for being a cheap copy. Don’t be afraid of your own writing and your own voice. The world needs to read and hear your original thoughts; it already has an opportunity to read and hear mine.

In my over 16 years of teaching writing at the middle and high school and undergraduate and graduate levels, I have found that students who plagiarize lack confidence in themselves and their writing. Although those teaching writing, including myself and your instructor, must work harder to assist students in developing into more skilled, more confident writers, this does not excuse you from committing academic fraud. Do you really want to be a fraud? Hopefully not.

Use this period in your academic life to experiment with writing. Write without pressure. Yes, learn the fundamentals of writing, such as the stages of the writing process, grammar, mechanics, and word usage; however, don’t be afraid to complete your assignments honestly. Writing is challenging. Even Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison, author of fictional classics like The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved, posits that attempting to formulate the right language to express one’s thoughts is difficult. If writing is hard for Morrison, then, of course, it’s going to be hard for you.

In Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet,” he encourages his audiences, especially his black and other ethnic minority audiences, to resist fear, including the fear of what others will think of you when you do the right and difficult thing. You had an opportunity to complete your assignment without fear but you surrendered to fear. Why? Because you believed your teacher would reject your own responses to X’s speech. If she would have rejected your responses, so what! Brother Malcolm let us know in the speech that you should stand for truth—even in the face of opposition. If you would have received a less than desirable grade, so what! At least you would have submitted your truth. Unfortunately, you submitted a lie.

Minority students, especially black students, are already expected by many white teachers (and professors) to perform poorly and in dishonorable ways. Don’t prove them right. When you use a source like my summary of X’s speech, let it fill in gaps in your knowledge but don’t submit my work or someone’s else work as your own.

By submitting a plagiarized piece to your teacher, you failed Malcolm X, your teacher, your parents, and, most importantly, yourself. You will never experience genuine success being a cheater. When you cheat, you cheat yourself.

To your teacher, I implore you to give your students another opportunity to engage with this work or another work of Malcolm X, and allow them to express themselves freely, offering them an opportunity to gain more experience and confidence employing their own voices. As educators, we need to explore more deeply the factors that lead our students to plagiarize and work tirelessly to eliminate those factors.

Let’s all commit to do better and truly honor the legacy of Malcolm X, a legacy grounded in truth and justice.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Plagiarists and Frauds Posing as Intellectuals

Academic Fraud

(Photo Credit: Nanyang Technological University)

If you have had people to do your academic work for you, why are you acting like you’re a profound intellectual?  Why are you trying to belittle people now that you have your degree(s), especially when you received the grades you did because you turned in other people’s work?  If you were such a tremendous scholar, why have you or do you have to sit up and wait for someone to do your work for you?  It’s time to let you know that at many colleges and universities across the nation there are no statutes of limitations that prevent these institutions from taking your degree(s) away from you for committing academic dishonesty/academic fraud, especially for egregious cases of academic dishonesty/academic fraud.

While many people like to suggest that individuals who attend online universities are getting people to do their work for them, the truth is numerous students have and are getting people to do their work for them at traditional brick and mortar universities.  Before those who have attended and are attending traditional brick and mortar universities attack students enrolled at online institutions as plagiarists, consider the many people who attended or attend your brick and mortar institution and plagiarized, even possibly yourself.

The problem with having people to do your work for you is when you graduate you’re not able to meet the expectations of your employers that your grades and degrees suggest that you can.  Some people have allowed themselves to believe they actually have earned the credentials others have gotten for them.  If someone has ever completed work for you at school and you submitted it, you committed academic fraud; that is, you submitted work that was not your original work as your own. 

When you know you have not completed some, most or all of your work while attending college, do you not know that the knowledge, skills, and talent you lacked in college is going to come back to haunt you?  You may fool some people but you ultimately will not be able to fool your employer for long.  Your employer will eventually discover that you’re not the person you advertised yourself to be, even though you have the degree(s) in the appropriate field(s).

Okay, if you were able to cheat your way through school, shut up, close your mouth, and stop bragging about credentials you did not earn. Get your money and stop posing as the intellectual that you are not.  In fact, people find the posing as an intellectual that you do to be quite strange anyway: You present yourself in one way and they see you in a totally different way.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Make Sure People Earn Their Degrees

Many people find ways to cut corners to obtain their degrees and graduate without the ability to meet the basic expectations of their employers.  Even many students from the nation’s leading colleges and universities find ways to cut corners to obtain their degrees.  What’s going to happen to you when you get hired and don’t have the slightest idea about how to do the job your degree implies you can do?  It’s going to result in you having more than shame—you’re going to have a useless piece of paper that you call a degree.

You cannot get people to complete all or most of your assignments, especially the most difficult ones, and expect to be ready for a job in your degree field.  If you lack the ability to perform beyond basic reading and writing tasks, you will inevitably be exposed.  A time is going to arrive when your weaknesses in reading and writing is going to cause your performance in the workplace to be less than satisfactory.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with seeking assistance with things you don’t understand.  Smart people understand that when they need help to seek it.  This does not mean, however, that you should have to receive assistance with all major assignments.  If you’re a person truly fit to be an undergraduate or graduate student, you should be able to execute the majority of the tasks assigned to you in your degree program.

If people have to complete, edit, and/or revise all of the work you do for school, are you really deserving of receiving a degree?  Is it fair to potential employers for you to waste their time when you know you have not obtained the essential skills they are looking for when they hire someone with the degree you have or are pursuing?  If you have ever submitted work that someone has completed for you, then you have not earned your degree.  If you have ever purchased a paper from an online website and turned in that paper, then you have not earned your degree.

Colleges and universities have academic honesty policies for real reasons.  Academic honesty policies help colleges and universities to ensure that they are awarding degrees that are worth more than the paper they are printed on.  If you submit work that is you not your own, then you have evinced an unwillingness to do the work necessary to learn what your professors desired of you to satisfactorily complete the course requirements.  If you have completed work that is not completely your own, then you have committed academic fraud.  For those who commit academic fraud, your degree is in jeopardy of not being awarded to you or being taken away from you.

The American workplace needs to be populated with individuals who are truly ready for the challenging demands of the 21st century.  If you have to cheat to obtain your degree, then you’re not ready for the 21st century workplace.  The reality is college is not for everyone.

For those of us who worked hard and earned our degrees, we need to report academic fraud when we see it.  People who commit academic fraud and pretend that they are ready to enter the workforce in their degree field do us all a great disservice.  Too many important positions are being filled by people who are not prepared to execute the duties of these positions.  Many of these positions are filled by those lacking the competency to perform even the most basic duties of the positions, thus putting the lives of innocent people in danger.

Many individuals who cheated their way through undergraduate and graduate study are too arrogant to seek and accept help from people who they work with to help them to overcome their lack of understanding of critical aspects of their job.

Why waste a significant amount of time in school by letting people do your work and graduate with no knowledge to perform the duties of jobs in your degree field?

Ensuring academic honesty is a matter of public safety.

We should not allow people who lack the competency to perform jobs, especially in positions where lives are at stake, to be eligible to be hired for those jobs.  For example, we don’t want people who have committed academic fraud going into the healthcare industry where they can endanger the lives of so many people.  Therefore, if you know people who are committing academic fraud and/or have committed academic fraud and they are going into the healthcare industry or another area where they could risk the lives of numerous Americans, you need to report them.  By reporting them, you could not only help to save the lives of many Americans, you may just save your own life.

Let’s take a stand against those who cheat while in college because we will have to pay severely when these people get positions in fields where they can do us all great harm.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison