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What Can Happen to a Student Found Guilty of Plagiarism?

by Benna Crawford, studioD

A student who claims credit for the work of someone else commits plagiarism. The term covers a spectrum of offenses that add up to academic dishonesty and carry severe penalties. Writers and journalists who are discovered plagiarizing have books withdrawn from the market, lose jobs and may attract career-wrecking publicity. But the consequences for a student caught plagiarizing can be just as catastrophic and enduring.

Examples of Plagiarism

A number of transgressions constitute plagiarism, and it pays to be familiar with all of them in order to avoid accidentally crossing any lines. Penn State University lists some common instances of plagiarism including turning in a paper you did not write; paraphrasing or quoting without credit; claiming ideas that are not your own; copying test answers or writing from a classmate; citing information without using references or submitting incorrect references; changing a few words or modifying another's original ideas and taking credit for them; and making things up and passing them off as true. The Internet makes it easy to do wide-ranging research, but failure to properly credit information or to formulate and present original ideas, not rehashes, leaves a student open to charges of plagiarism.

Measured Consequences

There are deliberate and accidental cases of plagiarism, and all of them are serious. Some educational institutions will consider a first offense, an inadvertent borrowing, or a borderline case more leniently and determine a punishment to deter future violations. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill defines plagiarism as cheating and punishes students who borrow without attribution with an F in the course or with suspension from the university. Milder consequences range from a failing grade for a single test or assignment to suspension from one class with zero credit for that classwork to several days of suspension that may be served over break or vacation -- similar to detention. Almost invariably, the student is required to attend remedial training in avoiding plagiarism or to prove he has studied and understood the school's plagiarism policy.

Ultimate Penalty

The toughest penalties for plagiarism are reserved for flagrant and deliberate cases, second offenses, and students in schools with a zero tolerance honor code. That punishment can affect a student's academic career and cast a long shadow over future academic pursuits and job prospects. A second offense is usually cause for immediate expulsion from an academic institution. Yale College considers all referred plagiarism cases in its Yale College Executive Committee and commonly suspends the student, lowers a course grade or gives a failing grade and, in the most serious instances, may expel the student from Yale. The University of Virginia's Honor Code, established in 1842, requires all students to pledge not to cheat or cover up for someone who does. Violations of the code incur immediate expulsion, and the discovery of a past violation can result in revocation of a diploma.


High schools that discover plagiarism may counsel the student, exact a penalty in grades, or dole out limited suspensions and impose social probation -- no off-campus lunch privileges, for example. The offense may need to be reported on college applications, requiring the student to make a personal case for contrition and a renewed commitment to academic integrity or risk losing a coveted college admission. Kent State University has a Plagiarism School for modest offenses. The student attends a 45-minute counseling session that includes training in understanding what constitutes plagiarism. In some cases, successful completion of Plagiarism School entitles a student to rewrite and resubmit a contested paper for a reduced grade rather than a failure.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

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