My graduate school classmate is plagiarizing. Should I tell?

I discussed my discovery with her, but I'm not sure I want to take it any further.

Published December 17, 2004 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Since you seem to have become the unofficial voice of reason for adrift academics, I thought I'd write. A little over a month ago, I discovered that my closest friend in the department, N., was plagiarizing in her work. I entered in the first two sentences of her summary in Google and found the Web site that she had literally cut and pasted from.

I don't really feel like making this an issue, but at times I want to. It angers me that she's going to get the same degree I am. I mean, this is graduate school and we've all given up a lot in our lives to be here. I think I deserve a classmate who at least attempts to do the work.

I decided to confront her instead of the professor because I thought to myself that that's what a friend should do. But even though I'm no longer her friend, I'm still angry.

Do I tell the professor? My classmates? The department chairperson? Or do I just keep a keen eye on her work next quarter to make sure she has ended her Google habits?

Angry Classmate

Dear Angry Classmate,

You should do the right thing. The right thing is to follow the procedures of the institution. What does your institution's code of ethics ask you to do? Whom does it specify you should report this to? What sort of process does it spell out? Find out what you are supposed to do, and do it.

For instance, the code of ethics of Northwestern University's graduate school calls for cases of academic dishonesty to be reported by a member of the faculty to the dean of the graduate school. So, if you were at Northwestern, you would be required to report your friend's dishonesty to a faculty member, who would then be required to report it to the dean.

Consult your institution's code of ethics and follow it to the letter. That's all you need to do. If your institution does not have a code of ethics -- which is highly unlikely! -- then study other graduate schools' codes. Pick one and follow it. Pretty much any code of ethics will do. I doubt you will find any code of ethics that says if your friend is plagiarizing, it's enough to have an argument with her about it and let it go at that.

This is not about being a friend. This is about being a competent member of an institution. So put your personal emotions aside and let the process work.

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