Monday, September 24, 2018


Thinking about Brett Kavanaugh and the accusations against him makes me think of my encounters with two plagiarizing students. What can I say? My experiences as a teacher color everything I see.

In the cases I have in mind, plagiarism was blatant — word for word or nearly so — and extensive. In each case, the student denied having plagiarized. One asked for a hearing before a judicial board of faculty and students and then withdrew the request, claiming to no longer have the energy to fight “these baseless accusations.” The other went through with a hearing, bringing along pages of notes (never previously mentioned) that supposedly served as the basis for the plagiarized paper. The notes themselves were carefully plagiarized from the source the student used, with slight differences from the student’s submitted essay. (A lot of work went into constructing those notes.) “I did not do this,” the student said, again and again. The board thought otherwise. They could see otherwise. The episode was painful for everyone, and it almost — almost — made me wish that I could read my students’ work with the careless eye that never notices the small details that signal plagiarism.

Each of these plagiarists appeared to be a model collegian — well-liked, mannerly, a maker of good grades. Neither could acknowledge having plagiarized without calling into question that public self, or facade. So too, I think, with Brett Kavanaugh. If he did what he is accused of doing, he cannot acknowledge it without seeing a facade fall to pieces. I wonder if his 1982 diary is something of the equivalent of my student’s notes.

[About the calendar: I’m suggesting not that it was created after the fact but that it’s a dubious kind of evidence. What hard-partying high-school student would record the times and locations of parties on a calendar? And about those good grades: might plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct have played a part? As a colleague always pointed out, a student plagiarizing in a college class is unlikely to be plagiarizing for the first time.]

comments: 0