Monday, November 06, 2006

The expected, and the unexpected

Today I received 2 emails from Mr. Ricky Pilar, the teacher of the students whose OpMan paper contained plagiarized material that I detected (go 3 posts back for details). One was a forwarded letter of apology from the student who had copy-pasted the chunks of text. He sounded sincerely contrite, and absolved his groupmates of any wrongdoing, admitting he was solely responsible for the parts that were lifted verbatim from online sources. The second email was from Mr. Pilar himself, explaining what steps the JGSOM faculty had taken in investigating the case, and their final decision to have the group rewrite and resubmit the paper, with a grade deduction for the errant group member. I already figured a disciplinary case wouldn't be filed (but, call me evil, it was gratifying to read the student's pleas that he not be expelled), and I found this final sanction satisfactorily fair.

In his email, Mr. Pilar also thanked me for having been so thorough and vigilant. He went on to say that during a meeting with the Chair and other teachers of the QMIT Department, Sir Mike Tan was commended for having invited me as a panelist for the OpMan defense (Sir owes me those pogi points :p), and it was proposed that I be invited again for future defenses (Zephyrz and Fyrinx beware, haha).

Then came something that took me completely by surprise. The department Chair, Mr. Tanchoco, actually issued an invitation for me to join the JGSOM faculty, to teach either OpMan or Stat. Reading that part of Mr. Pilar's email, I was flabbergasted. Sure, I've entertained notions of teaching in the SOM, but I never foresaw that I'd be invited. And I never thought it would be my lifelong anti-plagiarism crusade that would get me that invitation, from the QMIT Department Chair himself. The egomaniac in me felt flattered, and the Atenean in me felt honored. But of course I had to turn down the invitation. As I wrote in my reply to Mr. Pilar: "... as much as it would be my privilege to serve my beloved alma mater as a teacher, I'm afraid OpMan and Stat are both outside my field of teaching expertise. These are 2 technical subjects which I managed to pass only because I had a very patient teacher... and very competent groupmates besides." I closed by telling Mr. Pilar that in the meantime, I will be more than happy to render my panelist services to them every semester.

I confess that the out-of-the-blue teaching job offer was mighty tempting, my weak computation skills be damned. I had sudden visions of me strolling through the Ateneo campus, OpMan books cradled in my arms, heading for my class in the JGSOM building, with students calling out "Hi Ma'am!" along the way (never mind if they also shoot me dirty looks and mouth "bitch" as soon as my back is turned). Yes, I can see myself teaching in Ateneo. But realistically, I can't. Not only would my poor students screw up all their forecasting and capacity planning thanks to my inept mentorship, I couldn't squeeze it in my current work schedule anyway. Teaching part-time is not an option for me, at least not if I want to be a good teacher. I believe it's a 24-hour job that requires, demands, deserves my full attention and energy. If I ever go back-- correction, WHEN I do go back, it will be without constraints, without conditions, without circumstances that would keep me from being the best possible teacher I can be. Regardless of the subject. Even if it does turn out to be OpMan.

Hmm. I hope Mr. Tanchoco's invitation stands for a while.


At Tuesday, November 07, 2006, Anonymous ange said...

Congrats on the ego-building offer! :) there any chance you'll go easy on your students who you'll be a panelist for? Haha Kidding. :D

At Tuesday, November 07, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Maybe in 2 years you'll find out. Haha.

At Tuesday, November 07, 2006, Blogger Sean said...

I'll be a devil's-advocate today regarding our efforts on plagiarism, and say that just because we're coming down hard on it doesn't mean that we are automatically addressing the root of the problem.

We're apparently very quick to prosecute those who involve themselves in plagiaristic activities. The students in question, for example, probably received a nasty lecture from multiple authorities in addition to the follow-up work and the reduced grade. It probably would even have been elevated to a serious disciplinary case under different circumstances.

However, the enforcement of all those penalties must assume that the perpetrators fully understand the offense that they have committed. It is not enough to come down hard on plagiarists; We must make certain that they know why plagiarism is tantamount to a crime in academic circles, and why it is not tolerated. To punish people for something that they do not understand creates an atmosphere of fear and apprehension, and in some extreme cases, may simply open further opportunities for them to commit the same offense.

Did the student in question know precisely what he had done wrong, and why everyone suddenly turned against him because of it? Or did he plead his case simply because he was scared?

Are we certain that he knows why plagiarism is a serious offense? Or did we simply give him the impression that he could have gotten away with it if he was more careful?

There are a lot of questions that we should be asking ourselves on incidences like this. I do not presume to know all the circumstances of the case, but I do know that there is far more to plagiarism than meets the eye. We can take the first step, I suppose, by not harboring even the most simple assumptions on this. I'd rather not see ourselves confront whatever's on the surface right now, only to find the unresolved underlying issues overwhelming us in the future.

At Tuesday, November 07, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Nice job, devil's advocate. I agree with everything you said.

After I stumbled upon the first batch of plagiarized papers submitted in my English class, in the course of my investigation, I learned that many of my students weren't even aware that what they had done was wrong (although a few knew full well what they were doing and were simply unapologetic about it). Thus a lesson on plagiarism and proper citation of sources was introduced into the curriculum, scheduled at the very start of each academic year. Not surprisingly, I still discovered several papers with lifted material despite preemptive efforts to make the students understand what constitutes plagiarism, and why it is wrong.

As cynical as it sounds, I don't underestimate the extent of people's laziness and the malleability of their integrity, especially when it comes to an intellectual effort like writing. But I concede it's a deep-seated issue that cannot be resolved by a stern talking-to or an F, or even expulsion. So many compounded factors can be blamed: the advent of technology, making information available at the click of a mouse button; weak value formation, owing to a lack of parental guidance; the evolution (or is it devolution?) of cultural ethics; the steady decline of our educational system. There really is no easy fix to the evil that is plagiarism, because it stems from so many other gargantuan problems.

But in the meantime, even as we stay vigilant and wary, it's reassuring to know that there are still honorable individuals out there who take pride in their written work. Even a cynic like me hangs on to that faint glimmer of hope.

At Tuesday, November 07, 2006, Blogger Sean said...

Well said. :)

At Friday, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Donna said...

I think you should teach English. Do you know how many Ateneans still don't know the difference between its and it's and you're and your?! OMG. Group papers drive me insane. I waste soooooo much time fixing grammatical errors and shortening run-on sentences. Ateneo needs grammar police, and you'd be perfect for the position! hahaha

At Friday, November 10, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

"Group papers drive me insane. I waste soooooo much time fixing grammatical errors and shortening run-on sentences." -Now you know how much I enjoyed checking book reviews and formal themes. :p

At Monday, November 20, 2006, Anonymous karen said...

miss lim. teach lit again!! please oh please.

p.s. pag 3rd year na ako wag kang babalik as panelist. hahahaha

At Monday, November 20, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

As long as I'm free on the day of the OpMan defense, then I'll be there, claws out. ;p Just pray really hard you don't get me for a panelist. Haha.


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