Procedures for Reporting Plagiarism

What To Do When You Suspect a Student Has Plagiarized

As a member of the Faculty, you are obligated to uphold the standards of the University.  One such standard is the GW Code of Academic Integrity.  If you suspect a student has plagiarized,  you owe it to the University and to the other students in the class, present and future, to determine whether or not plagiarism has occurred.  If it has, you need to document the case and report it to the Office of Academic Integrity, even if it is a first case.  The reason for reporting “first” cases is so that there is record for other professors to rely on when evaluating similar situations involving the student in the future.

There are several major steps to this process, and each will take some time that you would rather be spending another way. Furthermore, you should be prepared for some emotional stress.  It is never easy to catch someone doing something wrong and confront them.  It is not pleasant to have the sense of trust that develops between faculty and students violated. In the classroom, you have opened your brain and your soul to your students; when you discover that this trusting relationship has been abused or compromised, it can hurt deeply.  You may feel outrage at first, but as the case progresses, you may feel guilt, as if somehow it is your fault that the student cheated.  Self-recrimination does no good—keep in mind that standards of academic integrity are not exactly secret and that all students know, or should know, what they are expected to do. 

It is not your fault that a student chooses to cheat.  Unfortunately, it becomes your burden.

Conferencing with a Student

Generally the first step taken after confirming a case of suspected plagiarism is to talk with the student.  During this process, you should show him/her your evidence and explain the Academic Integrity processes.  Depending on the nature of your class or your relationship with the student, you may choose to do this by email or snail mail.  Definitely keep a copy of any correspondence, since you may need that proof to show the nature of your correspondence.

Sample Correspondence – The following is an example of what you may say in a conference (either orally or in writing):

I discovered some similarities between your writing on this assignment and some source materials that leads me to believe that your writing contains plagiarized material.  At this point in time, I am referring the matter to the Office of Academic Integrity.  You have the right to contest the charge if you believe that you did not plagiarize.  If so, the Director of Academic Integrity will convene a hearing and a panel of three students and two faculty members will consider your case.  You can and should provide evidence at that hearing.

The sanction that I am recommending for this case is [explain sanction]. The reason I am recommending this sanction is [explanation of reason].

You have the right to contest this sanction as a separate matter from the charge. In other words, you can admit to the charge and contest the sanction on its own merit.  If you choose to do so, a hearing panel will consider your case. If you choose to admit to the charge and accept the sanction, no hearing is necessary.  However, you should consult with someone whose advice you trust prior to making this decision. 

Mr. Tim Terpstra (timterp@gwu.edu), the Director of Academic Integrity, can answer further questions that you have about the process and the alternatives.  You should review the materials on the Academic Integrity website, the link to which is in the syllabus for the class, so that you know the processes and procedures.

You may choose not to conference with a student whom you suspect of plagiarism.  There are many valid reasons why you may elect not to conference, even though all of your initial instincts are that a conference should be the first step. 

Keep in mind that when you tell a student that you suspect him or her of plagiarism, the reaction may be physically violent or emotionally retributive.  It is a good idea to have a witness with you if you decide to conference with the student.  If you decide not to conference directly with a student, Tim Terpstra will contact the student and resolve the matter, including scheduling a hearing panel should one be required.

Procedures for Reporting Plagiarism to Academic Integrity Office

The procedures for reporting plagiarism are pretty straightforward.  It’s a good idea to call Tim Terpstra (202-994-1977) to check to see if the student has a record.  This will help you think about how to handle the situation.  For example, you would probably recommend a lighter sanction for a freshman who has never been caught before than you would a senior who has been caught several times.  The student’s academic integrity history, level of study, and other considerations will go into your proposed sanction.

After you have determined what sanction you feel is appropriate for the offense, you should perform the following steps:

Step 1) Fill out a Charge of Violation of Academic Integrity (available online at http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity/forms.html

Step 2) Compile your evidence into a packet.  This evidence packet should include the following at a minimum:

  • a copy of your syllabus
  • a copy of the assignment instructions
  • a copy of the student’s work, annotated to show clearly the plagiarized material
  • copies of all source material, clearly annotated to show what elements were copied into the student’s work.

Please make sure that all material is clear and legible. It is very frustrating for hearing panels to confront incomplete or incomprehensible evidence.  Remember that the panel will only see what you provide and will make a recommendation based on careful consideration of your evidence.  If it is incomplete or hard to understand, the panel may not understand the importance of the evidence presented.

Step 3) Send the filled out form and the evidence packet to Tim Terpstra via interoffice mail to Phillips Hall 411 (although in very sensitive cases, you may elect to hand carry the material).

Preparing for a Hearing

In preparation for a hearing, go over your evidence and try to see it from a stranger’s perspective.  The members of the hearing panels try very hard to understand what each side is presenting and will ask hard questions to make sure they are getting a correct view of the situation.  For example, they may ask you if you lectured on plagiarism in your class or what percentage of the grade is accounted for by the assignment.  Think through what you would ask if you were faced with the challenge of understanding this type of situation and prepare in advance for those questions.

If you have witnesses, you should arrange for them to attend the hearing as well.  If they are not able to attend, Tim Terpstra can take a statement from them.  This is not the optimal situation, since the hearing panel will not have the ability to question them if they are not there.

Opening and closing statements – You will be asked to make an opening statement and a closing statement.   Think carefully about what you want to say.  Some things you might want to think about including in your opening statement are the following elements:

  • what the course was about and at what level it was being taught
  • what the impact of plagiarism in the context of the subject matter is
  • how you detected the plagiarism and satisfied yourself that it was indeed plagiarism
  • why you have proposed the sanction under consideration. 

In your closing statement, you should reiterate some of what you said in the opening statement and emphasize parts of the testimony that you feel strongly make your case for a finding of violation and the sanction proposed.

During the hearing, you can be asked questions from both the accused and the panel.  Be prepared mentally for that.  Some students try to change the tenor of the conversation from a fact-based investigation to an emotional one.  Be prepared to recognize and avoid those traps.  Stick with the facts, avoid emotion or argument, and be very clear and concise about what occurred.

Thoughts about Proposed Sanctions

The challenge of determining an appropriate sanction is an interesting exercise in balance.  On one hand, a freshman shouldn’t be treated the same way as a seasoned senior.  On the other hand, a first semester graduate student may have been in industry so long that he or she has forgotten academic standards.  You will need to weigh these issues carefully.

Another element that needs to be considered is the subject matter.  If a student is studying journalism, should she be held to a higher standard than one studying political science?  How about psychology?

The background of the student may weigh into your considerations as well, but be careful not to slip into a patronizing situation.  Some students need more help than others; sometimes holding them accountable for their actions is exactly the help that is needed.


The first draft of this document was prepared by Professor Julie Ryan, Assistant Professor of Engineering Management & Systems Engineering at GW


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