Letter to the Editor: On Plagiarism

Kenneth E. Johnson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of English



For at least nine years I was an FIU administrator who oversaw the academic misconduct procedure found in the Student Handbook. I adjudicated every type of academic misconduct and the sanctions ranged from failing a course to expulsion from the University. I write this to all students because you must reveal your history, including any record of misconduct, in applications to graduate, medical and law schools, as well as in applications for a job in any governmental agency.  

In my current faculty position in the English department, I teach courses requiring a lot of writing. As a new school year begins, I would like to share my thoughts with readers of “The Beacon.” Below is an excerpt from my standard statement on academic misconduct.


Passing off someone else’s writing as one’s own (plagiarism), or any form of academic cheating, falls into three, often overlapping, categories:  

Category 1 plagiarism is done with the conscious knowledge of intentionally misrepresenting someone else’s work as one’s own; 

Category 2 plagiarism is done out of ignorance of the requirement to clearly identify, through proper citation, someone else’s ideas;  

Category 3 plagiarism (or any form of cheating) is characterized by an “ends justify the means” mentality.  I consider this sociopathic behavior malignant. This is student behavior without conscience. Category 3 plagiarists and cheaters fail to recognize, or aren’t concerned about, how their behavior cheats their fellow students of a fair education and undermines the integrity of the educational process. These students think, “I’ll do whatever it takes to get what I want,” or “I am the center of the universe and the world exists to serve me.”

The University policy does not make these distinctions. There are no excuses. You get caught plagiarizing or cheating and the consequences are out of your hands.

Therefore ignorance is no excuse, and being under pressure is no excuse.  Part of the college experience is learning to manage the pressure. You have free professional resources to help you at FIU. Failing to turn in an assignment is far less damaging than committing academic misconduct and facing the serious outcome.

The moral of this letter is, don’t plagiarize, intentionally or unintentionally, and, if you cheat to achieve your ends and are caught, consider this: the ends which you seek may never be achieved and you will simply achieve “an end.”

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