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Academic Honesty?

While on bereavement leave, I requested extra time on the work for the 2 classes I’m taking. One professor (Ethics) gave me an extra week; the other (Theories and Practices of Public Administration) said to take all the time I needed. This helped me prioritize time. I did the Ethics class work first, turning the 4-page paper in a day early.

Imagine my surprise when it came back as a 0. Goose egg. Zip.

What?! I looked at the scoring rubric, where he had marked each category as “non-performing”. What the heck?! Jonathon reads my paper for sanity and APA. It was fine. Wasn’t it? The teacher’s message to me was very vague, saying he would communicate via the classroom messaging system. Maybe someone was caught cheating, or the system was down? Every assignment submitted to Capella has to be vetted through a software, SafeAssign, designed to detect any published sources. I waited.

The next morning at 6:30 a.m. I received a form email about academic honesty. For my Ethics class. My blood ran cold. It said I had plagiarized on the assignment and would be allowed a conference call with Dr. P., reviewing my report. I could revise and resubmit my assignment for 20 points off. Great. I felt humiliated, sad and frustrated. I did not plagiarize. Did I?

Dr. P. and I held our conference call a week ago, Thursday afternoon. He was very gracious and matter-of-fact as we reviewed my report. He talked me through how SafeAssign flags all references and citations. That’s normal. He said a lot of factual statements get caught, too, like “water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit”. Can’t change that, it is what it is. But he pointed out 2 highlighted areas in my paper.

“We know 99% of plagiarism is unintentional,” Dr. P. said.

Gulp. I appreciated the vote of confidence.

Back to the report.

“See #4? Click on it?” he directed.

You can click on it? You can open it up and see what’s there? Inconceivable! I didn’t know that.

Once I did, it looked as if I’d copied my information verbatim from another student’s paper. Note to self: SafeAssign doesn’t care if you said it if someone else said it the same way first. Clicking #7, the other offending item, revealed that I had quoted a source, listed in the references, almost word for word.

OK. So I don’t know everything. I can learn. We chatted a bit more and I said I didn’t want to appeal it through a committee, which was an option. I would revise and resubmit and take the 20-point hit. I signed off and opened my paper, determined to take care of it right away.

Wait a minute. Both of the suspicious items were long quotes in my paper, cited correctly. Now what? I felt vindicated. But maybe my APA was off? I single-spaced them and indented them as taught. What if the software flagged them in error? Suddenly, I felt better. I wasn’t sleep walking and eating a bowl of cereal, or a sleepwalking serial killer. I emailed my paper to Dr. P., explaining what I’d found.

I waited. I worked on all the other assignments for both classes. I stalked email. Dr. P. acknowledged the email but nothing more. I checked the Ethics class page to see an updated grade for week 4’s assignment, something. Nothing. A week went by. I struggled to let God handle it, for surely He would vindicate me. Wouldn’t He? Meanwhile, my confidence plummeted. Could I even do this work? Did I belong in the program? I had to take those thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). I could not afford to let them spiral me down.

Yesterday, I emailed Dr. P. to inquire on status. Almost immediately, he copied me on an email to Learner Affairs, telling them to “close out” the report on me. He also pointed out this was a “new issue” when migrating from the former plagiarism software to this one. I love to be on the cutting edge!  I confess I did cry a little. Thank you, Jesus!

I do belong in this program. That’s the truth. I have what it takes, leaning heavily on Jesus. Academic honesty goes both ways.

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