What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

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#1 born2c0de  Icon User is offline

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What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 12 March 2011 - 11:29 PM

Hi Guys,
Yesterday a professor accused me (and 2 other students) of copying some material from one of our assignments.
Although this is a false accusation (I did not cheat), the circumstances under which this happened is a little unfortunate and I need some feedback on what I can do.

HOW IT HAPPENED:
There was a question on my RDBMS assignment about proving something about functional dependencies (FDs) which I had no idea how to solve. I gave up after hours of searching online and in books for something that would help me attempt it, so I approached a friend (also a student) who had taken the course the previous year and asked him how he'd solve the problem. He explained the approach and showed me an example where he used a ∀ (for-all) symbol to define a relation.
I used that symbol because his approach to the solution made sense and submitted my assignment to the prof.

After it got graded, my prof tells me that I copied my answer from 2 other guys because only the 3 of us used the ∀ symbol in that particular answer. He said it's an incorrect notation and that's how he got suspicious. (this is lame as ∀ is a universally accepted mathematical symbol)
As it turns out, those 2 other guys also spoke to the same guy for help and used his approach as well.
I told him about how I spoke to a past-student for help but he keeps telling me to "think about it" and come up with a story that's "believable".

He refuses to believe that it's a coincidence.
I can understand why he's pissed off 'cuz when you think from his perspective, it does appear that the three of us discussed and wrote the similar solution, but he's threatening to reduce my grade and report it to the grad school.

I feel I have done nothing wrong as per my department's guide on Academic Dishonesty and even though I brought it up with my professor, it seems like he's already made up his mind about what he's going to do.
I am told that he caught some other guys cheating in an assignment before but let them off with a warning but he is hell-bent on punishing me for some reason. He also feels super-betrayed 'cuz he never expected a student who's been scoring good grades for all his past assignments to turn out as a cheat.

My real question is should I sort this out with the prof or hope that the grad school gives me the benefit of doubt when he reports it to them?
This takes a lot of time and effort (not to mention the tedious paperwork) and I personally don't have the time nor the mental strength (thanks to grad school research) to go ahead with this procedure.
I'm beginning to think that it might be better to just give him the BS story that he wants and just get done with it (he'll pardon it if he hears what he what he wants to) instead of letting it get settled by the grad school.

Does anyone have any experience with false accusations like this?
In general does the commitee consider cases like this and give me the benefit of doubt or are they as stubborn as my prof?

I always thought this prof was a simple, level-headed guy and I've never seen him react like this before. He's an old "about-to-retire" japanese prof, and I can't help but wonder if the recent earthquake/tsunami had something to do with his mood during our conversation yesterday.
(I'm too frustrated so maybe I'm just over-thinking this part...)

So, should I try to reason with him about my situation or just let the grad school take a decision?

Thanks.

This post has been edited by born2c0de: 12 March 2011 - 11:33 PM


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Replies To: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

#2 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 12 March 2011 - 11:32 PM

The only thing that I can think of is to give an oral explanation of the paper without looking at notes. Thus proving that you understand what was written, not just having the report written.
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#3 born2c0de  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 12 March 2011 - 11:35 PM

I can do that, and so can the other two. He would say that since we discussed it together, all of us would know the solution.
How does that help my case?
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#4 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 12:27 AM

If you both understand the subject to the point of an oral explanation & example, then of course there are going to be coincidences. It seems incredibly absurd that he's going to be so ignorant to the situation.

Since you know it, & can prove you know it, that's the purpose of the exercise, & pretty much the purpose of schooling & study. I feel for your situation & wish that I could offer more.
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#5 IngeniousHax  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 12:26 PM

Academic Dishonesty can result in the expulsion of an academic institution and make it extremely difficult to gain access to a relatively similar program at any other institution.

If the professor decides to take this form of action and possibly ruin a future for you, I would take it directly to the school board and plead a case, or even another instructor.

You could always plead your case to the prof. one more time, but instead, ask him if there is a way you could resubmit the assignment using a different method than the one used.

Your situation is not unique in the sense of plagiarism and professors have seen all the tricks to attempt plagiarizing, but some will allow for an alternate submission of the assignment to prove you know what you're doing. After all, if you truly didn't plagiarize (Which is using someone else ideas as your own) than you should be able to solve the problem more than the given way you used, and this will show competence and understanding to the professor.
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#6 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 12:42 PM

I would start with no2pencil's solution of trying to resolve this diplomatically. If your instructor will acquiesce, then hopefully problem resolved. If not, I would call BS here and push, if you think you would have a chance with the review committee. Try to get from your professor the specific violations under the policy you have committed. Push him to examine the situation and work in specifics. If he cannot do that, I wouldn't count on him filing a complaint.

I agree with IngeniousHax about talking to another faculty member. Find someone that you relate well to, have a good raport with, and can act as your advocate, and advise you through the process. Plus, as you say you do well in school, other instructors are probably aware of your aptitude, quality of work, and work ethic. These things don't go unnoticed, nor should they.
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#7 nooblet  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 03:01 PM

View Postmacosxnerd101, on 13 March 2011 - 12:42 PM, said:

I agree with IngeniousHax about talking to another faculty member. Find someone that you relate well to, have a good raport with, and can act as your advocate, and advise you through the process. Plus, as you say you do well in school, other instructors are probably aware of your aptitude, quality of work, and work ethic. These things don't go unnoticed, nor should they.


At a university, it's not uncommon for a professor to go on and never even know their own students given the size of the majority of the lecture classes (varies from school to school). Let's just hope he had time to get acquainted with some professors because grades on a transcript alone for a guy being accused of cheating is not probably a strong basis. That said, there are some professors, advisors, and counselors who will do whatever they can to help even if they don't know you personally. But of course reach out to those you know first and proceed from there.
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#8 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 03:04 PM

I'm hoping since this is graduate school, the professors are a little more personal with the students than say a Calc I professor in a lecture hall of 200. Definitely a valid point, though. :)
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#9 born2c0de  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 03:21 PM

Yes, professors tend to know students on a more personal level in grad school as there are only 10-20 students in any grad-level course.
Asking for a resubmission of the assignment seems like a reasonable plea so I hope that works.
I'll also ask my advisor for help (as he's known me on a personal level for 6 months and has also seen me at my 'best' (...and now my worst)) so I'm hoping he helps me through this as well.

Thanks no2pencil, macosxnerd101 and nooblet for your input. It does seem like a bad idea to let this proceed all the way to the top. I hope to sort it out with the professor himself.
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#10 lordofduct  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 03:28 PM

Question... you couldn't get this student who helped you out to step forward?

I'm assuming if you are being accused of plagiarism, the other 2 students are. So if you brought together those 2 people as well as the previous student who assisted you, and all met the professor at the same time, maybe then the professor would understand the whole situation.



Oh and maybe also bring in some text proving that the ∀ is in common use. Actually maybe not, he may take offense to that.


I've actually been accused of plagiarism before as well. My girlfriend did as well in the same exact manner as I did. But ours was pretty easy to prove because we were accused of plagiarizing ourselves.

This post has been edited by lordofduct: 13 March 2011 - 03:32 PM

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#11 born2c0de  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 04:02 PM

I can get that student to come forward and tell the prof that he helped me but he doesn't want me to as he doesn't believe that all three of us could approach the same person for help.
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#12 NeoTifa  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 04:14 PM

We use that symbol all the time, that shouldn't be a reason for suspicion.
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#13 BobRodes  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 07:35 PM

As you have said, it is of course best to work things out with the professor. However, if you feel that you have been wrongly accused, and the professor isn't willing to listen to your point of view, it follows that you have a conflict that you can't resolve among yourselves. As such, it becomes necessary that the conflict be resolved by a third party.

If your advisor can't get anywhere with the professor, I would suggest that you consider putting the matter before the college administration, privately if possible. There is probably someone in administration who will listen to what you have to say in confidence and advise you. Keep in mind that you are paying their bills, and expect that you have recourse beyond convincing the professor that you haven't done anything dishonest.

If you can't get anywhere with that, then you'll need to escalate the matter by formally requesting arbitration from administration.

You can go beyond that too if you need to. If you get this far and are still stuck, send me a personal note and I'll get advice from a law professor I know.

Good Luck!

This post has been edited by BobRodes: 13 March 2011 - 07:52 PM

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#14 born2c0de  Icon User is offline

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 08:28 PM

I don't want the situation to escalate that much, but thanks for letting me know my options and offering to help. :)
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#15 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: What to do when falsely accused of plagiarism?

Posted 13 March 2011 - 08:44 PM

There is also the threat of taking this to the school paper and student-organized media. Creating a bad name for a particular major or professor isn't something the school will want. Since this is a grad school professor, that means he has a Ph.D, which means that he is there to do research as well. And a lot of professors utilize students for assistance in their research. So a media circus could jeopardize this professor's influx of students. Would you want to work with an arrogant professor who doesn't give students due process?
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