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Brian A. Williams, Centenary College New Jersey

Brian Williams.jpgThe job of an academic advisor entails many different roles: cheerleader, supporter, and comforter.  I often think of my advising role with adult learners in terms of being a lawyer, where I advocate for my students’ best interests.  The lawyer analogy is especially appropriate in cases where a student is accused of the “P” word – plagiarism.  When a professor states that a student has plagiarized, the student might have a  variety of feelings, such as fear, confusion or anger.  At worst, the student could be dismissed from school as a result.  But how do advisors help students through their trouble?

Nearly every student I have advised in this situation says, “I didn’t mean to plagiarize.”  Most times I believe them – they did not intend to plagiarize – yet the professor takes this position against the student based on evidence within a submitted work, often to the student’s surprise. Why the accusation?  After some investigation, the reason is almost invariably a misuse of proper APA formatting within a paper (at schools where APA is the standard writing format). Although Hard, Conway and Moran (2006) reported an increase in recent decades of plagiarism and general academic misconduct, most students in my experience do not show mal intent. Following are four points to consider when a student informs an advisor of an accusation of plagiarism.

Understanding the violation

The most immediate path to understanding is the professor’s feedback on the assignment.  Has the student read and understood it?  Borham-Puyal and Olmos-Migueláñez (2011) said regarding teacher feedback that students “Must be able to critically interpret what they read” (p. 373).  It is surprising how many students do not read their professor’s feedback, but only the final grade.  Advisors should direct the student to read professor comments and offer an interpretation if necessary.  For example, perhaps the advisor is proficient in APA formatting.  The advisor can use his/her training to help the student understand the importance of using quotation marks for a direct quotation from a resource.

Meaning for the student

Every school responds seriously to cases of plagiarism.  The advisor can play an important role by giving information about how to respond to the situation. An offer to resubmit gives the advisor and student opportunity to review problem areas and submit a quality assignment.  If the student fails the assignment, the two can work through different scenarios.  If the student receives an “A” on the remaining assignments, what is the best possible grade for the class?  Or, does the failed assignment prompt consideration for dropping the class (if within the drop period) to save the overall GPA?  Failing the class would prompt consideration about rescheduling the course, future classes (if the failed class is a prerequisite), and even implications for staying in the program when failing grades warrant dismissal.

Response to the accusation

Students have different feelings when confronted with plagiarism.  These feelings generally fuel the student’s desire to do well in school.  Knowles’s adult learning theory (as cited in Kenner & Weinerman, 2011) proposed that adult students are task and internally motivated.  Therefore, they are usually motivated to continue with school.  The advisor should be prepared to inform of the ways to respond to the accusation.  In accordance with the level of accusation, the advisor should direct the student to follow up with the professor or to prepare an appeal letter to appear before the college review board.  If accepted, appeals generally have conditions for the student, such as following a timeline to resubmit work or obtaining a certain grade when retaking a class.  Should the appeal be denied, the advisor should address the needs of dismissed students, including informing of future appeal opportunities, providing financial aid/bursar department information, or advising how to request a transcript.

Education concerning the infraction

If the student is allowed to remain in school, the advisor should be motivated to help the student avoid future accusations of plagiarism.  As stated earlier, many such accusations stem from improper use of APA formatting within a student’s paper.  The easy response would be simply to refer the student to the APA manual (sixth edition).  However, advisors can offer a tailored plan to the student.  Boehm, Justice, and Weeks (2009) stated that administrators should focus on education concerning academic integrity rather than its penalties, as noted in these suggestions:

  • Locate example papers showing proper APA formatting from reputable Internet sites and review them with the student.
  • Provide time management tips so the student is not tempted to plagiarize under time constraints (Duke University, 2002 as cited in Aluede, Omoregie, & Osa- Edoh, 2006).
  • Offer to be the student’s mentor throughout the class.
  • Inform the student of school-sponsored resources, such as writing tutors.

Regarding point 3, I offered to be a mentor to a student having writing issues in an undergraduate-level course.  She did not understand why she was accused of plagiarism when she believed she was honest in her academic work.  After our session on understanding the professor’s feedback, we developed a plan to keep her on track for the remainder of her six-week course.  We held weekly sessions, reviewed her progress through the class, and discussed problem areas.  Not only did she successfully pass the class, she gained useful skills that helped her for the remainder of her program.

Students can have a difficult time managing accusations of plagiarism on their own.  An informed, caring advisor who is skilled in working with the student’s problem area can be the greatest asset to that student’s academic success.

Brian A. Williams
School of Professional Studies
Centenary College New Jersey
[email protected]


Aluede, O., Omoregie, E. O., & Osa- Edoh, G. I. (2006). Academic dishonesty as a contemporary problem in higher education: How academic advisors can help. Reading Improvement 43,(2), 97-106.

Boehm, P. J., Justice, M., & Weeks, S. (2009). Promoting academic integrity in higher education. Community College Enterprise, 15(1), 45-61.

Borham-Puyal, M., & Olmos-Migueláñez, S. (2011). Improving the use of feedback in an online teaching-learning environment: An experience supported by moodle. US-China Foreign Language, 9(6), 371-382.

Hard, S. F., Conway, J. M., & Moran, A. C. (2006). Faculty and college student beliefs about the frequency of student academic misconduct. Journal Of Higher Education77(6), 1058-1080.

Kenner, C., & Weinerman, J. (2011). Adult learning theory: Applications to non-traditional college students. Journal Of College Reading And Learning41(2), 87-96.

Cite this article using APA style as: Williams, B.A. (2012, March). Advising students accused of the 'p' word. Academic Advising Today, 35(1). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2012 March 35:1


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