Book by Susan D. Blum
Review by Cynthia Pascal
The Art Institute of Houston

Today’s students are often overwhelmed by the society’s demands on them and their identity: Do this, don’t do that. Wear this. Act this way. Students struggle with trying to fit in and choose the proper path.  They experience extreme pressure to be successful in every endeavor, including academics. A new book by Professor Susan D. Blum, University of Notre Dame, takes a close but non-prescriptive look at an important and complex topic. 

Parents and instructors constantly evaluate and re-evaluate academic success and want to ensure that each student’s performance measures up to their standards. This expectation pressure, compounded by the high costs of going to college, forces students to focus on the end result -- grades -- rather than the path they take to get there. Born (2003) noted that "(t)he advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) enables students to sort through thousands of published documents ready to ‘cut and paste’ into their own papers” (p.223). 

At some point, in any student’s career, the topic of plagiarism arises. Whether a student has no clue about citations in MLA or APA or is blatantly copying an author’s words without attribution, plagiarism is present in all academic institutions. “Researchers have documented that between 40% and 90% of college students admit to cheating” (Davis et al. 1992; Jendrek 1989). Blum, author of My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture explores plagiarism from the student’s perspective and helps educators better understand students perceptions surrounding plagiarism.   

Although most students agree that intentionally stealing another author’s work is plagiarism, the definition becomes ambiguous when students start considering inadvertent plagiarism, copyright infringement, and free sources of information such as the Internet. Blum discusses this continuum of student behaviors by defining, analyzing, and reframing what educators think they know about plagiarism and student intentions.

Blum demonstrates that educators and students come from different worlds and different generations. Her case study reveals insight into how to approach the topic of plagiarism but does not give specific recommendations as to how to change the culture of plagiarism. Instead it leaves readers with food for thought, but few answers. What should we do if we find out students have misrepresented others’ work as their own? What is our institution’s policy on academic integrity and plagiarism? Where is our boundary and how will we know when it has been crossed?  

Unfortunately, Blum describes her solutions in very abstract, philosophical ways. She does not provide specific and timely actions that can be implemented with little outside support from our institutions. This vagueness reminds us that advisors must support faculty members as they promote academic honesty and encourage student success through the creation of original assignments designed to make it difficult to cheat. Providing guidance and support to students on such a sensitive topic is a staggering task for advisors already struggling with multiple priorities.

Born, A.D.  (2003). How to reduce plagiarism. Journal of Information Systems Education, 14(3), 223-224.  Retrieved August 31, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 498880571) http://www.jise.appstate.edu/Issues/14/14(3)-223.pdf.

Davis, S.R., C.C. Grover, A. H. Becker, and L.N. McGregor. (1992). Academic Dishonesty: Prevalence, Determinants, Techniques, and Punishment. Teaching of Psychology 19: 16120.

Jendrek, M.P. (1989). Faculty Reactions to Academic Dishonestly. Journal of College Student Development 30: 401-406.

My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (2009). Book by Susan D. Blum. Review by Cynthia Pascal. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 240 pp. $24.95. ISBN 978-0-8014-4763-1
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