Friday, January 25, 2019

Trumpian Avoidance Tactics Have Infected Academia

Not long ago, while grading end-of-semester work, I realized that two students had committed plagiarism:  both handed in literally word-for-word exact copies of certain assignments--they even used the same printer.  When I first realized what had happened, my first impulse was to give both students the grade "F," but I was in a forgiveable mood:  I decided to ignore the acts of plagiarism (not all of their assignments exhibited overt plagiarism) and decided to grade the individual assignments on their merits as if some weren't plagiarized.  As a result, both students passed the course (with different passing grades).

However, one of the students soon contacted me and wanted to know why he/she received a certain overall semester grade (the student's attitude was rather strident as if he/she deserved a higher grade and wanted exact details as to how I determined the student's semester grade).  Since I keep a detailed record of the various factors that go into how I determine each student's grade which are clearly mirrored in my syllabi for all courses, I quickly got back to the student in question and gave him/her the detailed record that noted the student's exact overall GPA for the course (I use traditional grades such as A- (3.7), B+ (3.3), etc., not points since all of my college professors used traditional grades to determine my assignment and overall semester grades--the point system strikes me as a bit cruel if a student gets a 68 or 69 and needed a 70 to earn a passing grade of C; in contrast, if one of my students has an overall GPA of 1.9 or 1.95, I will likely go up to 2.0 and allow the student to pass the course:  I assume, maybe falsely, that the student will ultimately earn the passing grade in the future as a student or in his or her future occupation).  Furthermore, I did note to the student that I believed he/she committed plagiarism in conjunction with another student.  However, I noted that I decided to ignore the plagiarism issue and simply graded the assignments on their individual merits (I noted on the student's assignments that I was being incredibly lenient--which I often write on student work that has serious problems--when determining his/her individual assignment grades).  Additionally, I noted in my comments that the student obviously ignored certain assignment and/or syllabus requirements (yes, I do expect students to read and adhere to various assignment requirements and to read and adhere to an 11- or 13-page syllabus; if that seems unreasonable to some college students, I only shudder to think if some consider it unreasonable to read entire books).  And because during that semester I had health problems which required me to miss some class meetings, I added .3 to every student's overall semester grade in every course simply as a means to not penalize their overall semester grades since my health problems temporarily reduced my effectiveness as an educator.

I expected to hear back from the student soon after, hoping the student would apologize for committing plagiarism and would thank me for not assigning a failing grade because of the plagiarism (I note in my syllabus my option to assign an overall semester grade of F if a student commits plagiarism regardless of all other grading factors).  But I didn't hear back from the offending student for nearly a month.

Then, when another semester began, the offending student accused me of creating a hostile learning environment via my syllabus requirements and teaching methods:  In short, the student's response was that I was the real problem, not the student him/her self who committed plagiarism.  Eventually, the student actually complained to an administrator about how I was the problem:  When I asked the administrator if the student apologized for the plagiarism or thanked me for ignoring the plagiarism when I assigned an overall semester grade, the administrator reported that the student did not admit guilt for the plagiarism nor did the student apologize for the plagiarism--and the student didn't thanked me for being lenient (sound familiar?).  Even the common human decency to be appreciative for acts of leniency is somehow beyond the ability of some who commit wrongful acts.

In essence, the offending student learned from Trump and others to deny responsibility for inappropriate behavior; furthermore, I suspect the student's slow response was probably due to his or her needing time to devise a strategy to not only deny plagiarism but also to launch a counterattack to deflect attention away from the student's actions:   Redefine the person who discovered the plagiarism as the "problem," not the offending student.

I suspect even more students will revert to such Trumpian avoidance and deflection tactics to evade taking responsibility for their actions and promote baseless counterattacks as a way to see themselves in a positive light:  That kind of behavior is arguably the clinical reactions many sociopaths display:   They rarely take responsibility for their dysfunctional behavior--serial killers often utilize such avoidance tactics.  For example, view almost any Charles Manson interview online:  he never accepted responsibility for his actions; he never apologized; he never asked for redemption for his ugly behavior.  Manson simply did what Trump routinely does and this student did:  Avoid all responsibility and attack others so that the offenders view themselves as victims, not as perpetrators

What can we do in academia to help blunt such dysfunctional behavior?  We can require all incoming college students to take a short course or informative session such as those used in some On Course instructional modules that encourage students to take responsibility for their educational endeavors and to cease blaming others for their academic failures or shortcomings.  And we can educate administrators and faculty members to critically examine all relevant evidence so that such Trumpian tactics can be readily identifiable and dealt with in a manner that requires offending students to examine what initiated such plagiarism and what they can do to avoid resorting to avoidance tactics.  When students embrace responsibility for their educations (which I learned in the first grade--I didn't attend kindergarten), they empower themselves to become true scholastic achievers and future occupational assets:  No one can learn for them.  If we fail to confront and expose such irresponsible student behavior, we might enable it.  I wouldn't be surprised if the offending student commits plagiarism again in other college classes here or elsewhere--and rationalizes his or her unfortunate conduct.

In hindsight, I erred in my leniency by not assigning failing grades to the offending students; moreover, I suspect I will not be so lenient in the future since, ultimately, my forgiving nature might actually spur some students to reinforce and repeat unhealthy, unethical behavior patterns.