I’ve been teaching for over 20 years and have often wondered, which student is the best of the best?  I decided it had to be Carl.  Carl was a motivated, bright student who wrote his work beyond the basic requirements, was friendly and polite, and served as a messenger from the student group-me to me as part of my class advisory board.  I taught him in multiple classes and became the advisor to a student group he formed.  He kept in professional contact often letting me know when he reached goals.  Carl was a delight. 

Carl recommended friends to my class including Jane, who he said was a friend.  Jane missed some key material but turned in an excellent submission despite a lack of attendance.  I clicked on the Safe Assign report and found that the paper had 24% similarities to Carl’s work, but instead of on things like headings and directions it was noting a few sentence phrases.  Odd, I thought…so I pulled up Carl’s old paper from the semester past, and this new submission followed the framework sentence by sentence although it had been carefully reworded. 

I reached out to Jane.  She said that all students would likely have similar papers because the prompts were the same.  I continued to look at the two papers, and they were too similar for Jane to not have studied the paper to write her own work.  After talking with the academic integrity monitor, the paper was submitted for a violation with both Jane and Carl to be questioned.  The monitor had advised no further contact with either student before submission and said I should not have spoken with Jane and to not talk with Carl.  In a few weeks I was notified that both had pleaded guilty to plagiarism.  The punishment for Jane was a zero on the paper.  Both Carl and Jane received one academic integrity point in their records which would mean little unless they were found guilty again.  The academic integrity monitor found the papers to be almost identical.

After this, Carl reached out to meet.  Carl said that Jane was his girlfriend and that on the day the paper was due she’d been at his apartment.  While he worked in the living room, she went to his bedroom where his laptop was and used the password she knew to access it.  She went to the file for the class and then carefully wrote her paper in the hour before it was due.  He said at the time he thought she was just putting finishing touches on her work and submitting it.  When he got the email about academic integrity, she admitted to accessing his work without his permission. 

He thought about fighting it, but it would go to a board and because Jane had stolen the paper from his computer, her sanction could potentially be greater, and there was a fear that her parents would cut financial support for college or not let her go on a much dreamed of internship this summer.  Carl and Jane had two days where they did not speak, as the irony was that Carl tutored statistics and could have guided her through working the statistics in the paper, and she could have created her own work.  After two days, Carl decided Jane had just made a mistake and they got back together as a couple.  Jane had planned and paid for a trip to a state almost 1,000 miles away to see Carl’s favorite band prior to the incident, and Carl felt like that showed her true feelings for him.   Carl had concerns about graduate schools finding out that he had pleaded guilty to an academic integrity sanction.  He had talked to the Dean of the Honors College who said that I had handled the situation incorrectly, and he should never have been charged.  Carl vowed to continue his relationship with Jane and hoped to marry her one day.

I only heard from Carl once more with one of his life update email shortly after our conversation although he did ask me to remain as the faculty advisor for the student group.  After the many updates of the past, I found it a bit odd that there were no updates, not even for the student group, in the past year.

Was Carl more involved than he stated?  Should he have fought the sanction?  Would you continue a relationship with someone in this situation?  Would you have handled the situation differently?