I started writing this because it’s almost marking season, and with the shift to online teaching and assessment there is a big focus on preventing and identifying plagiarism. It’s a sector wide issue, not particular to where I teach. And getting up early and seeing the dVerse prompt MTB: To turn again, about turn again. with the instruction to use epiphora (end of line repeats), and examples from Eliot, I thought it must be time to post it. So, with a nod to Macavity (Eliot, 1939):

Integrity, Integrity, there’s nothing like integrity,
it keeps you well within the law, and does it with sincerity,
but it’s power to inspire trust has gone and here instead
is a scene of academic crime – Integrity is dead!
Do not presume the authorship of anything you’ve read,
for Turnitin is telling you – Integrity is dead!

Although a bit more work, of course,
it’s not that hard to cite the source,
of the information you have used,
and the articles you have perused.
Harvard, APA, anything instead,
of making your prof cry: Integrity is dead!

Integrity, Integrity, there’s nothing like Integrity
(please pardon my intensity )
for it really is a source of sorrow,
that when I start to grade tomorrow,
and take up my red marking pen,
I’ll find plagiarism there again!
And that’s because, as I’ve said,
Although it breaks my heart – Integrity is dead!


Eliot, T.S. (1939) Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Faber and Faber, London.


Filed under poem

49 responses to “integrity

  1. I like the rolling rhythm of this poem and the message – Integrity is dead. Sounds like the last cry of an exasperated teacher
    p.s. there can be no accusations of plagiarism with your reference!

  2. Well written! I can only imagine the challenge you describe so well here. Very hard to teach integrity. 💝

  3. I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with the teaching, but in books I’ve written/edited I’ve had authors–not students, but people with graduate degrees and sometimes professors themselves who plagiarized. Sometimes it’s just an oversight, forgetting to cite something–but there were a few who just lifted huge chunks of material from articles, reports, etc. UGH. So your repetition was very effective–look how it made me rant. 😀

  4. Kate, I look at integrity the same way I look at the law, but actually I hold integrity to a higher standard. With the law there is a little wiggle room with discretion; with integrity it’s a zero-tolerance situation. Plagiarism isn’t something to be played around with, and strict enforcement of the law isn’t to be questioned in regards to it. Ignorance isn’t an excuse for doing it either. Question: what % of your students plagiarize? How do you respond to it? I would think that the first incident by a student being given a “0” would be a good deterrent to a repeat offense, but your poem tells me that probably isn’t the case…

    • I actually have a very low incidence of plagiarism in my courses, because I’m proactive and discuss academic integrity with them early on, and I remove incentives as much as possible. I expect them to collaborate, and to acknowledge anyone who helps them, and I expect them to read and cite what they read and compare/contrast with it – just as I do in my own academic practice. And they get marks for doing so. And I set questions that require them to interpret a situation to set up their equations, so most of the work is done before they have something they can find a solution to online anyway. The only thing left for them then is Chegg, and we have a subscription – and they’ve been told that.
      For me the main thing to consider is intent – if there was intent to pass someone else’s work off as their own, ie deception, that’s a zero on the task for a first offence (and a talking to that reduces most to quaking terror or tears), a zero for the course for a second, and (potentially) exclusion from the uni for a third (although I don’t get to make that decision, but I tell them that is what will happen). And those penalties can be applied retrospectively – if you get caught in one course, all previous assessments from other courses could be run through turnitin and other checkers, and then you can retrospectively be given a fail. That requires proper record keeping, and a lot of academics are reluctant to put “small” incidents on permanent records, which pisses me off. I’d much rather have a student get a good hard kick up the arse for a first offence and stop, than think they can get away with it and keep doing it.
      If there was no intent to deceive, then docking some marks and educating them is the appropriate response – because as a teacher, it’s partly my fault they didn’t know how to reference, but then it’s in the rubric so they should have asked if unsure.
      Telling the difference between intention and ignorance can be tricky though sometimes…
      How prevalent it is, is very hard to say – no one wants to publish their figures. I’ve seen estimates of up to 50% of students at some point “cheat” in some way. I would be surprised if it was 1% in my courses. But I certainly hear complaints about it across the sector.

      • Kate, thank you for your response. Seems reasonable. I agree that not putting it on the permanent record doesn’t seem to be right. I think it should stay on the permanent record for a certain period of time. Not giving prospective employers a heads-up doesn’t feel ethical.

        • I did go on a bit, sorry 😀
          It’s a tricky one, because for how long should a youthful indiscretion haunt you? But that needs to be balanced against appropriate disincentives to continue bad practices. Would I take someone on as a PhD student or post doc who had been caught once as a first year? Maybe. If more than once or after first year, absolutely not.

  5. I love the message of intergrity and can hear that cry of: Integrity is dead!

  6. Argh! As a former virtual teacher I feel the angst.

  7. What a great wake up call to all of us… Without integrity we are not better than the gang bangers on the street! A great poem… I love this line…

    Do not presume the authorship of anything you’ve read,
    for Turnitin is telling you – Integrity is dead!

  8. I hope you read this to your students, Kate. I like this. I’m always a little worried I will accidentally plagiarize, not so much in quoting a whole passage without giving credit, but using somebody else’s idea. Sometimes, I’m afraid to read things to similar to what I’m trying to write. 😛

      • “There is nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9. 😀
        I think it’s often really hard to say where an idea originated, and when two ideas are really different enough to be considered different. Which I guess is why patent law is a thing… but if it’s accidental it’s not plagiarism, it’s more like convergent evolution.
        I think I’ll put my integrity poem in my introductory lecture next semester 😀

        • M

          I was going to cite the same reference (despite not being religious). Original thought is… well, within a language, we use the same words, and sentences are structured in a particular format, and we enjoy or suffer similar experiences … so originality is extraordinarily uncommon. To be completely original is impossible, don’t you think? Unless one creates a new language – and then, who else could understand it, without a commonality of definitions? Though, I do get you seek to discourage theft that has the intention of the writer presenting such theft as their original work. Hence, your emphasis on integrity.

        • Hmmm…. Interesting thoughts M! If words were arranged purely randomly, and you allow a working English vocabulary of about 50k words, then the probability of two people purely randomly writing just the same 2 words in the same order is 1 in 2,500,000,000. And multiple that by 50,000 for each additional word. But of course, as you say, it’s not going to be random, because context and syntax will both massively reduce the number of choices. Still, even if you only allowed 5 “plausible” options for each word, by the time you get to 10 words you’re at about 1 in 10 million probability for identical sequences. But containing the same ideas is probably inevitable.
          I’m not religious either, but I listened to the bible all the way through on audiobook last year and found it fascinating.

  9. One of my favourites today, by far.

    This is absolute fantastic, super catchy rhythm and ORIGINAL 😉.

    It’s so refreshing to read poems on subject matter that’s off the beaten track, and the wonderful irony of the subject matter at that.

  10. your repetition and rhymes created the intensity which is apt for a topic that is integrity. the exclamation at the end is this piece’s perfect period.

  11. writingwhatnots

    Great write Kate. Love the Macavity-ish rhythm. I can see what an issue plagiarism is in your line of work. Yes, you should definitely read it to your new students – who wouldn’t remember being read this?

  12. Love this! The rhyme and repetition work so well and I love the message

  13. So well written, this made me smile, although it’s a serious subject. I remember at university, adding the footnotes and bibliography to an essay used to take as long as writing the essay. But credit where credit is due is very important!

  14. This is wonderfully witty!!!!

  15. I remember a roommate wanting to use a paper I had written for her course. I never understood it myself–why are you going to school, if not to learn? But there is a lot of pressure for grades, and the concept of sampling is rampant now, without clear guidelines in the general culture as to what is acceptable. But attribution should always be clear, and should not be glossed over. You are doing the right thing. (K)

  16. Kate,
    Love that Eliot poem, and the adept way you capture the humor and poetic tone right well albeit in a different context! In an online educational context, it’s unsurprising I suppose that Integrity must be a rare animal to find.

  17. To be unique or do something that is not unique is hard… it does happen however that the same idea comes to several people…but with enough integrety I think this can be accepted… I guess that google is a good help to find plagiarism.

    • I used to use google when I came across something in students’ work that seemed too familiar, or didn’t match their style. Now we have turnitin which not only checks the web but has a huge repository of submitted assignments from around the world, and of course every other student in the class.

  18. Pingback: integrity (extended version) | anotherkatewilson

  19. As a non-academic who simply enjoys reading/writing haiku and short prose, your post and poem still rung a clear bell! Integrity has always been a cornerstone of my being, not necessarily because it was taught but because it seemed innate for my personal happiness. In today’s turbulent society which drives young folks to achieve success and status at the cost of personal moral qualities, I can understand your dilemma as educators. This discussion was most interesting and enlightening for this aged lay person. Thank you.

    • Thank you Al, I’m glad you found it interesting. I agree with you, the drive to succeed can conflict with morality. I think my proudest mum moment was when my son won a spelling bee and stood up and said it wasn’t fair because the last-standing competitor hadn’t gotten another go. I hope he keeps that moral sense.

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