Dealing with accusations of plagiarism

Guilty or innocent, allegations a stress inducer for students

Student Kashmala Fida reads in the Killam library. Photo: Thoshlae Smith


Emily Rankin was working at her part-time job last November when she got an email from her professor.

The email was to set up a meeting, where Rankin was later accused of plagiarism in an essay.

The fourth-year Spanish and anthropology student at Dalhousie had never run into problems with academic offences before.

“I was dumbfounded,” she says. “I couldn’t believe she was going to accuse me of that when she had me as a student before. She knew I wasn’t the kind of person to do that.”

In 2013, 313 students were proven to have committed academic offences at Dalhousie, according to the 2013-14 faculty discipline annual report.

Of the 313 cases, 175 were plagiarism.

Although Rankin’s incident was never formally reported, and she later clarified the accusations with her professor, the incident scared her straight.

Dalhousie considers plagiarism as submitting the work of another person as one’s own. Plagiarism can result in a failing grade, suspension or expulsion.

Robert Mann, manager of discipline and appeals at Dalhousie, says the process to catch academic cheaters has changed in the past couple of years.

Senate committees, which handle discipline, were restructured during the 2009-2010 school year, according to a 2009-2010 senate discipline report.

During the project, the senate disciplinary committee held meetings and training sessions with faculty academic integrity officers over officers’ roles as investigators.

Mann said that before each faculty had their own integrity officer, it was difficult and time-consuming for instructors to allege academic dishonesty.

Changes to the process are not helping to ease the anxiety students accused of academic dishonesty say they feel.

“When I saw the email my stomach hurt. I knew I hadn’t done anything but it was so scary,” said Kashmala Fida, a fourth-year journalism student at the University of King’s College.

Two years ago, Fida, then a biology student, was in her second year when her cell biology professor said she had reason to believe Fida had plagiarized part of an essay.

“They said I had to go through an academic senate hearing in order to resolve the issue,” said Fida.

While her case was later thrown out because she explained the error she’d made on her assignment, it instilled in her the need to be cautious.

“I’m always very careful because plagiarism really scares me,” she said.

Fida and Katelyn Ellins, internal director of Dalhousie student advocacy services, agreed that the process is intimidating.

DSAS is a volunteer-based service at Dalhousie that helps students in discipline matters.

“I think the most important thing to remember is that you’re in university for you to learn,” Ellins says, “and when you’re plagiarizing you are misrepresenting your own knowledge of the subject.”