So I've been dealing with a plagiarism case the past two weeks. Frustrating, as all such incidents are, for a variety of reasons: she's a student I've had before, so I feel extra-insulted; it's not just one assignment, but also many of her weekly informal response journals have been copied from the web; and it means I have to deal with various levels of the university bureaucracy -- which don't hold much hope of discouraging her activities, since it also turns out she's been caught in a colleague's class before. A serial plagiarist.
Part of my response is to think of this as a symptom, or an unconscious plea, signifying that she shouldn't be in school right now -- I know she has health issues, personal issues, family issues -- but so do most of my students who DON'T cheat. Part of my response is anger & frustration: how dare she insult me by copying in stuff from Sparknotes and think I won't catch it? I know all the arguments about how we live in a culture of increasing laxity about cheating (whether it's textual or financial) -- and my lecture about how plagiarism is ethically insupportable at the beginning of every semester is probably the most "old-fartish" thing I do. But as someone who believes in the power of critical thinking, and in the power of language to help us think more deeply and express our thoughts -- there's something deeply offensive about trying to pass off someone else's words as your own. It seems terribly sad to me that she plagiarised her informal thoughts about the books. I mean, all you have to do is write two paragraphs of just about anything and I'll give you credit for it.
The worst part (and this might be enhanced by my end-of-term exhaustion) -- one bad apple spoils the bunch. It's hard to focus on all the wonderful students who are trying hard to make sense of new books and ideas, when the one bad one draws so much time, energy, attention away. I'm mad at her for spoiling the community formed during those 90 minutes, for breaking the compact or trust we've formed over the term.