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The Problem of Self-Plagiarism in College Courses

All college students should know that plagiarism is unacceptable, unethical, and likely grounds for discipline under their college or university’s code of conduct. But what happens if you plagiarize yourself in a paper? Can you be expelled for self-plagiarism?

Believe it or not, the answer is Yes. We’ve represented students who faced serious consequences because they used their own work from one paper in another paper without citing itsometimes even with a professor’s permission! What you may view as harmless, your school may view as a serious act of academic dishonesty, and you may suddenly find yourself before your school’s board of discipline.

What is Self-Plagiarism?

Some students may have extensively researched and published works about certain topics. They may then use excerpts or just a few sentences from that work in a paper for another course. In other cases, students may turn in almost the same assignment for two different courses. For example, if your theater and literature classes both studied Hamlet, the assignments may overlap, and you may feel tempted to use the same writing—or sections of it—for both courses. In either case, you may find yourself facing serious consequences.

Opinions About Self-Plagiarism: Professors vs. Students

Academic research indicates that opinions about self-plagiarism vary widely across campus communities.

  • About 60 percent of both students and faculty do not clearly know what self-plagiarism entails
  • Nearly 60 percent of students do not feel it necessary to cite their own previous works
  • About 80 percent of surveyed faculty would consider failing to cite a student’s own work self-plagiarism.

Many students surveyed believe that “recycling” their writing, as long as it is their original work, is simply an effective use of their time. They also tend to believe that plagiarism only stems from the failure to cite the words of other people.

While faculty may not hold definite opinions about self-plagiarism, they may feel that students who use portions of their previous works for current assignments are trying to deceive them in some manner. Most professors expect students to complete their full assignments from scratch without cutting corners by using excerpts that they have already written.

To make matters more confusing, many schools do not specifically address the issue of self-plagiarism. Instead, their codes of conduct only specifically ban plagiarism, which is largely defined as using other people’s creative works (including words) without attribution. However, universities usually accuse students of self-plagiarism under general plagiarism prohibitions.

Because opinions about self-plagiarism differ so significantly from students to professors—and college codes are often ambiguous or silent about the matter—many students who do not intend to cheat in any way end up facing academic misconduct charges.

Possible Penalties for Academic Misconduct

Colleges and universities take academic misconduct seriously. While each school has its own code and policies, the possible penalties often increase for multiple offenses. A first offense may mean a zero on the assignment or an F in the course. A second may mean academic probation, and a third may mean expulsion from the school. Some schools, however, will expel a student for even a first offense.

Too many students face disciplinary proceedings for something they never believed was wrong. Some students have even informed their professors about their intentions to use previous conclusions or sentences and heard no objections, only to later learn their schools are punishing them for plagiarism.

Contact Our Connecticut College Conduct Defense Lawyers to Discuss Your Situation

At Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP, we understand the ambiguity of most self-plagiarism policies, and we have significant direct experience standing up for the rights of students whom schools wrongfully accuse of academic dishonesty. If you face any college code disciplinary issues, please call (212) 736-4500 or contact us online to speak with one of our experienced defense attorneys today.