Guest Column: Recycling papers isn’t a crime

Turning in original work twice shouldn't be considered plagiarism

Binghamton University explicitly outlines what it considers to be academic dishonesty. Of course plagiarism is the big one, and instances of plagiarism are serious problems among college students across the country. As the Student Academic Honesty Code correctly points out, instances of plagiarism and other violations of academic dishonesty undermine the University’s credibility and thus harm the entire BU community. There is one item that has no place in the Code, however: multiple submissions.

The University seems to think that “recycling” is dishonest or somehow harms its credibility. We’ll start with the dishonesty point. Take the following hypothetical: I submit an honest, unplagiarized essay to a professor. Then, I submit the same essay to another professor. Additionally, I inform both professors of my actions. In what way can my actions possibly be called dishonest?

So what about harming the University’s credibility? Well, what is the purpose of this institution? To educate its students. Writing a paper is part of that process, as it forces me to think critically about the information I was taught by relating it together and to the world outside the course. The rigorous academic scrutiny a professor gives an essay is what I and other students expect from the University. Having a second professor in a potentially different field of study give that same essay further scrutiny does not reduce the credibility of that scrutiny, nor does it make the University any less credible. What it does do, however, is actually enhance my learning. My comprehension of the material from both courses is being assessed by a professional. I am relating one course to another through the essay, further increasing my understanding of both and helping me apply the information to the world outside each course. Moreover, the added feedback from a second professor will give me greater insight into how to express my ideas and further improve my writing. It could even be argued that the University, in denying me the opportunity to submit my essay to two professors, is denying me a chance to enhance my learning.

All right, I can see a slight issue here. Maybe I’m just being lazy when I recycle my paper and do not attempt to further refine it, just passing with minimal work. The University of Texas at Austin has several paragraphs devoted to justifying their own ban on multiple submissions, and that seems to be what they fear primarily (I was unable to find a similar apologetic from BU). UT Austin talks about the “problematic minimal efforts involved in ‘recycling,’” relating paper writing to athletic training for a marathon. If I don’t train for a marathon, I’ll run it poorly. Likewise, if I put minimal effort into my coursework, I’ll get a bad grade. However, that is a reflection on me, not BU. Laziness shouldn’t be brought before the ethics board. If it was, I’m sure every student at BU, especially myself, would have been expelled long ago.

Here’s what I think happened. Various individuals in charge of the University got confused one day and started equating the number of hours spent working to the amount of learning experienced. I don’t have to explain why that’s ridiculous. Multiple submissions are not nearly the breach of ethics that the University seems to think they are. Therefore, maintaining this rule is irresponsible, as it can — and has already — unfairly punish otherwise honest and hardworking students.


– Peter Cohen is a senior majoring in history

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.