The Death of Shame

No wonder children don't believe rules matter anymore:

Texas A&M International University in Laredo fired a professor for publishing the names of students accused of plagiarism.

In his syllabus, professor Loye Young wrote that he would “promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating or stealing.” After he discovered six students had plagiarized on an essay, Young posted their names on his blog, resulting in his firing last week.

“It’s really the only way to teach the students that it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Young, a former adjunct professor of management information systems, said he believes he made the right move. He said trials are public for a reason, and plagiarism should be treated the same way. He added that exposing cheaters is an effective deterrent.

“They were told the consequences in the syllabus,” he said. “They didn’t believe it.”

The six students received F’s and were reported to the school, but their grades may not stand because of Young’s blog post, according to

It appears the students were right to doubt that there were consequences for cheating. In this case, the only consequences were for attempting to hold cheaters publicly accountable for their actions:

Young, who also operates a computer business in Laredo, was terminated for violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that prohibits the release of students’ educational records without consent. But he said he does not believe he infringed on anyone’s privacy.

“You have to hold them accountable,” he said. “If you don’t, you hold a grave danger of having an illiterate society.”

Renita Coleman, a UT assistant professor who taught a journalism course on ethics in the spring, said there are better ways to handle plagiarism.

“I don’t think that it serves anybody well to publicly humiliate them,” she said. “It doesn’t teach anybody that it’s wrong.”

Coleman said each university has specific guidelines for dealing with cheating, and situational factors should be taken into account. She said she has dealt with repentant plagiarists who weren’t punished severely since they said they learned a lesson.

“Admitting your mistake and making an effort to fix it goes a long way,” she said. “Motivations matter.”

Coleman added that privacy should be considered in the instance of plagiarism.

“It’s not the same violation as, say, robbing a house,” she said. “It’s not something that’s an illegal act.”

Without having read the act in question, it's hard to comment on the letter versus the spirit of the statute. I do, however, recall one or two of my professors announcing that anyone caught cheating would be issued a failing grade immediately and that they would also be actively persecuted to the Gates of Hell. I, for one, took that warning quite seriously (not that I was ever inclined to cheat).

This could have been what teachers love to call a "teachable moment". In point of fact, it became one.

I'm not sure the lesson was a positive one.

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