Plagiarism continues to afflict higher education, and the stakes are getting bigger. We need to look no further than The North Star State.
Minnesota abolished its death penalty in 1911, but in 2017 reinstated the punishment only for the crime of plagiarism. Following that decision, in February 2018, prison officials tied a sophomore from Carleton College to a pair of northern pike and “permanently submerged” him under the crust of Lake of the Woods, a premier ice-fishing destination at the Minnesota-Canadian border. The young man had been convicted of presenting the work of Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz as his own in a Political Science term paper on former U.S. Department of Labor Secretary George Shultz. “It was the Scotch tape around the edges of the drawings on pages 23 and 24 of the paper that tipped us off,” says Dwayne Gassick, Chief of Police in Northfield, Minnesota. “We put our forensics people on the case, and they cracked it within a week.”
Widespread protests after the execution, led by the Land O’Lakes chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Northern Pike, prompted the state legislature to consult with Turnitin, a leading commercial provider of Internet-based plagiarism detection services. The result: in 2019, Minnesota will introduce TurnYourselfIn (TYI), a collaborative venture of Turnitin and the Minnesota State Police. The logistics are simple:
Students will submit online drafts of their work to TYI. If plagiarism is detected, the student will have 10 business days to go to the nearest police department and plead guilty to a misdemeanor. First offenders will be sentenced to spending all of Thanksgiving Day with their families, including Great-Aunt Berit, who is fond of smothering hugs, sloppy kisses, and deodorant that fails to compensate for her infrequent bathing. Repeat offenders will spend Spring Break with Berit and Mr. Fritz, her gentleman friend, in their Coachmen motor home, watching their favorite assisted-living curling team, the Hibbing Hot Brooms, compete in the World Cup on ESPN.
Plagiarists who do not turn themselves in, but are subsequently arrested for any offense, will be submerged. As Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton asserts, “we’re giving these kids a chance to do the right thing, dontcha know! But oh my garsh, if they’re not going to take advantage of what we’re offering, our state has enough ice holes and northern pike for every last one of ’em!”