Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hope for the Future?

A student in my Theo 1120 course wrote the following about the blog project:
Seriously, I do understand the whole concept of this blogging and changing the world project. I do not know if you already knew this but this whole project sort of works in with self-esteem. But it only works if you really did do the project because every time you gave us a question it dealt with how we changed the world. It kind of gives us and opportunity to say that I think that this is wrong, this is what I did to change it, and it worked. But even if it didn’t work you still identified what you think is wrong with the world and one day you can come back and pick up where you left off so you can change the world. It is funny because today I was taking my history final and I answered a question about whether I thought the world was better off today or 600 years ago. I answered the leaders 600 years ago were better than we are today because they did something about their problems. For example, the Haitian Revolution ended because of the efforts of a man named Bawkman Duty and Toussaint L’ouvesture, Bawkman was a captured slave just like the rest of the people in Haiti, he realized the way he was being treated as not right so he did something about it. In 1740 he killed his master, went into the Haitian ghettos or maroons where slaves had fled and were living incognito. Duty then trained the maroons in guerilla warfare and used drums to unite all the different backgrounds. Because not all the slaves spoke the same language. On august 14, 1791 the revolution began and August 22, 200 square miles of Haiti was freed in one night. Duty was killed during and attack on a big port but his efforts still continued on. After he died, Toussaint L’ouvesture became the new leader and in 1793, the Haitian allied with the Spanish and drove France out of Haiti. Toussaint then broke with the Spanish drove out the Spanish, English and White creoles and rejoined with the French to become a free county. However, Napoleon Bonaparte reestablished slavery in the French empire in 1799, Napoleons armies attacked Toussaint’s and he surrendered. John Jack Desalines replaced Toussaint and lead the army to destroy the French. In 1804 Desaline’s declared independence from France.
What was the point of me telling that story? The point is that it takes more than one person to change the world but it takes one persons effort to start that change. I am the one person who will start the change and if I do a good job at it after I am gone, someone else will pick up where I left off and eventually my idea of an Aids free world will come true.

Her blog entries are listed here

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Plagiarpolicogony: Homan Said Let There Be A New Plagiarism Policy, And There Was, And Several Students Cried In His Office, But Overall It Was Good

I am so fed up with plagiarism. The problem is rampant and in the long run I am not happy with myself as a teacher for being lax in curbing this problem. The world in my opinion is growing increasingly relativistic and people don't value integrity. Leaders lie repeatedly, and the current views about "truth" in the world involve two extremists yelling at each other and spinning the interpretation of data. So what should I do? I’ve been thinking a great deal about this lately.

Unfortunately, the current university policy here at Xavier University of Louisiana is vague. It states in the Student Handbook
"Academic Dishonesty: Students may not engage in plagiarism, receive or give assistance during examinations, term papers, assignments, seminars, etc., or obtain without authorization an examination or parts of an examination before taking the examination. Students must adhere to university, college or specific course guidelines regarding the use and documentation of sources of information, specifically information accessed on the internet."

Plus I just noticed that at Xavier's home page, when you search for words with Google, at the bottom of the results page it says "Find academic research papers with Google Scholar" which links you to papers. Yikes! It has never been easier to plagiarize.

My own policy listed in my Course Commitments page says:
"Academic Honesty. Students that cheat on or plagiarize any assignment will fail the class. If you have any questions about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, please ask me."

I have students read this at the beginning of the semester and email me saying they agree to this (and other) conditions. Also on my syllabi I state:
"Any student who plagiarizes a writing assignment shall receive an automatic F for the assignment and must meet with the instructor before being permitted to continue in the course. Plagiarizing material from the internet has been a major problem recently. Please paraphrase and provide citations when necessary."

But each semester I grow a bit more lax in enforcing this. There are a couple of pending graduates who will fail my course and not graduate because of plagiarism in part. They had the chance to rewrite the paper, but I never heard from them once the deadlines for senior grades were due, so they failed. I suspect in the next few days I'll get an email from them about a horribly sad story begging for another chance.

I feel my current policy is OK, but the way that I fail to enforce it compromises my academic integrity, and it is not fair to the students who put in the work to write proper papers. A couple of years ago I would give students a 0 on the portion of plagiarized work and they would often either drop my course or wind up passing with a D or even a C based on other work. But I've spoken to several people about their own policies, the problem of plagiarism, and my rights at a professor, and I have decided to implement a Zero Tolerance Plagiarism Policy, or ZiTPiP as it will come to be known. What this means is that even if so much as one clause is plagiarized, then I will fail the student in the course, not allow them to drop, notify the Dean of their college, and their academic advisor, and bring the matter up before the University Hearing Committee. To be fair and to cover myself, I will have to revise in detail my statement on the syllabus, and I should set up a webpage about plagiarism that I will require students to view, and I will have to spend about 10 minutes of classtime on the topic.

Finally, it is sure easy to act so tough alone in my office. What will I do when the tears start flowing and I have to hear sob stories about growing up in poverty, and how due to poor public education they had no idea what constituted plagiarism, and that they can't let poor grandma, who is weeks away from death, fail to see them graduate? I had better stock up on kleenex. I hope that word gets out around campus that plagiarism is a very dangerous game in my classes, and that students just shouldn't take that chance.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wal-Mart Watch

My family and I have boycotted Walmart and Sam's Club for quite a while now, and while we might be paying a bit more for a jar of pickles, we sleep better at night. Recently a group called Wal-Mart Watch has organized a media campaign to call attention to how Wal-Mart's version of global capitalism is hurting this country and the world.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Plagiarizing in a Bible Course

Plagiarism in general is unethical and wrong, but plagiarism in a course on the Bible is grounds for 20000 years in the bad parts of Purgatory, or so I've been told. Of the 37 papers I just finished grading for my Prophets and Prophecy course, 8 of them were plagiarized. That is 21%. Additionally, the largest demographic for those who submitted plagiarized work were seniors. Nearly half of those who turned in plagiarized work were seniors who plan on graduating in a couple of weeks. A few years ago I would have failed them. I'm getting soft in my old age. I recorded a grade of 0 for this assignment for these students, but gave them the option to turn in a revised version free from all forms of plagiarism. I didn't tell them where there were problems, I will leave it up to them. I'll check the resubmitted papers very carefully, and if they are free from plagiarism, I'll record a grade of something like a 50 or 60 depending on the quality of content. But are we teaching them to plagiarize? Freshmen are much less likely to turn in plagiarized work in my experience. I don't think these students are evil, just they did not put in the necessary time to write a 20 page academic paper. Some were so lazy they didn't bother to make sure the fonts remained the same from section to section.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Prophetic Predictions

At the start of the semester, I asked the students in my Prophets and Prophecy course to predict a future event. Whoever had the most specific prediction that came to pass would get some extra points on the final exam. Most were vague and way off, but one was quite funny. It read as follows:

I predict that Norman C. Francis will retire as president of Xavier University. Minnesota vikings will win the Super Bowl. They’ll find a cure for Walt Disney’s disease which caused him to be cryogenically frozen, they will thaw him out and he will still be alive. A shuttle will crash. Dr Homan will go nuts and give 95% of the class an “A”, or Dr Homan will NOT search for his name on the web.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Things You Learn Grading Papers

I just read a paper which contained the following sentence:

"Facts from states that when Moses was born, Miriam’s prophetic gift was transferred from herself into Moses."


Personal Responsibility Plus Some Guilty Feelings

A student just stopped by my office who said that she is a graduating senior who took a Theology class with me back in 2002. She failed that class, she said, and the Registrar's office told her to talk to me to see if she could turn in a research paper or some other project to get the grade raised from an F to a D. Then her family could see her march in graduation in a couple of weeks. She said that the grade she received in my class was all that was keeping her from fulfilling her family's dream of seeing her walk across the stage to get her diploma. I was shocked that the Registrar's office would suggest something like this as an option, and told her that I could not do that and she would have to take her Theology course in the summer. This sort of thing happens to me more every year here at Xavier. It's hard to maintain standards sometimes without feeling like a heartless bastard.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Tonight through Sunday you can see me playing old Cap'n Cotchipee in the musical Purlie. It seems that over the past few years, whenever Xavier needs an actor to play the part of an old fat racist white guy, they call me. My character in Purlie is a horrible man and everyone will clap when I die.

BibleDudes Blog

The BibleDudes Blog is up and running. I think this has quite a bit of potential.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Random Acts of Kindness

A student I've never met this morning saw me trying in vain to get some coke machine to take my dollar. She stopped, went through her purse, and gave me change. So it wasn't like she died on the cross, but it was still very nice. But now I feel like I have to do a little more than just suck up oxygen this morning. Such is the double-edged sword of kind acts.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Major in Theology? HaHa!

I recently graded an excellent student paper. She's a Freshman, and she chose to write about theodicy in Micah, not an easy task. Her thesis reads as follows:
In regards to theodicy, Micah holds to the idea that punishment from Yahweh follows sinful behavior; as Micah thoroughly lays out Yahweh’s case against the people of Israel and Judah and details the destruction that will come because of their sins, he also gives his people hope of redemption by emphasizing the love and compassion of the ever-righteous Yahweh to those who turn to and trust Him.

Papers like hers are a joy to read, and they aren't very common. As a standard practice I sent her an email complimenting her ability to write cleary, to think critically, and to understand a biblical text. I asked her to consider becoming a Theology major, and she just wrote back saying,
I am quite pleased that you liked my paper. Sometimes, when writing, I have no idea if what I'm writing is really what my professor wants. As to changing my major, haha. I've devoted way to much time to biology and chemistry to change majors now."

My loss. But I want and need to work harder at convincing the world that being a Theology major isn't a joke, and I need to better explain just what it means to be a Theologian. We do more than pray and sing songs about Jesus.