Monday, March 4, 2013

Sam Vimes Emulation Mode

Some days, I need to remember that I’m a college English instructor, not Sam Vimes. 

Vimes, chief of police in Terry Pratchett’s fictional Ankh-Morpork, famously says this about himself in Pratchett’s novel “Feet of Clay”: 

"Oh, good grief," said Vimes. "Look, it's quite simple, man. I was expected to go 'At last, alcohol!', and chugalug the lot without thinking. Then some respectable pillars of the community" -- he removed the cigar from his mouth and spat -- "were going to find me, in your presence, too -- which was a nice touch -- with the evidence of my crime neatly hidden but not so well hidden that they couldn't find it." He shook his head sadly. "The trouble is, you know, that once the taste's got you it never lets go."  

"But you've been very good, sir," said Carrot. "I've not seen you touch a drop for -- "  

"Oh, that," said Vimes. "I was talking about policing, not alcohol. There's lots of people will help you with the alcohol business, but there's no one out there arranging little meetings where you can stand up and say, 'My name is Sam and I'm a really suspicious bastard.'"  

I’m kind of a suspicious bastard when it comes to grading papers. If one reads just a bit too good, I fling myself into Lady Cheaterly mode, thinking with a few deft trips into the Googleverse, I’m going to find where my student purloined the near-perfect essay. I know it paid off when I caught a student cheating at a high school journalism convention held at New York’s Columbia University. 

I generally find, however, that my students had done the work as advertised. In the particular case that prompted this post today, the student was an older student with more experience in the field than I first gave her credit for, who is also pursuing a major that makes the paper completely appropriate. 

So the plagiarism radar that went off got shut down in less than ten minutes. Thank heaven I checked a few things out before I launched the nuclear destruct codes. 

You might call it the benefit of the doubt. But this happens to me at least once a semester. And all of the time, I’ve found out, after a little detectoring, that my fears were unfounded. Still, there’s no little meetings for suspicious bastards like me and Sam. And that’s fine. I’d rather be suspicious and find my fears unfounded than go into this with a Pollyanna attitude that everything’s OK.

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