Plagiarism is a growing problem in the universities, and most have a policy of severely punishing students who are caught doing this. It's dishonest, and it really is a serious offence against academic values. Unfortunately it's quite widespread, and is committed by students old and young, male and female, black and white, straight and gay. But a university with which I'm familiar has an unusual anti-plagiarism policy: it punishes only female students caught plagiarizing, even though male students actually do more plagiarizing and more extensive plagiarizing. When asked to justify this policy, the academics involved explain that plagiarism really is a terrible thing, and flat against proper academic commitment. They don't deny that male students do more of it than female ones, but still, they don't explain why only the female ones get punished. When pressed, they say that plagiarism by women is very much against academic values. But why only punish the women students? 'Well, they're more amenable to being punished - it'll work better with them than with the men, who are more thuggish, and who will be less responsive.' And the evidence for this? Silence. Or: 'Well, we can't catch and punish every plagiarizing student; it would take up too much of our resources'. But then why fix on just the women for selective punishment - why not, for example, punish the worst plagiarists, male or female? Silence.
In the absence of any justifying reason, it begins to look as if this could be a sexist policy - sexist in its effects, even if many, perhaps most, of those who support it have no hostile feelings towards women as such. But when that's suggested, the academics from the university in question are outraged. Outraged! It isn't sexist to criticize women students who plagiarize! We have a long and honourable history of fighting against gender discrimination! The university has an impeccable gender equality policy; there are several women involved in administering the penalties for plagiarism, and more still who support the policy! The university hasn't ever permitted violence against women on campus; and if anyone were caught physically attacking women on university premises, they would be met with the full rigours of the University Disciplinary Committee (UDC)! And the subject of discussion moves away from the justification, or otherwise, of the plagiarism punishment policy, to the sheer offensiveness of the suggestion of sexism. This suggestion is very hurtful and unpleasant! It's a serious social solecism! It amounts, really, to a witch-hunt against decent academics whose only 'crime' is to honestly criticize the genuine academic evil of plagiarism! (Eve Garrard)
Update on 22 May: It seems that some readers of normblog are incredulous about this story. And one has suggested that the policy of the university in question should be referred to the AUT. That may not be a bad idea, but... oops.