Laura K. Kirshna: the public humiliation of a plagiarist, or blog publicity stunt?

I discovered this while surfing around a bit before my class last night:

According to posts on the blog “A Week of Kindness” that begin here and end here (at least for now), Nate Kushner writes that he was approached in an IM session by Laura K. “last name changed to protect the innocent/guilty” Kirshna” to write a term paper for a class about Hinduism. Kushner essentially pranked her: he strung her along, wrote a silly paper that (we learn later) Laura is silly enough to hand in as is, and then he collected a check from Kirshna for his services (though I don’t think he cashes the check). Then he put the whole sorrid affair up on this blog in a series of entries. Drama ensued. You really have to read it to see for yourself– hundreds of comments, most of them ready to feed the plagiarizer to the wolves.

Meanwhile, over at boing-boing, they are suggesting that the whole thing is a hoax. They say it is part of an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke (though the last I heard, April Fool’s day was in, ah, April) and, since the site “A Week of Kindness” says up front that it exists to promote a sketch comedy troop of the same name, it’s a publicity stunt (this makes some sense; follow the link for “Press” on the site asks folks to “Stop Calling Laura, Come See Our Shows”).

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I do have two thoughts:

  • It’s one thing to do something stupid or even (academically) criminal, like attempting to buy a paper from a complete stranger during an IM chat. If Laura exists (and as I typed that last sentence, I must say that I did get a twinge of a “this is just too stupid to actually be true” sort of feeling), then she certainly should be “caught” and punished by her school, whatever that punishment might be. Plagiarism, especially of the “buy a paper and hand it in as if it were my own” sort, is obviously a bad thing.

    But it’s another thing entirely to be humiliated in front of a gazillion people for your stupid action (and the fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of comments from hundreds of different people make me thing “there’s just too much here for this to be faked”).

    Ultimately, what Kushner is doing here is a form of vigilantism. I don’t want to make too close of a comparison here to a public lynching because, obviously, public lynchings were much MUCH more violent and serious affairs than this. But that is kind of what’s going on. Kushner saw an “academic crime” happening and took matters into his own hands. Worse yet, Kushner arguably entrapped Laura K., something that was common with real lynchings, too. After all, Kushner could have declined to write Laura’s essay, or he could have just left it at “telling” on her by contacting folks at her school. Instead, Kushner decided to take it a step further. He thought all this was funny, worthy of a cheap laugh at this plagiarizer’s expense, so he wrote it up on his blog. I believe him when he says he had no idea that this would snowball out of control the way that it has, but (again, something that happened with real lynchings, too) it has gone out of control and it has even become a form of entertainment at the expense of the so-called criminal.

    Kushner invokes his family members who are academics as justification for his vigilante-style blog rampage. Well, as a practicing academic who deals with a lot of potential plagiarizers in writing classes, I’d encourage Kushner and everyone else to leave dealing with these problems to the teachers and professors.

  • Don’t Plagiarize. And for God’s sake, don’t solicit for plagiarizing help via IM.

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