I Hate Sticky Situations

I feel like I want to cry because I don’t know what to do.

We’re having issues with one member of my design group. He hasn’t been pulling his weight, has missed many meetings and seems to want to ride out on our good work while doing as little as possible. The proverbial “icing on the cake” was this past week – I better add some fondant as well because that’s how good it is. So what happened?

We were supposed to have a really important strategy meeting last Thursday to decide how we’re going to proceed after our midterm report and presentation that he didn’t show up to. We had one of our midterms the night before, so we thought “maybe couldn’t deal with it or something” despite how our meeting was at 3pm. He didn’t show up to our regular team meeting on Friday or to our lab. I had phoned, texted and emailed him to no reply. So here we were thinking he had H1N1 or was dying as he’s always attached to his phone.

Last night I texted him to ask him if was alright and if he was planning to be at school today so that we could finally decide how to move ahead in our project. He answered that he had a very hectic weekend and that he was stuck in Edmonton on Thursday and Friday. We later found out that the car he had with him in Edmonton blew its radiator, which is really unfortunate, but that was on Thursday evening. In addition, he said that his phone died right after he received the phone message I sent him on Friday. This really bothers me because his car died in Edmonton after we were supposed to have our meeting and his phoned died the day after the important meeting. The snarky part of me wants to ask “what on earth were you doing in Edmonton, a three hour drive away, the day after an evening midterm when you had a meeting at three!?”

Reading between the lines, I do understand that he was probably having some personal angst, which is perfectly excusable. Heck, one of our group members has a kid and I have frequent bouts of emotional upheaval, so we understand that life can get in the way and the need to take a break from school. However, generally when something comes up it is expected that you give someone warning that you won’t be there. If you didn’t show up to work for two days without telling anyone, chances are you might not have a job when you finally get back. Right now, our job is school and one of our main tasks is to work on this design project.

So, when we had our meeting this morning, we confronted him about the whole situation and how we expect better behaviour in the future – to at least tell us when you’re not going to show up. I really hate confronting people as I would love to give them chance after chance to let them show their personal integrity but this situation warranted it. He did apologize for his behaviour and we got on with our meeting.

Late this afternoon, two of us went to talk to our supervisor about what power we have to deal with the situation if it gets worse. He said that once all three of us feel that we have exhausted peace talks amongst us, it would be time to start a paper trail by writing a letter to him outlining our concerns. He explained that depending on the severity of concerns, he and the course coordinator would discuss what to do with the worst penalty being kicked out of the course.

We started writing our letter highlighting our main concerns: missing meetings, not giving us warning for missing meetings and not putting in enough effort. I’m quite proud of this letter as it is very objective, professional and states the facts without making any accusations. We would really like to be able to work out our issues with him, however he hasn’t really stepped up to the plate yet. You’d think that by fourth year of engineering one would be used to working really hard and giving your best but I guess not in this case. Maybe he has been having issues, but we would be so much more understanding if he told us and asked for help!

Now it’s time we get to the fondant on our”cake of joy:” plagiarism. I know, that is a very scary word that is very, very accusational and has many bad connotations including being expelled from university. We unfortunately have too many good reasons to use this word.

It first started with our lab proposal for a different course – he had just put the lab procedure from bullets into sentences without changing much. We gave him the benefit of the doubt, edited it out and let it slide. Then for our design midterm progress report, a lot of what he had written sounded very much like a promotional piece companies publish about their various processes. We edited it out and confronted him about rephrasing instead of copying in future reports, which he apologized for and promised to be better in the future. However, while writing the complaint letter, one of our points was that he wasn’t putting in enough effort: aka. “his prepared sections of the report followed very closely to the documents they were taken from.”

We wanted to give some examples as evidence and I really almost wish that we didn’t. Looking at what he had originally written for two processes – not the summarized version that was submitted in the midterm report – we found 14 sentences out of the two pages that were directly copied word-for-word from documents without reference. Not just a couple like we originally expected – Fourteen. That is not acceptable!

Now comes the part where I feel really terrible because I know that when we submit the letter with the examples, we are good as pointing our fingers and crying “plagiarism!” at our design group member. For you who are not quite up to speed with the whole plagiarism thing, the worst outcome in expulsion from university. I would feel terrible for having him kicked out of the course let alone having him expelled. I guess I’m conflicted because I don’t think it is fair to the three of us who have put in a ton of time and effort to get the marks that we have and will get in this project to have to share those grades with someone who isn’t pulling their weight. On the other hand, if he is kicked out of the course, it means that he will have no chance of graduating this year. But it also comes down to the ethical issue at hand: if we are going to be professional engineers, we have to act with integrity and honesty and using someone else’s work, even if it is just a sentence, without being properly referenced goes against all that.

So I haven’t been able to do any studying this evening because all I can think about is how this situation might play out. I want to work it out with him and prevent the worst case scenarios of either being kicked out of the class or university entirely. But at the same time, I don’t want him to be getting credit for work he hasn’t done as it’s not fair to us. I really don’t know what to do, but at the same time, I do. We’re going to hand in our letter and see how things pan out from there. I hope I can handle the emotional stress either way.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do? How do you deal with confrontation?



Filed under Life, School, Thoughts

7 responses to “I Hate Sticky Situations

  1. Michelle

    That’s rough! The thing is though, he must know that plagiarism is wrong, but he went ahead and did it anyway. You aren’t responsible for the consequences of his wrong doing – he’s bringing it on himself. IMHO 🙂
    But the flip side is – if you don’t report him, you have to live with your name attached to a project that you know is full of plagiarism and it could come back to bite you in the butt further down the road.
    It’s like pulling out a giant splinter…it’ll hurt, but you’ll feel better in the end!
    We haven’t hung out in AGES…let me know if you want to get together for coffee or something!

  2. What an awful situation. I will say, it’s good you’re doing something about it now – I also had a lot of problems with one of my group members last year, and we just let it slide for far too long.

    If I’m reading correctly, the fourteen examples were edited out, and not handed in as part of the midterm report? So they were just included as what he handed to the other group members?

    In that case, I would definitely include them in the letter. If they were not handed in, he can’t be expelled/removed from the course, but it does show his lack of commitment to the project.

    Good luck! Email me anytime if you need to vent – I’ve been there!

  3. What an unfortunate situation! Although I’ve had my share of group members who didn’t do their part on projects, I’ve never had to deal with someone so extreme. I think I would feel just as torn as you do. I wouldn’t want him being expelled, but at the same time, you as a group have talked with him plenty of times, and he apparently doesn’t “get it.” It seems like it’s time for him to face bigger consequences, because he doesn’t seem to be taking your group’s talks or warnings seriously, and he’ll probably continue to slack off.

  4. That is a really unfortunate situation.

    I would probably go ahead and still include the plagiarism in the letter. There’s not good excuse for stealing someone else’s work and calling it your own..especially if your school stresses the unacceptability of plagiarism and it’s consequences as my school did. i would rather receive poor work from a group member than copied matieral, but you have both!

    I had a similar situation, we confronted the teacher…and not much was done about it. It was unfortunate (he should have at least failed the class), but I still felt like I did the right thing–for him, and for our group.

  5. What a rough bit of mess! Goodness.

    While I wouldn’t feel “right” about costing a person their degree, I do have to say that he cannot be allowed to continue in this manner up to graduation. That is completely unacceptable in any and all professional situations. Undergrad freshman are made aware of the consequences of plagiarism, and many undergrads are required to take basic English/Communications courses that further underscore that point (as well as the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing).

    Set out to rectify the situation, not sabotage the man. In the end, it will leave your conscience as clear as possible.

  6. Rae

    Wow. I have had to deal with group projects where a member did not do her part of the work, but never plagiarism. It sounds as though you are doing the perfect thing in handling it, but it really stinks that you not only have to make up for his missing work, you now have the additional work of dealing with him/reporting it. I hope that the process goes quickly and you can get back to focusing on learning!

  7. It does sound like he’s going through some issues, but if you don’t turn in that letter, he’s just dragging you and the other partner into them!
    I understand about wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it sounds like you’ve given him several chances. You are right – in the real world he wouldn’t be getting away with this stuff. And it’s better for him to learn that lesson now. Maybe taking a break would be good for him, although I’m sure that in this situation they won’t expell him from the university. It’s just his first offense.

    I know this is coming about 2 weeks late, but hopefully you’ve gotten this situation under control now. Good luck!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s