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?