Academic Integrity Workshop Day 2. This was even better than Day 1. We had a presentation on TurnItIn.com, an online service that maintains a burgeoning database of potential cheat materials against which we could check student papers.
Some of us (including myself) were thrilled; others, faculty as well as students, were horrified. We had a lively discussion of the respective merits of Hobbesian cynicism vs. Trust and the macroscopic projection of our microcosmic views when it came to politics and world affairs: strong military and cops to beat up the Bad Guys vs. Trust and Niceness. Needless to say I was for the military, cops and turnitin.com.
Meanwhile those of us who'd brought our laptops were cruising around the internet looking at the turnitin.com site, the Rutgers Academic Integrity site recommended by the presenter and, in my case morningstar.com. I was checking to see whether turnitin.com was public so that I could buy stock in it. It isn't--yet. But I'll sock in bucks as soon as I can.
There were significant differences by department in our attitude to this item. English, which had been offered access to turnitin as a pilot project were not enthusiastic. In one sense they were the ideal subjects to test it: they assigned the most papers and were most directly concerned with assessing student writing. But they were also by and large Luddites who didn't like the idea of having students submit papers electronically and, quite apart from moral qualms about the cynicism inherent in the project, were uneasy about the technical issues. Theology was ambivalent. Turnitin was a nasty, cynical thing: G. said, it could also be used for pedagogical rather than punitive purposes to teach students how to cite references properly but I thought this was a little self-deceptive or disingenuous. As I pointed out to Fr. R. on our break, "Hey, you guys believe in Original Sin, right?"
I don't understand why trust, or faith, is supposed to be a virtue. It's simply an empirical conjecture about how people are likely to behave, and I do not understand why it is supposed to be a good thing to guess, a priori, that people will behave well rather than badly. I've been to quite a number of retreats and other programs where participants were supposed to fall backwards into the arms of others there to catch them. I could never understand the point of this exercise: of course, given the set up, it was highly probable that we would be caught. It does not follow that it is likely we would be caught in ordinary life situations and, as a matter of empirical fact, it seems highly unlikely. What is the point of attempting to instill empirically false beliefs? Even if we recognize that people are not likely to be kind and decent to us, or to catch us when we fall, it doesn't follow that we shouldn't do what we can to be kind, decent and fair to others.
Currently the received wisdom seems to be that Liberals believe that people are inherently good so that Trust is warranted while Conservatives believe that people are fundamentally bad so that it takes soldiers, copes and coercion to keep a lid on things. I'd with the Conservatives when it comes to their pessimistic view of human nature and views about the importance of coercion. What I don't understand is how this supports their views on domestic policy. If people are fundamentally bad, as I believe, employers will certainly exploit their employees because they can, men will beat their wives because they're bigger and stronger and none of us will contribute substantially to take care of people who can't take care of themselves. We're bigots and selfish jerks because our nature is fallen but our rational nature, imagio dei, isn't wholly corrupted, so we can see what we are and establish schemes to circumvent our sinfulness--coercive taxation and the welfare state.