Fact Check

Professor's Paper

Did a student turn in an old term paper as his own work, only to discover it was written by his professor?

Published Feb 12, 2001

Claim:   A student who belongs to a fraternity that keeps a file of members' papers and exams sifts through the stack and selects a several-year-old term paper to copy and resubmit. When he gets his paper back from the professor, it includes a grade of 'A' and the prof's comment, "When I wrote this paper as a freshman it only received a 'C', and I always thought it was worth more."



[Collected on the Internet, 1997]

A student procrastinated on writing a paper. The day before the paper was due, he went to the university library and found an old paper written on the same subject. He simply copied it, typed it up, and turned it in. A few weeks later, the professor was handing the papers back to the class. He stopped by the student's desk. He supposedly said to the student: "Twenty-five years ago, when I wrote this paper, it got a B. I always thought it deserved an A." He set the paper down on the student's desk, and there was a big A on the cover! The professor continued: "Try anything like this again and I'll have you thrown out of school."

[Cerf, 1959]

Asked to write an essay about Shakespeare's Hamlet, a sophomore at a Southern university was gratified to receive an 'A' for his effort, but then was summoned to his professor's inner sanctum.

"My boy," began the professor, "you probably are not aware of the fact that I am a fraternity brother of yours — and spent my undergraduate days in the very chapter house you live in now. What's more, we used to keep a pile of old student essays on hand for consultation just as you do today. You have had the bad luck to copy word for word a paper on Hamlet that I happened to write myself."

"Now," continued the professor, "I suppose you're wondering why I gave you an 'A' on it. When I turned in the paper, the crusty prof I had only marked it `B'. And I always have felt it richly deserved an 'A'!"


Origins:   This is one of several similar

legends involving students who try to slip one over on instructors by submitting someone else's papers (such as Paper Melee and Moby Nicked), only to be caught when the instructors recognize the works. Given that the instructors in these legends always good-naturedly hand out passing grades to students who are clearly violating university rules against cheating, these tales might be considered more wish fulfillment fantasies (something along the lines of "kind-hearted professor remembers how difficult college was for him and takes pity") than cautionary tales warning against the perils of plagiarism.

Sightings:   Look for this legend in an episode of television's Welcome Back, Kotter ("Epstein's Term Paper," original air date 19 January 1978). Mr. Kotter realizes the sweathogs have handed in poached term papers when he recognizes Epstein's submission as one he himself turned in several years earlier; Kotter gives Epstein an 'F' but allows him a second chance because, as Kotter explains to his wife, "I said I turned that paper in myself; I never said I wrote it."

Last updated:   28 June 2011


    Bronner, Simon J.  
Piled Higher and Deeper

    Little Rock: August House, 1990.   ISBN 0-87483-154-7   (p. 39).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (p. 287).

    Cerf, Bennett.   The Laugh's on Me.

    Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1959   (p. 114).

    Cerf, Bennett.   Laugh Day.

    Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1965   (p. 360).

    Dorson, Richard M.   Handbook of American Folklore.

    Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983   (p. 108).

    Fitton, Mary Louise.   "College Folklore."

    Hoosier Folklore Bulletin 1 (2)   (p. 41).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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