Citations are Everything!

Or: Not Even Druids are Above Blackmail


I was thinking about this earlier when I related a tidbit to someone else. I won't share any names (like I need more trouble with these people!), but I will say that the blackmailer in question is still with the organization (though on their Council of Elders, not as a professor), along with an author I respected until she called out her transgender child on social media.

In 2007, I stumbled upon "wizard school". (Look it up–you'll find the school I mean.) Even though it was in its toddler stage, I was interested in the classes, but wasn't sure I wanted to sign up. Not too long after, I walked into the mall and said to the Universe, "Okay, if I'm meant to join [school], both books will be available at Barnes & Noble." (The headmaster had written at least two books by then, and they were considered generic textbooks for the entire school.) They were, so I bought them, sent in my check (I think they required a paper form at the time) and–after a brief phone interview with the headmaster–I was in.

I don't remember much about the classes ("Witchcraft with the religion taken out", I told a few people), but some were enjoyable, and I made friends very quickly. One of my friends was an instructor (I think) and he told me about the TA program. In exchange for being a teacher's assistant, I would get my tuition free forever, and in a year, I would be promoted to instructor and start being paid. The only "hard" part would be developing a class (under the tutelage of my department head), which I would then teach upon my promotion. Of course, when you're really excited about a topic (mine was aromatherapy) the idea wasn't daunting at all!


But let's skip ahead a little bit…


I was coming down to the end of my first level and was doing pretty well–my course (which had turned into two or three) was being developed at a nice clip, I'd declared my major and minor (blue/green, or healing and herbology), I was substitute teaching a relatively simple class, and I was on my way toward my first dean's list appearance. In fact, it was probably my determination to make the list that tripped me up.

Last class for the level (and required for my minor), last assignment, last nomination needed…in short, everything ready to set a trap! I turned in my final paper and Professor "E" said she wouldn't accept it, that she "expected more from her adult students".

I should've stopped right there. Appearing on the dean's list for a school that isn't even accredited (and just for fun) shouldn't have meant anything. As a TA, I had the power to add and remove myself from classes at will, so I should have said, "No thank you, I don't tolerate double standards!", withdrawn from the class and redeclared my minor as yellow/divination.

She had me by the small hairs, as they sometimes say in literature. (Sorry for the mental image!) Professor E didn't say anything about endangering my nomination, but I figured that if I didn't do as she asked, she wouldn't turn it in and I wouldn't be on the list for level one. So I did a separate sheet with additional information, and at the bottom, I wrote something like, "This information provided by [whatever my orange essential oils book is called]."

If the tables had been turned, I would have said, "I'll accept it this time; but next time, I want to see proper inline citations, or your grade will be at risk." Professor E wasn't that generous–she reported me for plagiarism. Unfortunately for her, being a TA put me on the "back channel" reserved for staff, so when she asked for help in finding an anti-plagiarism lesson that had been moved elsewhere in the forums (and told the entire staff that I was being a whiny baby over it, to paraphrase), I saw it. And her private email address, which allowed me to rip her a new one.

I don't know why I thought I could chew her out, change minors (and classes) and get away with it. Perhaps the naïveté of early adulthood told me I'd simply get scolded, have to apologize, and life would eventually move on. But of course that didn't happen. Instead, my TA privileges were removed and I was suspended as a student, pending a decision by the [triumvirate of administrators], and probably the completion of that "lesson". (I don't remember for certain on the last.)

Maybe I would have apologized for my sloppy citations and done the lesson if it hadn't been clear that the triumvirate was willing to turn a blind eye toward Professor E and her blackmail-inducing double standards. But I was very tired of being "dragged through the mud" (to quote myself from then) and was ready and willing to leave to avoid what I felt was an inevitable expulsion. The feeling was compounded when, after sleeping poorly and awakening at 7:30a, I discovered a message from the same triumvirate member that had been speaking to me–after I specifically said not to contact me anymore, and not at that email address.

A year or two later, when I was attending a real school as an undergrad, I relayed that story to one of my professors and she told me the school's response was insane. It came up again when another professor told me I had "too many citations" in one of my papers. I don't remember him responding to the story, but I know I told him that it was better to cite like crazy than to risk expulsion for plagiarism.

Nearly a decade later, I still feel the same. No one is going to drag you in front of the administration for a supposed incidence of plagiarism if you cite like crazy–and whiny professors can be tolerated.

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