While the digital age has made copy-and-paste an easy short-cut, Presti warns it's also an easy F.
"If somebody is caught plagiarizing, what happens to them?" Cowan asked..
"I would have a really extensive talk with them," said Presti.
"But you make it plain from day one that there are consequences? Big ones?"
"Definitely. Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's certainly failing assignments, minimally failing classes, possibly, depending up on the severity of the offense."
And catching would-be word thieves is now easier than ever before.
Chris Caren is the CEO of Turnitin, a company that roots out potential plagiarism by matching student work against hundreds of millions of web pages, books, and other student papers.
If the text looks suspicious - like in one composition he showed Cowan - the section is not only highlighted, but the program identifies the original source.
And it does all that in under a minute.
"So this paper has copied material from the Internet, it has copied material from other students' papers?" asked Cowan. "It's got a little of everything."
"That's right, which is common," said Caren.
It's a technology that most certainly would have caught Jayson Blair's misdeeds, which looking back he says were largely the result a bi-polar disorder.
He's now a life coach - helping others learn from their mistakes. But he almost wasn't around to get his second chance.
When he WAS finally caught, he told Cowan he considered killing himself: "There was a point sort of the night before I resigned where I'd kind of picked out the place, and the restaurant, and decided, you know, that this bathroom was perfect, and that if I brought a strong enough belt, et cetera, et cetera ..."
Quentin Rowan was faced with that dark temptation, too. It was a James Bond fan who outted Quentin's novel on the Internet, and being known as a fraud was almost too much to bear: "I was on the top floor of the building I was living in. I just went to the window and thought, could I do this, you know? Could I actually jump?"
"You thought that was the only way out?" Cowan asked.
"Yeah. I couldn't think of any alternative if I were discovered, except suicide."
"So what stopped you from jumping?"
"Fear of dying!" laughed Quentin. "I don't know I mean, there was a sense of knowing I was going to have to tell the truth and say, 'Yeah, it's all stolen,' was liberating. To have that, what to me felt like kind of bondage, even though it was completely self-inflicted, lifted, was huge, you know?
"I just felt grateful. I felt relieved."
He's writing again. He penned a memoir, and is in the process of tapping out a screenplay. Will he ever be believed again? He knows the odds aren't so good.
Looking back on it now, Quentin said, "Honestly, it just seems like madness to me. You know, like how on Earth did I ever think that was a good idea?"
For someone who always wanted to be an author, he now knows the only thing he really authored was his own destruction.
For more info:
- "Never Say Goodbye" by Quentin Rowan (Yeti)
Quentin Rowan will read from "Never Say Goodbye" October 24 at 7 p.m. at St. Mark's Bookshop in New York City
- Life coach Jayson Blair
- Ed Wasserman, Washington and Lee University
- Ed Wasserman columns for The Miami Herald
- David Presti, UC Berkeley
- David Presti's blog