I'd also point out that somehow having 0 credit on this assignment was making students in danger of failing the entire semester, which seems a little off.
To play Devil's Advocate in general while I agree the theme of 'teaching kids to appeal to higher authority instead of doing the right thing' is bad form this falls under one of the things I hated most when I was in school so I can see why they did it. There is little I hold in more contempt than the high school and lower college level 'research' paper.
90% of the time these assignments were just an order to spend hours upon hours rewriting (but not copying because that would be wrong) the exact same information over and over. What exactly is this teaching kids? How to look crap up in a book? How to write 'I got this info from a book, here's the page'? If they haven't figured that out by high school you've got a bigger issue.
These sorts of papers were rarely encouraged to be original or thought provoking. They are just vessels to regurgitate tired, well trod info to fulfill some state 'words written per semester requirement' or the like.