Busted: Faculty divided on enforcement, punishment for academic dishonesty

Jillian Beaudry

     Editor in chief

The number of students caught cheating and plagiarizing on campus continues to hold at a steady level despite efforts by some faculty members. Information may be flawed as professors are not required to turn in the names of offending students because the college policy allows them to decide students’ fates.

The faculty cannot come to an agreement over whether to create a standard policy for students caught plagiarizing and cheating, or to continue to let professors have the authority. Dave Hansen, dean of students and vice president of Student Services, said the current policy has been in place for about 15 to 20 years. Hansen said professors are required to respond to and handle students who are caught plagiarizing.

“I want to be a teacher; I don’t want to be a cop,” David Sumner, associate professor of English, said.

Although Sumner said it is not mandatory to inform students of the policy in their syllabus, most professors provide clear outlines of what will happen to students who cheat in their classes. He has a clear policy and requires students to sign a paper acknowledging they understand and will adhere to his guidelines.

“Education first,” he said. “Make sure your students know what plagiarism is.”

Hansen said in the majority of cases, students and professors reach an agreement and fail the student in the course or on the assignment. Sometimes they make them redo the work for a lower grade. Occasionally, students deny having plagiarized, but if they commit a second offense, they will be tried in front of the college judicial board.

Last semester, eight cases of plagiarism were reported in six academic departments. Four cheated on papers, two on class projects, one on a test and one on an evaluation of student performance, Hansen said.

Last school year, 15 cases were reported and three were sent to the judicial board. About once every other year, a student will be suspended for plagiarism, Hansen said. He said this occurs when students show no remorse for what they have done.

Faculty report more cases of plagiarism than cheating, Hansen said. However, he expects a lot goes undetected.

Hansen supports the professors’ right to decide what happens in their classrooms. He said the seriousness of dishonesty varies with the value of each assignment, as does the intent of the student.

In the past, he said faculty members have pushed to make any offense an automatic fail in the course, but it was voted down. He said a common consequence policy will create a common outcome, such as failure. But, it might not be appropriate in all circumstances, and he suspects the professors see it as a learning opportunity for students.

Sumner said he would like to see a common policy. If students are caught, they should fail the course automatically. He also believes professors should be required to turn in the names of students who are caught to better identify repeat offenders. When students aren’t reported, they may get away with it many times in different classes, Sumner said.

Catching students makes Sumner feel like a failure, and he gets angry students don’t take his job as a teacher seriously. Luckily, Sumner uses the Web site Turnitin.com to catch plagiarizers. Since he began using the program a year and a half ago, he hasn’t had to punish any students.

Both Sumner and Hansen said students should simply leave more time to do assignments and they won’t be tempted to plagiarize.

Hansen said students should study more for tests and use the Writing Center for help on papers. Often, students lose track of which ideas are theirs, and rough drafts of papers can be helpful reminders. He also suggested students can be driven to cheat to get good grades and will do what they perceive to be necessary to complete assignments.

Sumner said most of the students he has caught have not been the best of the class. He said they are the students who are simply desperate to get something turned in.

Professors should use good practices to reduce plagiarism and misunderstandings by providing clear assignments, teaching proper citations and defining plagiarism, Sumner said.

“We’re not out there to get you,” he said. “The clearer it is, the less worry.”

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