Plagiarism on the rise: Faculty at the University of Findlay differ with academic dishonesty policies

By Abbey Nickel

Editor 

Academic dishonesty is an issue that administrators and faculty at the University of Findlay deal with on a regular basis – but this year alone, administrators are seeing an uptick, especially in plagiarism cases.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Darin Fields said he, along with other administrators, made the observation of a rise in plagiarism at UF during the fall 2014 semester. But that leaves a question that doesn’t appear to have one clear-cut answer: How exactly do faculty and staff decide to penalize students who are caught committing an act of academic dishonesty?

Plagiarism, fabrication, and cheating are the three separate factors that fall under the academic dishonesty “umbrella” at the University, according to Fields.

“It’s something that we’ve noticed this semester,” said Fields. “I’ve seen more of these academic dishonesty forms come through here because of plagiarism.  Whether that’s intentional or non-intentional act, that’s up to the instructor to make that judgment call.”

Fields said when an instructor finds that a student has committed an act of academic dishonesty –whether that be plagiarism, fabrication, or cheating – they have to file a report through the academic affairs office indicating what type of academic dishonesty was committed and when it occurred.

After the student is notified that the report has been filed, they have a five-day window to appeal.

According to the University policy, plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as your own, and fabrication is making up false information.  Cheating can be anything from looking off of someone else’s paper, using your cell phone to look up answers during a test, or using your notes on a closed book test – according to Fields.

But because of its subjective nature, Fields says that academic dishonesty and determining whether or not something is intentional is perhaps the trickiest part.

“That’s where the lines are blurry.  Sometimes students honestly don’t know that they are committing an act of plagiarism, and when an instructor flags them, they get caught off guard. Other students, however, do it with full intention, and that’s disturbing to me,” said Fields.

The University honor code, which is required to be printed in the syllabi for every course, according to Fields, is something that he says students might overlook and forget about.

The policy, which can be found on the University website, sets the standard for all of the courses at UF, Fields said.

“I will not knowingly engage in any dishonorable behavior, cheat, steal, lie or commit any act of plagiarism during any academic work, course or endeavor. If I observe an act which I believe violates the University’s Honor Code, I may, at my discretion, report it to the appropriate personnel,” is how the code is printed on the University website.

 

 

Academic dishonesty policies differ between academic programs at the University of Findlay.  In the Computer Science program, students must sign a card such as this one to indicate that they acknowledge the honor code.

 

Fields says that at UF, most of the common acts of academic dishonesty are plagiarism and cheating.  Fabrication is something they don’t see as often.

“I would say that it’s split 50/50 between plagiarism and cheating.  I think that’s largely because of technology.  It’s so easy to cheat or plagiarize as college students now because they have all of these resources right at their fingertips,” said Fields.

An article in the Huffington Post written by Tara Kelly in 2011, titled “College Plagiarism Reaches All Time High: Pew Study” explores how technology has broadened the opportunity for students to cheat or plagiarism.

The Pew Study revealed that a majority of college presidents in 2011 felt that plagiarism has increased in the last ten years.

Fields said that the appeal process at UF is also slightly blurry and has caused some discrepancies over the last couple of years, and because of that, the office of academic affairs will be reviewing their appeal process policies, after forming a committee that will closely examination the current policies and deicide what should be changed.

But something that Fields wants to make clear is that the punishment that is put forth on the student accused of academic dishonesty is completely up to the faculty member who accuses the student.

Nicole Diederich, professor of English and director of the writing program, says that in the English program, it’s usually easy to distinguish between intentional and non-intentional plagiarism, and that’s how she decides how to penalize students.

“Sometimes it’s unintentional, or very intentional.  If that’s the case, then my policy is pretty simple: You’ll get an F on the assignment,” said Diederich. “But usually, I just ask them.  When you’re working with students very closely on their writing, you tend to pick up on their writing style easily.  If I see something unusual I can type it into a search engine.  If it’s blatantly from another source, that’s intentional, and then I know that it’s on purpose.”

Diederich also says that she finds that students don’t know how to cite properly based on cultural differences.

“A lot of the time it’s cultural.  Different cultures have different ways of honoring someone else and it looks different here in the United States,” said Diedrich.

Policies for punishment, however, differentiate between different faculty and departments.

For Michael Edelbrock, professor of biology, cheating in his classroom is something he always takes seriously.

“Cheating in my classes is usually pretty low,” said Edelbrock.  “I try to design things to make it hard to cheat.  I create two different exams when I have a full classroom, and when they’re taking tests, I walk behind their chairs.  Some students have told me that’s intimidating, but it works.”

Edelbrock says when he sees that a student has blatantly copied off of another student for a homework assignment, he splits the points between the two students on the first offense, and gives them a zero on the second offense.  When he catches a student cheating during a test, he dismisses the student and then explains to them after the test that they have the right to appeal.

“Letting them know they have the right to appeal is only fair,” said Edelbrock.  “That needs to be made clear.”

Fields says that one of the reasons why a committee is being formed to reevaluate academic dishonesty policies at the University is to make the appeal process more concrete.  Students have a five-day window to appeal, but sometimes, when that five-day clock starts isn’t made clear.

“Our policies aren’t bad,” said Fields. “But they could be made clearer.”

Mary Jo Geise, professor of computer science, says that she volunteered to be on the new committee that will evaluate the academic dishonesty standards because she believes that the difference between non-intentional and clearly intentional plagiarism needs to be established.

“My understanding is that some students have been accused of academic dishonesty when their problems seem to be more of not knowing how to cite correctly rather than deliberate plagiarism,” said Geise. “Another form of remediation should be made available, at least in my mind.  There’s a huge difference in someone being sloppy, but recognizing that there needs to be citations, as opposed to someone who purposefully lifts chunks of information off of someone else.”

Marianna Hofer, professor of English, echoed Geise’s thoughts. Hofer said that especially in beginning English 104 and 106 courses, students might not know how to cite and format properly, and she feels that consequences should be different for competency courses and upper level courses.

She said it can be easy for administration to establish strict ground rules when it comes to academic dishonesty policies – but they need to put instructors who teach lower level competency courses into consideration.

“I really think the faculty needs to sit down and talk about this. I really think those of us on the bottom need to talk about why we’re having this problem right now,” said Hofer. Some faculty think you should hold them to the same standards as you do in a 300 level course, but I don’t necessarily agree with them. Down here, we’re not going to kick a 104 student out because they forgot to put quotes around something because they don’t know how to do MLA yet.”

For the computer science program, academic dishonesty is something that is always on the faculty’s minds, according to Geise.

In fact, the computer science program has their own set of academic honesty standards that they follow in addition to the University’s Honesty Code.

“People in this career have access to sensitive data and people have to have integrity and ethics,” said Geise.  “People who don’t have integrity in their coursework, they’re not becoming the type of professional that we want them to be.  We feel so passionately about this in this department that we have our own set of policies.”

Geise said that faculty in the computer science program has students sign a card that acknowledges the possible penalties they could face if caught breaching the academic honesty code of conduct.

Geise also said that she’s suggested to colleagues that reviewing academic dishonesty policies somewhere along midterm season might be beneficial, because students might lose sight of the importance of it later on in the semester.

But no matter when a student might commit an act of plagiarism or cheating, Geise says that she will most likely fail the student in the course.

“Once I’ve caught them, it’s more than likely that they’ve done it before,” said Geise.

Shiv Gupta, professor of business, says putting yourself in the shoes of the student is essential when it comes to penalizing them.

“Teachers sometimes forget that they used to be students, too,” said Gupta. “I always try to put myself in their situation and that helps me determine what line of action I should take.”

Gupta has been teaching since 1966.  He says that over the years, he’s always seen acts of plagiarism and cheating in his classes – but he acknowledges that it’s become easier because of online courses and technology.

But, Gupta is also a firm believer in second chances.

“I think we all make mistakes and the goal is to learn from these mistakes the first time,” said Gupta. “But, if you don’t learn, you have to be punished. I had an online MBA course where I had two students log in, and just walk away from the computer.  I called them in and told them not to do it again.  After a few classes, they were doing it again.  I gave them F’s for the course after that.”

Gupta said that the shifting culture makes it easier for students to become careless when it comes to committing acts of academic dishonesty.

He also said it’s crucial for professors to take it seriously.

“Some professors are more sympathetic than I am, but others are also much more serious than I am,” said Gupta.

Fields pointed out that there are cameras in the testing areas of the Academic Support Center to help cut down on cheating.

Karen Hill, administrative assistant in the Academic Support Center, says there are 16 cameras that the employees monitor to make sure that students aren’t cheating on tests.

But in the midst of efforts to make a dent in the issue of academic dishonesty, faculty and staff all seem to agree on one thing when it comes to academic dishonesty— they wish more students need were aware of the seriousness of their actions.

“It’s not ethical, and I just wish they knew that,” said Diederich.

“I would rather have someone turn in a horrible paper that is their own work and yeah, maybe they’re not going to get a good grade, or maybe they’re not going to pass the class, but at least that’s honest.  Because, why pass off someone else’s work, and then possibly get kicked out of school?  I’m much more proud of someone who does their own work and tries to improve instead of  trying to do the seemingly easy way out. It’s not the easy way out that it seems to be.”

Geise says that she would much rather see a student take a zero on an assignment rather than be dishonest.  The long term consequences of cheating or plagiarizing are heavier than most students are aware of, Geise said.

“If you can’t get the work done, don’t cheat,” said Geise. “Take the zero on the assignment.  If you’re getting caught in your major field, to be perfectly honest, I think you’ve eliminated your chances of getting a recommendation from department faculty.  I don’t think there is a job out there that doesn’t require a strong set of ethics. I just don’t think they exist.”

 

 

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