U cracks down on finals week cheating after 1999 scandal

Micah Johnson

The last month of the semester generally means studying for finals, finishing projects and writing last-minute papers.

Faced with the heavy workload during finals week, some students turn to online paper mills for term papers or cut and paste from Internet sites. Some even use old copies of upcoming tests to study.

Last fall, the University disciplined 26 students for cheating, said Betty Hackett, director of the Academic Integrity Office. Hackett said 28 students have been disciplined this semester, but the office is bracing for a busy week.

Tim Gustafson, assistant director of the English department’s composition program, said although cheating occurs at the University, plagiarism is more widespread.

“I think problems in courses come when papers are assigned at the beginning of the semester and there aren’t any checkpoints where instructors can check early drafts,” Gustafson said.

“Those are the kind of things that encourage kids to start early -when instructors know their students’ writing so well from other writing in the course that it’s pretty easy to spot something suspicious,” Gustafson said.

Academic integrity is especially on the minds of student-athletes, who are still dealing with fallout from the University’s NCAA scandal in 1999, which exposed cheating in the men’s basketball program.

The fiasco prompted a crackdown on academic dishonesty for all University teams.

One hockey player, who wished to remain anonymous, said although old tests are sometimes passed around among team members, athletes generally do their own work.

“We wouldn’t want to put ourselves in jeopardy. We’re watched a little more carefully than other students.” he said. “As soon as you screw up, it’s in the paper the next day that you’re ineligible to play.”

Fraternity members also contested the stereotype – often portrayed in movies such as “PCU” – that fraternities keep thorough archives of homework and term papers to use for cheating.

Marketing sophomore Chad Augustine said the collection at Phi Sigma Kappa was a thing of the past. Thumbing through his fraternity’s files, Augustine only produced a handful of papers and syllabi.

“I think we tried to do it, but no one really cared enough to file their work away, as opposed to putting in the garbage,” Augustine said.

Architecture junior Jay Fourniea said he’d cleaned out all the files from his fraternity, which were mostly out-of-date papers from the 1980s.

“They were all useless, so I threw them out,” Fourniea said.

At sites such as schoolsucks.com and term-paper-time.com, students can order custom-made term papers, paying up to $25 per page.

Gustafson said most students probably do not use such paper mills because they typically cannot afford to.

Gustafson said some students would rather find friends willing to write their papers more cheaply. But in classes where more than one paper is assigned, TAs get accustomed to a student’s style and can spot a paper written by someone else.

“The biggest thing that I see is when the tone of the writing changes drastically,” said senior English major Patrick Duff, an undergraduate TA of two years. “The student might be using simple wording, and all of a sudden, it sounds like a book review from The New York Times.”

Duff, who also works in the General College writing center, said plagiarism often owes more to a misunderstanding of how to cite references than laziness or procrastination.

“I’ll point it out in their papers, and they’ll usually say, ‘Oh, yeah, I didn’t know how to cite it so I just didn’t do it,'” Duff said.

“If an instructor just says ‘Don’t plagiarize or you’ll fail’ but doesn’t teach what that means, then the instructor is not doing his duty,” Gustafson said. “Students are still learning how to incorporate sources.”

The Office of Student Academic Integrity, whose creation was prompted by the basketball scandals, deals with academic misconduct.

OSAI encourages Professors, who routinely give “F’s” for cheating, to crosscheck papers suspected of plagiarism with an Internet archive at www.turnitin.com.

Gustafson said tracing stolen phrases and paragraphs is a lot easier than most students think.

“Although people worry about how easy it is to cut and paste text and plagiarize from the Internet, it’s just as easy to be found out,” Gustafson said.

Micah Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]