Plagiarism at the U

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is the second in a two-part series that examines plagiarism at the University.

Andy Mannix

Two weeks after the end of the 2007 fall semester, senior art major Laura Lee received a troubling e-mail.

It was from a professor of a literature class she thought she had finished, and it was accusing her of plagiarizing from a scholarly article.

Lee contested the accusation, arguing that she had never seen the alleged article and was not even able to gain access to it when selecting the link her professor had included in the e-mail.

But her professor maintained the accusation. Lee was concerned.

She said she felt her professor was using the threat of plagiarism in a “manipulative way.”

“She wasn’t being professional about using her power as a professor to accuse someone of plagiarism,” she said.

Lee said her professor failed to ever submit a scholastic dishonesty report to the University.

The incident wasn’t resolved until earlier this semester when her former professor dropped the accusation and awarded her paper a ‘B.’

Lee said her teacher didn’t properly explain the grade, and the experience left her discouraged.

“It was a good student’s worst nightmare,” she said.

Sharon Dzik, director of the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, said there were about 120 cases of academic dishonesty reported at the University during the 2006-2007 academic year, based on a survey conducted for a pending report by her office.

Dzik said slightly more than half of these were plagiarism cases, and that the number is “fairly consistent” with other years.

However, Dzik said this may not account for total incidences of plagiarism.

“I think there’s more plagiarism and cheating going on than is reported to our office,” Dzik said.

On its Web site, the office for student conduct and academic integrity provides a formula for faculty, outlining “What to do when you suspect or encounter scholastic dishonesty.”

For incidents of suspected plagiarism, the Web site first lists some common indicators and dead giveaways, and then suggests methods of confirming that a work was plagiarized. Some of these include using Google to search for a suspicious passage, approaching the alleged plagiarizer and using Turnitin.com.

Faculty members are then instructed to submit a scholastic dishonesty form to the office. Dzik said this is often where things go wrong.

In many cases, such as Lee’s, the scholastic dishonesty reports don’t make it to the OSCAI.

Dzik attributes this to three factors: Instructors aren’t aware OSCAI exists; instructors submit the report to their college but it is never forwarded to OSCAI; and instructors think submitting the report to OSCAI is too severe a penalty.

“I think some faculty view it as additional punishment, instead of just a regular reporting mechanism,” she said.

In this case, Dzik said instructors often use the incident as a “teachable moment” to explain to students exactly what they did wrong.

While instructors at the College of Liberal Arts are encouraged to submit a formal report in cases of academic dishonesty, it isn’t required, Meaghan Thul, assistant to the assistant dean of student services at CLA, said.

“We definitely want them to,” she said. “But we don’t have a mechanism for penalizing them if they don’t.”

Thul said if an instructor fails to submit a formal report and a student brings it to the University’s attention, she contacts the instructor and encourages them to do so. However, Thul said this has only happened once in her three years at the University.

Dzik said she is working to make the system more uniform. She plans to hold meetings with individual University colleges, to address any problems with clarity in the reporting system.

Dzik said her office is also trying to make its Web site more user-friendly.

“I know that sounds simplistic, but in this day and age, the Web is really where people go for information,” she said. “If our Web site isn’t clear on what you should do to report things, then we really have to work on that.”

Dzik said her office will conduct focus groups with faculty and students to clarify confusion with the site.

Though not all incidences of academic dishonesty make their way to the OSCAI, Dzik emphasized that doesn’t translate to any significant problem at the University in comparison to other schools.

Overall, Dzik said academic dishonesty at the University is low.

But in the age of the Internet, Dzik said plagiarism is a “problem in general.”

“I think the way people are obtaining information is a big problem,” she said.