U prepares for end-of-semester cheating increase

Robyn Repya

The end of spring break puts final exams on the horizon. And with grades and time crunches approaching, the Office of Student Academic Integrity is out to prevent this season’s most unfortunate side effect: cheating.

Betty Hackett, OSAI director, said 65 University students were reported to the office for cheating last school year. Hackett said her office is using these previous offenses to implement preventive measures and educate other University offices and faculty.

“We know that there’s a cheating problem. There’s enough to be concerning all of us,” she said.

Before the 1999 creation of the OSAI after the University men’s athletics scandal, reports of cheating were made to the Committee on Scholastic Conduct. The committee had 29 reported cheating cases during the 1998-99 academic year.

The OSAI not only focuses on disciplinary action but also seeks to prevent academic dishonesty.

“(We) try to reduce the incidents of cheating primarily by better preparing students to handle their academic responsibility,” Hackett said.

Out of the 65 students caught cheating last year, 50 were men and 15 were women. But Hackett said she is not as concerned by the predominance of male cheaters as she is by the concentration of cheaters in the freshman and senior classes.

Coming out of high school, she said, many freshmen might not know how to use the Internet and might appear to have plagiarized without citing the source correctly.

Plagiarism is a form of cheating, and Hackett said it is commonly done by mistake.

One way the office has sought to reduce cheating among freshmen is including a lecture about the importance of academic integrity and time management in new student orientation.

“I think a lot of freshmen don’t expect the University to be as hard as it is,” she said.

She said she has seen students attempt to cheat in a variety of ways, ranging from sharing papers to programming answers on scientific calculators.

Amber Burnette, OSAI assistant administrator, said although there are no University guidelines standardize cheating consequences, most instructors who report cheating give the student an “F” for the course.

An “F” during students’ senior years is much more damaging to their future than one received earlier in their education, she said.

Burnette said graduate, business and law schools look more unfavorably on recent infractions than incidents committed as a freshman.

“They should have the skills to avoid Ö plagiarism or getting someone to take their test,” Hackett said.

Burnette said the record of academic dishonesty impairs students’ ability to obtain government employment, including jobs with police or the FBI.

“The University keeps a charge of academic dishonesty on your record for seven years,” she said.

Hackett said while students cheat to improve their grades, academic dishonesty tarnishes the meaning of a student’s degree.

In an effort to catch students plagiarizing from the Internet, the University purchased a system called Turnitin.com this fall for a one-year trial.

“It compares one document to the whole Web based on patterns in the document,” said Linda Ellinger, assistant vice provost.

Ellinger serves as the University’s account administrator for the system. She said it is available for unlimited faculty use until next fall but not enough people are using the system.

“I’ve been surprised,” Ellinger said, “Only about 30 (faculty members) are actively using it.”

She said most faculty currently monitor first and second drafts of students’ papers to combat cheating.

Ellinger said in addition to having a tool to catch plagiarism, faculty can use the threat of Turnitin.com to facilitate a discussion with students about cheating and pre-empt academic dishonesty before it happens.

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