Conduct office is busy with jump in plagiarism reports

Officials from the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity report increased instances of plagiarism during finals time.

Jenna Wilcox


At the end of every semester, Jessica Kuecker Grotjohn works hard to keep up with the reports of plagiarism to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.

Plagiarism reports increase significantly starting about two weeks before finals, but the office has also seen an increase in reports of plagiarism this year in general, said Grotjohn, the assistant director of the office.

She believes the influx of cases is simply because more professors have been formally reporting cases. Professors are required to report a case of academic misconduct to OSCAI, Grotjohn said, though not all professors do.

“The reason it’s required is we want students to be able to go into classes and not necessarily have a label after being found responsible for scholastic dishonesty,” she said.

When an incident is reported, students can contest the accusation, which they wouldn’t have if the professor didn’t report the case.

Grotjohn said the formal report also enforces student development and accountability.

“If we allow students to graduate who haven’t earned their degree and haven’t been honest, it really impacts the whole system,” she said.

Michael Huyen, the assistant director of the Student Conflict Resolution Center, said he thinks one of the reasons plagiarism is a problem is because a lot of students don’t understand the concept.

He said the definition varies between departments and instructors at the University.

“It makes it difficult for students to understand … acceptable attribution,” he said.

Under University policy, plagiarism is part of the definition for academic misconduct. It is defined as:

“The fabrication or falsification of data, research procedures, or data analysis; destruction of data for fraudulent purposes; plagiarism; abuse of confidentiality; or other fraudulent actions in proposing, performing, reviewing, or reporting the results of research or other scholarly activity.”

A math student might copy work from a classmate, while a student in writing studies is more likely to improperly cite their sources.

Both OSCAI and SCRC said a significant amount of plagiarism cases involve international students.

If a report is filed against an international student, Grotjohn said they are required to come into the office because they want to make sure students understand the standards of citing sources, which might be different in the U.S.

Other students are also given the opportunity to speak with OSCAI to contest the accusation.

The office then discusses the situation with the professor, who has the ultimate decision.

After that, students have the chance to go to a formal hearing and then to appeal to Karen Hanson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

At any point in the process, students have the option to request help from the SCRC if they don’t want to fight the system alone.

An advocate’s responsibility is to advise students and help them navigate the process. Advocates can also speak on behalf of a student if a case goes to a hearing.

James Henson has been a SCRC advocate for about 18 months and said he has closed a total of five cases involving plagiarism.

Henson declined to discuss any current cases he was working with but said he has had a student go all the way to the provost in the past.

“By the time it goes to a hearing, it’s a gray area,” Henson said. “Plagiarism is not a black and white issue, and two very educated professional people could have very different views on whether one instance is plagiarism.”

Huyen, who has worked with SCRC for nearly two years, said he doesn’t think the variability in the definition of plagiarism is fair to students.

“If I submit a paper to department A and it’s accepted, and I have a similar research paper for department B and do a similar type of attribution and am charged with plagiarism, I think that is very difficult for students to navigate that,” he said.

On the other hand, Henson said he thinks it’s the student’s responsibility to understand the class expectations, and the professors are the best judge of what’s acceptable. He said there are also disadvantages because of the lack of consistency.

Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, the director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Writing Studies, said improper citation is the most common source of plagiarism she sees.

If a plagiarism case does arise, she said it’s considered a serious offense because the classes are all about writing.

“If it’s formally reported, then it’s on their student record, and that’s there forever,” she said. “You can’t erase that.”

But Grotjohn said her office is also very focused on student development.

“Scholastic dishonesty is a very emotionally charged thing because there’s so much shame behind it,” she said. “But making a mistake doesn’t necessarily define you as a person.”