New director to focus on prevention of academic fraud

by Sam Kean

In a continuing effort to reduce academic dishonesty, the University named Betty Hackett as the first director of the Office of Student Academic Integrity.
As former director of Student Judicial Affairs, Hackett brings a great deal of experience, as well as willingness to ask students and faculty for input. But her appointment is only the starting point for a University-wide emphasis on integrity.
In Hackett’s previous position, she dealt only with students once they had been accused of cheating, but she said that the system needed a change.
The new office will continue to handle accusations, but will also devote its energy to preventing academic misconduct through education and awareness. However, the office will not replace Student Judicial Affairs.
National statistics report 60 percent to 70 percent of students cheat in some form during their academic careers, mostly by plagiarism or improper citation.
The most important thing to do to reverse that trend is make students feel “they are responsible for the (University’s) reputation,” Hackett said. But the specific plans are still open for debate.
Faculty Consultative Committee Chairman Fred Morrison said the old system gave individual colleges autonomy. Judicial Affairs handled accusations of cheating only for students taking classes outside their major college; the colleges themselves handled internal incidents.
This led to inconsistent policies, such as some colleges having long-running honor codes, while others not requiring students to abide by one.
The new office will centralize academic integrity issues, which Hackett said will encourage uniform policies. Centralization also ensures academic integrity is being adequately addressed instead of just brushed aside, Morrison said.
University Vice Provost Craig Swan said Hackett was an obvious choice for director. Besides her local experience, she also serves in national organizations dealing with academic misconduct.
Some people recommended that the University “clone her” and fill the entire office staff with Betty Hacketts, he added.
Swan also described the specific goals of the office:
ù making sure students know exactly what constitutes academic misconduct
ù helping faculty reduce opportunistic cheating, and
ù ensuring uniform enforcement of policies.
However, some aspects of the old system remain in place. For instance, faculty members will still be allowed to resolve incidents on their own.
But Hackett said that other changes will occur within the year. The office plans to make guidelines for acceptable behavior more accessible, and supports reminding students “pretty often” about academic misconduct, possibly through mass e-mails.
She added that faculty members can help, citing studies which show cheating decreases simply by having professors present during tests.
A cheating database listing students reported to the new office is already in the works. Hackett dismissed the potential for abuse of this list as minimal, since no one will have access to it without good reason.
As far as a future honor code goes, Hackett said, students can expect one. She added she will listen to both student and faculty input because “a bad honor code is even worse than not having one at all.”

Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]