New University group helps monitor academic integrity

The students in the group work with the Office for Student Academic Integrity.

by Ryan Dionne

Suspension or expulsion from the University is a consequence student cheaters could encounter if they are caught by an instructor.

To help inform the University community about academic integrity, a new group of five University students is working with the Office for Student Academic Integrity.

The group, Student Advocates for Academic Integrity, gives presentations on the subject and moderates focus groups about plagiarism, said Dustin Sperr, a student advocate.

“I’ve always had an interest in academic integrity,” said Sperr, a neuroscience and physiology junior. “It’s always something I lived by.”

For a student’s first offense, the instructor has many options.

Professors are encouraged to discuss the situation with the student, but they can also report to the Office for Student Academic Integrity, said Sharon Dzik, Student Judicial Affairs director.

According to University policy, cheating includes plagiarism, sharing homework answers with other students without the instructor’s consent, cheating on assignments or tests and various other actions.

If an instructor thinks a student plagiarized unintentionally, it’s worthwhile to use it as a learning opportunity, Dzik said.

But plagiarism is still plagiarism, even if it isn’t intentional, she said.

Some instructors who discuss the situation with the student still report the incident to the Office of Student Academic Integrity, Dzik said.

Plagiarism and cheating have gotten easier, with advances in cell phones, personal digital assistants, laptop computers and the advent of the Internet, Dzik said.

To help combat plagiarism, the University subscribes to an online service called Turnitin, said Linda Ellinger, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.

The service scans the student’s paper and compares it to a database of other papers to detect copied material, according to its Web site.

Despite a cost of approximately $5,000 per year to the University for the service, not many faculty members use it, Ellinger said.

At any given time, there are between 20 and 25 people using the service, she said. The number can jump to approximately 50 toward the end of the semester, she said.

Some might not use it because they think it’s too much of a hassle, others think it’s unnecessary and some think there are better ways to stop plagiarism. But others like it, Ellinger said.

Tim Gustafson, associate director of the English composition department in the College of Liberal Arts, doesn’t know anyone who uses the service, he said.

Though he informs instructors of the service, he said, the composition department has no need for it.

The best thing to do is to teach students how to paraphrase, quote and cite correctly, he said.

Cheating on the University campus might not be as big a problem as it is on other campuses, Dzik said.

“I think cheating is a habit,” she said. “It could catch up with you someday.”