University tries out program to combat academic dishonesty

The University had 139 reported cases of academic dishonesty in the last school year.

Mehgan Lee

The University is launching a pilot program this fall to educate students about academic integrity.

Student Advocates for Academic Integrity will be composed of approximately 10 students. The Student Judicial Affairs office and the Office for Student Academic Integrity will train and present information to classes and student groups on the dangers of academic dishonesty.

“Students will hear a message about not cheating in a more convincing way, from someone their own age,” said Sharon Dzik, director of Student Judicial Affairs and the Office for Student Academic Integrity.

The University had 139 reported cases of academic dishonesty during the 2003-04 academic year, Dzik said. The statistics reflect an overall increase in the number of academic dishonesty cases reported in the last five years.

However, it can be difficult to determine how much cheating is occurring on campus, Dzik said.

“We don’t know to what extent cheating is going on,” she said.

Every college and department handles and reports academic dishonesty incidents differently, Dzik said. Faculty are not forced to report incidents, she said.

“We’re trying to encourage faculty to report it, but we know there’s a lot of faculty out there who don’t report,” she said.

English professor Joel Weinsheimer said he believes there is a tendency for faculty not to report cases of academic dishonesty.

Often students plagiarize out of ignorance, Weinsheimer said.

“Frequently teachers will use the incident as a teaching moment rather than a moment of recrimination,” he said.

The time it takes a professor to ensure a student has not plagiarized, by going through library holdings and looking for quotes, for example, “far exceeds what any teacher is willing to put into it,” he said.

Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University, conducted a survey over the last two years of 8,000 faculty members in 68 higher-education institutions in North America, including the University of Minnesota. Almost half of the faculty members surveyed admitted that they have ignored cheating on at least one occasion, McCabe said.

McCabe also surveyed approximately 45,000 higher-education students in North America. He found that 36 percent admitted to Internet plagiarism. The highest incidents of cheating were reported to be by business students, he said.

Students who cheat will be unprepared for their careers, Dzik said. Cheating can become a habit that carries over into students’ professional lives after they graduate, she said.

The punishment students receive for cheating at the University varies, Dzik said. Individual professors usually decide the penalty, she said. But she said penalties are typically stricter for higher-level courses.

Faculty members do not need concrete proof to accuse a student of cheating, Dzik said.

“A professor can really just suspect it strongly,” she said.

Weinsheimer said he is uncomfortable with that.

“If you don’t have the goods, you don’t make the accusations,” he said.

Students should be innocent until proven guilty, Weinsheimer said.

But faculty members do not arbitrarily accuse students of academic dishonesty, Dzik said.

“They usually have a lot of evidence,” she said.

Professors can make it harder for students to cheat, Weinsheimer said.

“The prevention is so much easier than the cure,” he said.

Professors can make students hand in outlines and rough drafts for their papers, Weinsheimer said.

“By the time a student does all that, it’s really not worth it to buy a paper,” he said.

Professors can also avoid assigning paper topics that have been used several times before, Weinsheimer said.