Faculty response a sticking point in code

Plagiarism isn’t new, but the Internet has made it easier, and WSU — like universities everywhere — is struggling with how to deal with it. An Academic Integrity Code has been three years in the making and is likely to take a bit longer. A draft code is expected to come before the Faculty Senate this fall.

“How do we write a policy and institute a process that the faculty is going to be comfortable with?” asked Ken Struckmeyer, chair of the Faculty Senate. Answering that question is likely to take most of fall semester, he said, even though a Faculty Affairs Committee has been working with a set of nearly two-year-old recommendations from a student and faculty task force chaired by English professor Paul Brians.

“We were all set to go with what (the Senate task force) submitted,” Struckmeyer said, until the Attorney General’s office reviewed the recommendations and warned that the policy might not be enforceable.

A major sticking point is what, legally, a faculty member can do when a student is caught cheating. No question that the student can receive a failing grade on that assignment. But, if it is a relatively minor assignment, can the instructor give the student a failing grade for the entire course?

According to the Attorney General’s office, maybe not. Since failing a course for cheating could arguably be termed “punishment” rather than academic assessment, the student may be entitled to a conduct board hearing before any sanctions are leveled, and that could represent a significant financial burden for the university.

According to WSU’s Office of Student Conduct, 36 instances of academic dishonesty were reported during fall semester 2005 and 50 were reported during spring 2006. No one pretends that those were the only instances of cheating; they were just the ones reported.

A survey of 50,000 undergraduates by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University reported that 70 percent of students at most college campuses say they’ve engaged in some form of cheating. About 25 percent admitted to serious cheating on a test and 50 percent reported plagiarizing written assignments.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Brians. He said a survey commissioned by the Faculty Senate showed half of WSU students admitted cheating during their college career.

“The current system is so non-functional that it isn’t a serious attempt to deter plagiarism,” he said.
Among the recommendations of the three sub-committees that were part of his task force were:
• When turning in an assignment or test, students would also be required to sign a brief statement reading, “On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance on this academic work.”
• If a student fails a class because of academic dishonesty, the student would receive an “xF” as a grade, with the x denoting a violation of WSU’s academic integrity policy. The student could get the “x” removed by completeing some type of course or tutorial on academic integrity.
• A second violation results in expulsion.

Website resource

A handy, and engaging, resource is a WSU website that addresses such issues as what is plagiarism, how to spot it, how to avoid it, cultural perspectives and teaching strategies.

The site is not WSU’s official policy on plagiarism, but it is a useful starting point. It was created by faculty and staff from campus organizations including: the English Department, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, the Office of Student Affairs, the WSU Libraries, and the University Ethics Interest Group.  Visit: http://www.wsulibs.wsu.edu/plagiarism.

Academic Integrity Task Force reports can be found at http://facsen.wsu.edu/committees/AITF_title_page.html.

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