Reports of academic violations on campus jump
Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, February 10, 2009
While the recession has students cutting corners in their spending, professors have also seen them cutting corners in classes.
Faculty have reported a record increase in both the number and severity of academic integrity violations to the administration during this academic year, and the number of infractions is on track to surpass previous years’ totals, according to Judicial Affairs Officer Veronica Carter.
The infringements have resulted in a large number of student suspensions, Carter said.
Offenses range from plagiarism due to improper citation to bringing unauthorized materials into the classroom to defrauding the work-study program.
In 2005, the Faculty of Arts, Sciences and Engineering established a standardized system of consequences for violations across different departments, according to Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman.
“It established guidelines for both a disciplinary and a grading consequence,” he said.
Before the new system was instituted, professors used their discretion in cases they may have deemed to be less severe. After the reform, Reitman said, instructional staff and faculty members were obligated to report to university officials all suspected violations.
Detecting plagiarism became easier for professors with the advent of Turnitin.com, an online database to which professors may require students to submit their writing. Turnitin cross-references submissions with Internet entries and previously submitted work.
Over 150 Tufts professors regularly use Turnitin, which often catches students plagiarizing assignments which are several years old and which they consider to be safe to copy, according to Reitman.
Due to Turnitin’s effectiveness in detecting unoriginal work, most schools see a spike in plagiarism reports once professors start using the Web site, he said. Unlike other schools that use the service, however, Tufts has not seen academic violations taper off since the initial increase after more professors started using the database. Although any professor can use the site when work seems suspicious, professors are required to notify students when they use it routinely for course submissions.
One student told the Daily that he was caught off-guard when Turnitin flagged his work as dubious.
“My teacher didn’t tell me about [it],” said the student, who requested anonymity to not jeopardize his future academic relationships. “All I got was this e-mail to meet with Veronica Carter.”
The meeting was particularly unexpected because the student did not intentionally borrow from other sources.
“I didn’t really copy someone else’s thoughts, just facts that were verbatim,” the student said. “I wasn’t actively thinking that this was a good sentence to copy.”
The student was found guilty of a level I infraction, which includes indirect quoting and paraphrasing, as well as improper citation.
Even though students know professors across campus use Turnitin, they are still surprised when their work is considered unauthentic, Reitman said.
“There’s this unrealistic invulnerability that some people feel that they’re just not going to get their work nabbed for plagiarism,” he said. “Students are always surprised when these things are found.”
Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Taliaferro said he has used Turnitin in the past, but he noted that it should not be considered a panacea and that professors should not rely on it as the only option to detect cheating.
Taliaferro, who does not hold in-class exams, added that he has also seen students paraphrase, cite improperly and use unverifiable excuses for missing assignments.
Among the three levels of academic integrity violations, suspensions can result from a level III offense or multiple level II offenses. Level II offenses can include direct borrowing of work without attribution and unauthorized collaboration. Level III offenses include, but are not limited to, cheating on an exam, falsifying data and plagiarizing large portions of a paper.
All incoming freshmen are currently required to attend a seminar on academic integrity during their orientation. Carter also intends to work with student groups and the Judicial Advocates to raise the level of awareness of cheating on campus.
“What I plan to do with the Academic Resource Center is try to get more information out to students … to let students know that they are held accountable for these actions,” Carter said. “They’re suspendable offenses. Students can get expelled.”
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