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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


To catch a plagiarist: UA edition

Plagiarism is the number one academic integrity violation at the UA and catching students when they cut corners is an ongoing battle.

During the 2009-10 school year there were 421 reported violations of academic integrity, with 262 of those being plagiarism.

The first step when an instructor believes a student has violated the Code of Academic Integrity is to meet with the student about what they believe happened. Afterwards, both the student and the instructor sign a form and the instructor will assign the sanction or sanctions they believe to be appropriate.

Sanctions can be as low as a written warning or as high as expulsion from the university. Signing the form is not an admission of guilt, but a record of the meeting.

The student can submit an appeal up to 10 days after the meeting. The appeal goes to the dean of the college for that course and usually an associate dean handles the appeal, according to Associate Dean of Students Kendal Washington White.

A box of tissues graces Associate Dean of the College of Science Elliott Cheu’s desk for those students who get emotional when appealing.

“”There is very much an emotional side,”” Cheu said. “”There are a lot of tears, both male and female students, there are tears going on.””

Associate Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Laura Briggs, says she also gets a range of emotions. From students who are remorseful, to students who are “”angry and defensive and feel like consumers: ‘I paid good money for this course, I expect to graduate on time and therefore it’s not fair that I failed the course after I cheated’ which I find puzzling,”” Briggs said.

Cheu said he is surprised at how far students take lying.

“”It’s certainly impressive how convincing people can actually be in spite of the fact that you know they could not have gotten the answer that’s on their paper,”” he said.

The associate dean has the power to change the sanction to a more severe one if the student has lied.

The College of Science had 84 reported instances of plagiarism for the 2009-10 school year, the highest number reported among the colleges. Coming in second was the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences with 69, followed by the College of Humanities with 54.

Briggs thinks the high number reflects that her college doing its job.

Cheu said he’s had a number of instances where the sanction had an impact on the student’s ability to get into a future college, such as a pre-business or pre-nursing major.

Once you’ve plagiarized, the threat of being found out looms after graduation.

Cheu is dealing with a case where a student may have their degree revoked because of a violation. The case came up during his last semester in the spring and the decision process is still ongoing.

Severe sanctions generate an automatic appeal. These appeals go to the University Hearing Board. Severe sanctions include revoking a degree, expulsion, suspension and notation on the student’s transcript.

The Dean of Students Office was asked to create an educational sanction for plagiarism. In response, they piloted the Academic Integrity Workshop in the spring of 2009 and had about 70 students participate, according to White.

“”The students all said that they had not heard or learned about many of these issues until they participated in this workshop, which you know that’s compelling,”” White said.

The workshop is four two-hour sessions and costs students $80.

“”It’s a really good learning environment. It’s a safe place and a nonjudgmental place to learn about ethics, often for the first time. A lot of students have never had an ethics course,”” said Bekah Coskun, graduate assistant for integrity and ethics, who teaches the course.

The course is a mixture of lecture and discussion.

“”It’s student driven … What I did is I tweaked it and made it better based on what those students suggested because that’s what it’s all about right? Having a positive learning experience and that’s why it is not just punitive, it’s educational,”” Coskun said.

Cheu likes the workshop option but thinks he may be biased by his belief about students who cheat.

“”My own personal view, which isn’t based on any data, is that students actually know that they’ve done the wrong thing for the most part,”” Cheu said. “”So, if they actually know that … how effective this will be is hard to say but maybe when they actually see it … and what really constitutes plagiarism … maybe that is a helpful thing.””

Lucy Blaney-Laible, graduate associate in teaching in the Spanish department and a doctoral candidate in Spanish and Portuguese, thinks the workshop should be required.

Blaney-Laible teaches a seminar to the Spanish department on how to catch cheaters. When she first started, they either didn’t catch many people or they didn’t have many incidents. Blaney-Laible takes it as a sign that they are getting better at catching people.

She thinks a lot of students don’t think of plagiarism as stealing.

“”If I take Harry Potter and put my name on it and start selling it, obviously that would be stealing. If I take somebody else’s work and turn it in for credit in a class, that’s basically the same thing,”” she said.

Blaney said students often get confused and think that if they translate something from English to Spanish, it’s not plagiarism.

“”If I took Harry Potter and translated it into French, it then doesn’t become my work that I did, it’s just in a different language,”” Blaney-Laible said.

Briggs said she has noticed that plagiarism and cheating doesn’t get students good grades and said that if students put the amount of effort into cheating that they did on the work, they would be better off.

“”One thing I’m sure of is that the number of cases we see is a small fraction and I believe it’s only indicative of the problem,”” Cheu said, noting that instructors need to be active participants in catching students, but also that the message needs to get across to students that academic integrity violations are a “”real failing.””

“”I would be very wary of professionals, either a doctor or an engineer or something, whose education falls short in an area that’s very critical to the work they’re doing. And also, my own personal view is that if people are willing to take short cuts in this one area, it’s not clear that they aren’t willing to take short cuts in other areas.””

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