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Committee to review, revise aging academic integrity policy at Rutgers

Archived article from Dec 6, 2004

By Ashanti M. Alvarez  

Credit: Nick Romanenko
Mary Jo Watts, instructor at the
Teaching Excellence Center, New
Brunswick, coaches teaching assistants
on how to recognize plagiarism and how
to use software to detect it.

For the first time in more than 15 years, major changes may be in store for the university’s academic integrity policy – a document that often goes ignored by students and is out of touch with today’s high-tech cheating techniques.

The policy review comes in response to several factors: an outcry by faculty members who believe the sanctions are either too lenient or too stringent, a long overdue review that was considered in 2002 but never implemented and no consideration of the impact that computers now have on cheating.

“You won’t see any references to the Internet or to other violations using common modern technologies because they didn’t exist at the time,” said Brian T. Rose, associate vice president of student affairs. “We want to at least update the examples to reflect how students cheat today.” Rutgers’ academic integrity
policy has not been changed since 1987.

Gregory S. Blimling, vice president of student affairs, appointed a committee in October made up of administrators, faculty and students to review the existing policy. “The expectation is that there will be major changes,” Rose said, adding that the committee plans to come up with recommendations by the end of the academic year. Those proposals must go before the University Senate before they become official policy.

The committee’s chair is Rutgers-Newark Professor Donald McCabe, a nationally known researcher on cheating and founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University. McCabe chaired a committee that reviewed the Student Code of Conduct in 1995. More than 100 schools and 20,000 students have participated in his ongoing research of college and high school cheating. He teaches organization management at Rutgers Business School-Newark and also focuses on corporate ethics.

McCabe’s research shows that more than half of students on college campuses have admitted to at least one instance of serious cheating and that “cut-and-paste plagiarism” is on the rise. “No question – there have been significant increases in Internet plagiarism,” McCabe said. He attributes the rise to “time pressures, satisfying parents, protecting scholarships, getting into a better graduate school ... some just don’t want to do the work.”

The extent of academic integrity violations at Rutgers is somewhat hard to measure because not all violations are reported by faculty and lower-level violations are handled by individual colleges and schools without central reporting. The administration, however, did see an increase in reporting of major violations between 2000 and 2002, Rose said, numbers which have since waned. Rose said that the levels of academic violations at Rutgers mirror those around the country.

Why cheat?

The way today’s students cheat has changed for reasons aside from technology, McCabe’s recent research shows that, in addition to most students admitting to cheating at least once, anywhere between 6 and 16 percent of students questioned admitted to repeatedly cheating – a figure McCabe believes is probably low since “serial cheaters won’t usually answer my survey.”

McCabe said it is hard to judge short-term trends, but his research compared to data from the 1960s shows that cheating and other violations of academic integrity have spiraled. Technology plays a part, but so does the changing profile of college students. Today, a college degree is seen as a necessity to get a decent-paying job and become part of the middle class. In the 1960s, McCabe said, college students were more likely to be preparing for a life of scholarly research.

Cheating over the years also has been affected by moral relativism, McCabe said. “I think [students] cite societal trends where ethical issues aren’t taken as seriously,” he said.

“They say, ‘Look what’s going on in the larger world, what’s the big deal with a little bit of cheating?’” Most colleges today, Rutgers included, do not require students to sign honor codes, McCabe said. When he attended Princeton, “we had the honor code and it was taken seriously.”


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