Issue Date: Dec 6, 2004
By Ashanti M. Alvarez
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.
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.”
Often it’s not just a question of what’s the right thing to do; it’s a matter of what can be done in the time a student has. Mary Jo Watts, an instructor at the Teaching Excellence Center in New Brunswick, tells teaching assistants in her “Detecting Plagiarism” workshop that instructors often need to take into consideration the busy, multidimensional lives of today’s students when devising assignments.
“What if you are 19 and are the first in your family to go to college? You are taking 18 credits, the course is not in your major and you work 28 hours a week.” she told a recent workshop group. “Students do cost-benefit analyses in deciding whether to cheat.”
Information age plagiarism
Indeed, technology has transformed the way students cheat, from the Internet to cell phones. For flagrant cheaters, the cell phone holds numerous possibilities. Instead of scribbling notes on one’s hand, sneaker or a strategically placed sheet of paper, students can write text notes into their phones and surreptitiously call them up. Or they can get interactive and text message exam questions to more knowledgeable friends – sort of a “phone-a-friend” lifeline as seen on the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
Paper mills are astoundingly easy to find on the Internet. Term papers were always for sale, but Internet sites put them just one click away from students. A Google search for “term papers for sale” yields scores of sites. Some offer papers for free; others charge between $50 and $100 per paper, depending on the length and the level of study. Other sites offer to produce original papers according to the student’s assignment, charging $5 to $15 per page.
Any student who uses one of these services – considered a Level Three violation in the current integrity policy – risks suspension from school for at least one semester.
Using Google, however, may not always be a nefarious thing, said Vibiana Bowman, editor of “The Plagiarism Plague: A Resource Guide and CD-ROM Tutorial for Educators and Librarians.” Bowman, a reference librarian at the Paul Robeson Library on the Camden campus, believes that today’s students are so used to the Internet that they are unacquainted with traditional research methods. “The kids who are 18 and 19 years old now have grown up their entire lives with a computer,” Bowman said. They pretty much write their whole paper using the Internet and retrofit it with books and newspapers.”
The strict test-based curriculum in high schools, Bowman said, also leaves little room for practice in writing a term paper according to the standards of the Modern Language Association or the “Chicago Manual of Style.” “My impression is that writing is not being taught in a methodical fashion ... You have your typical new teacher, 25 years old, who is expected to monitor these kids for drugs, psychological problems, health problems, in addition to being sure they are prepared for standardized tests.”
A proactive approach
One of the charges of the new committee is to think about how the university should educate faculty and students about academic integrity, encourage students to be honest and help instructors ward off dishonesty before it happens. Two years ago, Rutgers College unveiled a new video during freshman orientation that features “Saturday Night Live” skits about cheating. “Its purpose is to get their attention,” said Joan Carbone, associate dean of student services at Rutgers College. Carbone’s office also created a series of student awareness posters and maintains a Web site www.integritymatters.rutgers.edu with examples of plagiarism and tools for faculty. “This is an extensive effort. We have to do more to connect students and faculty.”
Barbara Bender, associate dean for academic support and graduate student services at the Graduate School-New Brunswick, advises teaching assistants to pay attention when administering tests. Students should put away all cell phones and PDAs during exams, and instructors should monitor assignments by requiring outlines for papers well in advance of when they are due. “We are engaged in efforts to teach our students about the research process and the nature of honest inquiry, and discussing plagiarism and academic integrity is a part of that process,” Bender said.
McCabe agrees that a proactive approach is best. “Some faculty members are very silent on the topic, but you need to discuss with students in a positive way some of the reasons you would like to see them do their work with more integrity. The objective is not simply to reduce cheating, but do some character development and get students to understand there is a community that they need to honor and respect.”
Turnitin.com: A high-tech way of rooting out plagiarism
Instructors at Rutgers have access to www.turnitin.com, a popular plagiarism detection program that gives them access to billions of Web pages and millions of published documents and student papers. The site allows instructors to cross-check papers and spot whether even just a section of an assignment has been plagiarized from the Internet or other papers already uploaded to the database.
The online program also allows instructors to grade papers on the computer, using self-designed rubrics for common problems and fields to make general comments about the assignment.
Mary Jo Watts, an instructor at the Teaching Excellence Center in New Brunswick, introduces teaching assistants in her “Detecting Plagiarism” class to the software. “One of the problems people have is that papers are searchable. But one good thing is that if someone gets a match, you can’t see the whole paper.”
The Teaching Excellence Center is offering a TurnItIn workshop on Jan. 21 at 10:30 a.m. Go to teachx.rutgers.edu
workshops for more information.
This article was published in the Dec 6, 2004 edition of the Rutgers Focus and is available online at http://urwebsrv.rutgers.edu/focus/article/link/1460/