Cheating at the University of Vermont

Academic dishonesty may seem like a black-and-white issue to many UVM students – professors all look for cheaters carefully, every professor will report and prosecute a case of cheating, and the definition is the same for every class, right? Wrong. From ideological stances on academic dishonesty to methods of detecting it, the University of Vermont has a very diverse faculty.The Faculty Divide There is a lot of variability among the faculty on the issue of cheating. Some professors believe that the judicial system must always be followed to the letter, while others prefer to handle first-time offenses privately. Some professors believe that students who obtain old copies of their exams are cheating, while other professors provide copies of test questions before each exam time. Some professors believe cheating to be a serious problem that requires a lot of attention and thought, while others view it more lightly, and do not think about it much at all.Although UVM’s Code of Academic Integrity technically requires professors to report all “suspected deliberate violations of academic integrity,” some faculty members do not follow the procedure, and instead handle cheating cases directly, without involving the administration. One such faculty member is Don Manley, who teaches astronomy at the University of Vermont. Manley told the Cynic in an interview that “preparing and presenting the evidence is burdensome,” and that he prefers to “take justice into [his] own hands.” Manley called the current system “unproductive,” saying that he suspects “many faculty don’t refer because of the work involved,” and fewer students are punished as a result.On the other side of the issue, many professors feel that the official University procedure is essential to ensuring a fair outcome for all parties involved. Professor Patrick Neal of the Political Science Department believes that “it’s vital to have those procedures” in order to protect students’ rights. Professor Matthew Moore, also in the Political Science Department, advocates a consistent and uniform policy, and believes that all cases of academic dishonesty must “go though the official channels.” Kevork Spartalian, a professor in the Physics Department, fears that dealing with students directly could result in confusion later on: if one professor resolves a cheating case without involving the administration and that same student offender later goes on to cheat again, he or she will be regarded as a first-time offender when that is not the case.Just like the issue of administrative involvement, the UVM faculty is divided on what actually constitutes academic dishonesty. Professor Jacqueline Carr, who teaches in the History Department, guards copies of her tests jealously, requiring students to turn in all testing materials at the end of each exam, and only allows them to see the questions again during her office hours. Carr explains that “it is time consuming to make up new exams each year,” and prefers not to have to continually change test questions to prevent certain students from having unfair advantages over other students.Other professors, such as Spartalian, share test questions with students prior to examinations. Spartalian posts a large set of potential test questions on the web before each test, and then writes an exam by drawing from the questions on the provided set, changing various details here and there to ensure that the questions are not exactly the same on every exam.This raises the question of the true definition of academic dishonesty – if a professor declares an act to be academically dishonest, is it? According to UVM’s Code of Academic Integrity, “students may only collaborate within the limits prescribed by their instructors,” meaning that if a professor declares obtaining copies of old exams to be cheating, it is. The Code later reinforces each professor’s power to define academic dishonesty for his or her own class by stating that, “students must adhere to the guidelines provided by their instructors for completing coursework.”Some professors on campus are very adamant about academic dishonesty, and view it as a very serious infraction. Professor Neal confesses that cheating is more serious an issue than it is often considered to be by many professors. To Neal, academic dishonesty “cuts at the essence of what a university is all about.” Other professors take a softer approach to cheating by adopting policies that only take points off of a total exam grade by subtracting points from the test questions that cheating has occurred on.For students, it is largely luck that determines their fate after cheating – some professors will devote a considerable amount of time to combating and punishing academic dishonesty, whereas others may not look for cheaters very carefully and may be lenient when punishing a student.To Catch a Cheater Methods for detecting academic dishonesty may seem straightforward, and students may think all professors do the same things, but in reality, many professors have their own unique ways of rooting out cheaters. Many professors on campus make different versions of tests to prevent students from copying each other’s work, but one professor told the Cynic of an unusual method of versioning his tests. Instead of denoting the different versions for all of the students to see, this professor uses a subtle distinction – the number of exclamation points on the test’s cover page – to distinguish between the different versions of the test. On the inside, the test questions look the same, but answer choices have been shuffled and number values changed. To the prospective cheater these tests look identical, but to the professor they different and are a crafty way to discover cheating. Professor Moore, mentioned above, also has a unique approach to discovering academic dishonesty. In addition to investigating odd-sounding phrases in papers, Moore picks out a phrase from every paper he grades, and runs it through Google, just in case. In an effort to avoid being detected, Moore told the Cynic that some cheaters go through a plagiarized paper and change every third word to escape the results of a Google search. But despite cheaters’ best efforts, Moore still catches many of the plagiarized papers that come across his desk. In fact, in the last academic year, Moore alone was responsible for 10% of all cases of academic dishonesty that were successfully prosecuted (8 out of 80) at the University of Vermont. Professor Spartalian, also mentioned above, employs a system for accepting exams that was inspired by a past experience with a student. Spartalian told the Cynic that several years ago, one final exam had not been turned in and was presumably not taken by a student. When confronted, the student claimed that he had taken the exam, and that Spartalian must have lost it. Without any proof that the student had skipped the exam, Spartalian was forced to let the student make up the exam. From then on, each of Professor Spartalian’s exams has had a serial number on the cover to ensure an accurate count of the number of students taking the exam. Finally, there are always the extremely obvious cases. Moore says that he has read the SparkNotes for certain works so many times that he can often recognize them without even referencing the webpage – some students will just copy several pages worth of SparkNotes into their essays, with no regard for covering their tracks, or even the applicability of the paragraphs to the assignment. The Consequences Aside from the expected consequences of academic dishonesty at the University, such as the possible failure of a course, or suspension or expulsion from the school, UVM’s Code of Academic Integrity has a few finer details students might not be aware of. For example, if a student is accused of cheating by a professor, but is then acquitted by the judicial process, that student obtains the right to withdraw from that class, even if it is past the withdrawal date, with no record he or she ever took the class. Another interesting consequences of cheating is that a student with an XF, or failure by way of academic dishonesty, on his or her record, is not eligible to be a member of the Student Government Association, or be a student athlete. However, a student’s XF can be converted into a regular F after one year, by completing a seminar on academic integrity. Finally, graduate or medical students caught cheating will almost always be automatically dismissed from the university. The University of Vermont takes academic dishonesty very seriously, and students can lose more than just a grade by engaging in it, so before you cheat, ask yourself: is the juice really worth the squeeze?