“Times, They are A-Changing”: UVM Remasters Academic Integrity Policy

This is not the year to text message during exams or cut and paste that last paragraph at 5am. UVM is cracking down on academic dishonesty in response to the national trend of increasing academic dishonesty. You may not have noticed that this year the university will be following the Code of Academic Integrity, as opposed to the Academic Integrity Policy of years past. Beginning this year, any student found guilty of an act of academic dishonesty could receive the grade of XF on their academic transcript, or in a more serious case a dismissal with “dismissal resulting from academic dishonesty” written on the transcript. These are major changes to the code that reflect the growing national awareness surrounding academic dishonesty. The grade XF “is widely used in other universities of our size and stature,” said Lauck Parke, the Vice President for Undergraduate Education. Parke emphasized the national necessity for these transcript notations in order to both protect the higher education community and the integrity of the university. Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University, who has been studying collegiate cheating for the past fifteen years, estimates that 20 percent of college students are dedicated cheats, 10 percent will never cheat, and the other 70 percent can be swayed either way. Cheating is a trend that has been increasing quickly as a result of “cut and paste” from the Internet and the use of information storing technology such as calculators and cell phones. Associate Professor Jane Birnn, a member of the Student Affairs Committee, sees a generational shift in attitudes toward cheating. “The culture the students are coming from is different. Computerization makes it easier to take things out. Some students don’t see it as a problem, [cheating was] black and white to my generation.” “I have seen a substantial increase in the number of instances [of academic dishonesty] reaching my office,” says Parke, who has been in his position for three and a half years. In the 2003-2004 academic year, there were 80 cases of academic dishonesty brought to the Provost’s office. As of this fall, the Provost’s office will no longer handle academic dishonesty, and all cases will go to the Coordinator of Academic Integrity, a new position as of this year in the Department of Student Ethics and Standards. In the past, there have been “great inconsistencies,” says Parke, in the handling of cases and confusion between what constitutes a serious, major or minor offense. There have also been inconsistencies in how different departments handle academic dishonesty. “In some cases, the cultural norm of a department or school is to handle the issue internally,” says Parke, and that a fear of litigation or the desire to not penalize a student too harshly could be the cause of this. Other departments, notably the Computer Science and English departments, have been consistent in reporting all cases of academic dishonesty. Xindong Wu, the department chair for Computer Science, estimates that the department reports one case of academic dishonesty per semester. President Fogel would like to go even further in the pursuit of academic integrity by establishing an honor code to take the place of the current code. An honor code would require students to sign a contract making them responsible not only for their own honesty, but also for their peers, in a situation where students would be required to turn in fellow students and any failure to do so could result in penalties for both the guilty student and the student who knowingly did not report the dishonesty. Associate Professor Robert Snapp, the Computer Science representative to the Faculty Senate, sees an honor code as “more severe” because it requires students to report other students. “It may be something we can evolve to in five to ten years,” says Snapp. An honor code does seem to be the direction that the university is headed in. The judiciary panel for cases of Academic Integrity will be made up of three students and two faculty members as of this year, giving students the majority in judging their peers. This is a change from a two to two ratio in the past. This change is “subtle but decisive in the direction of an Honor Code” says Parke. However, the option of a student/faculty panel has not been popular in the past. Only one case of academic dishonesty out of eighty went before a judicial panel from 2001-2004, indicating that a vast majority of the cases are dealt with in a plea bargain where the student accepts sanctions to avoid going before the panel. “There is no need for an honor code,” says Professor Wu, who says his department is “rigorously following [the code]” and prefers to keep everything “up front.” The new Code of Academic Integrity, although available on line, has not been publicly distributed among the student body. In the future, freshmen will be read the code during orientation, but due to timing issues, class of 2009 never received the code and may be heading for midterms unaware of the consequences of plagiarism, fabrication, collusion and cheating.