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Academic standards revised

A joint task force drawn from the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs (ODSA) and the Provost's Office recently revised Institute guidelines on academic honesty. This move came in response to student confusion over faculty policy on homework collaboration, according to the preface to the revised guidelines.

The committee revised a document called "Departmental Guidelines Relating to Academic Honesty" to address questions raised at an Institute Forum on academic honesty held in February 1984. The revised guidelines, which have not yet been approved by the Faculty Policy Committee, are intended "to bring to the process more clarity [and] more equity," the preface states.

Students at the forum felt that their professors often do not explain how much they expect or permit students to work together, the preface states. "They believe that some of their classmates take advantage of the lack of clarity by working together excessively or by relying heavily on old solutions," the preface continues.

The first part of the two-part guidelines discusses this problem. It emphasizes that faculty should "explain as precisely as possible their expectations about the nature and extent of any collaboration or assistance from old materials that they permit or encourage.

"Faculty members are encouraged to make clear to the students in their classes, at the beginning of each term, their expectations regarding permissible academic conduct," the guidelines state.

The second part of the "Draft Guidelines" advises the faculty on how to handle violations of the standards of academic honesty. Faculty members should speak privately with a student suspected of a violation about what the violation is and what the student has to say about it before taking the matter further, the guidelines state.

If the faculty member decides after this meeting that the student acted dishonestly, he may decide to take a direct action or to refer the case to the ODSA or the Committee on Discipline (COD), depending on the severity of the offense. "The sanctions that can be imposed by the COD are the most severe," according to the guidelines.

Possible direct actions by the faculty member include lowering the student's grade and sending a warning letter to the student with an explanation of the violation and its consequence. The faculty member's decision can be reviewed by the department head if the student wishes.

Professors have personal policies

Many professors have their own guidelines on what is and is not accepted. Professor of Electrical Engineering Stephen D. Senturia states in his "6.002 [Circuits and Electronics] Policy Statement on Homework Collaboration" that "Discussion of assignments with other students ... is encouraged," but that "Every student is expected to write up his/her papers on his/her own."

He also states that "copying of another student's work and representing it as one's own work is a serious academic offense, and will be treated as such." Senturia asks his students to "cite your references," that is, to write down the names of their collaborators on their problem sets. His policy is "not an attempt to enforce," but "an attempt to inform," he said.

Associate Professor of Mathematics Frank Morgan '74 also enforces a policy of academic standards. He teaches Differential Equations (18.03) on the honor system.

"Students are relied on to write up problem sets on their own (earlier help and cooperation is fine) and to give and receive no help on exams. There will be no proctoring," states the Fall 1985 18.03 Syllabus.

Morgan also asks students to indicate on their homework whether they consulted with others. He feels that "honesty is absolutely essential."

The revised guidelines are directed toward the "very few cases of serious cheating," said Holly Heine, head of the Undergraduate Academic Support Office. Associate Provost S. Jay Keyser predicted that once faculty members begin to follow these guidelines, "95 percent of the problem will be taken care of."

Keyser said these guidelines, however, are "not carved in stone like the names on the cornices of the main buildings," and can be changed if they prove not to be useful.

Dean for Student Affairs Shirley M. McBay and Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55 formed a task force to review the guidelines after the Institute Forum. Individuals from this committee spoke with faculty and other departmental committees, and the resulting guidelines "are a composite of policies and procedures now being folowed by many faculty members and departments," states the preface.