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Redwine Speaks to UA On Academic Integrity: MIT To Clarify Rules, Seek Student Input

By Kevin R. Lang


Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine discussed MIT’s plans for dealing with plagiarism and cheating at last night’s Undergraduate Association Council meeting.

The discussion was prompted by a report in last month’s faculty newsletter by Professor of Management Stephen C. Graves, chair of the faculty. Graves reported on the increase in cases of plagiarism before the Committee on Discipline over the past five years, which he attributed to academic pressure, confusion over academic rules, and “a lack of appreciation of the severity of plagiarism within the academic community.”

Graves said in his report that “some students view material on the Web as universally free to use, even if it is clearly copyrighted.”

The report called for increased awareness of plagiarism rules and guidelines, and Redwine discussed this with the UA as the start of a new initiative to tackle plagiarism.

While Redwine admitted that “nothing has happened yet,” he said that MIT was seeking student input before setting out any new initiatives.

MIT to clarify rules, policies

Redwine agreed with the report that many cases of academic honesty would never occur if students and faculty were simply better informed. “The procedures at MIT for handling cases of dishonesty ... are not very well known or consistent,” Redwine said.

He said that faculty often do not know how to handle cases of alleged cheating or plagiarism, and that reports can end up with the professor, the department undergraduate officer, the deans, or the COD. However, there is no central system for tracking cases between departments or faculty, or even a system for handling cases.

“It really is all over the map, and I think that’s part of the problem,” Redwine said.

“We could do a lot more in terms of making procedures clear and well known,” Redwine said. He referred to this as better “articulation” of MIT’s standards, especially on collaborative work.

UA President Jaime E. Devereaux ’02 asked Redwine how freshmen were informed of academic honesty policies when they first arrive on campus.

“I don’t think there’s a lot done,” Redwine said. “I don’t think we do this very well.”

Honor code possible, but unlikely

After Redwine finished his opening remarks, Pius A. Uzamere II ’04, a UA councillor from Next House, asked Redwine whether MIT is considering an honor code, such as those used by Johns Hopkins University and the California Institute of Technology. Redwine said that while this is a possibility, he did not see it fitting MIT’s culture.

“Any honor code that does not include the requirement to report transgressions by others, in the end is not much of an honor code,” Redwine said. He thought such a policy would not work well at MIT, but added that the administration had not yet ruled out any options.

“In the end I don’t really expect that anything apocalyptic will come out of it in terms of changes,” Redwine said.

Nikki A. Johnson ’04, a councillor from Burton-Conner, said that some of the MIT spirit would be lost with an honor code. “We have this sort of ‘we will beat the Institute’ attitude,” Johnson said.

Dorm delay affects R/O planning

While Redwine’s visit was the main focus, Devereaux also discussed several key issues at Monday’s meeting. She announced that Simmons Hall is currently ten to fifteen days behind schedule, and that a decision on whether or not students will be able to move in for the start of the semester is due within the next few weeks.

The UA cannot begin working on residence selection materials for 2002, such as summer mailings, until the new dorm is resolved. “They really do not know at this point,” Devereaux said.

UA abandons van plans

Devereaux also discussed the UA’s abandoned plans for “activity vans”, which were originally proposed in the spring of 2000. The UA allocated $41,000 from the uninvested reserve to purchase two new 15-passenger vans for use by student activity groups, especially those involved in community service.

The Council formed a “Van Steering Committee” to handle logistical concerns such as insurance, parking, and maintenance. However, “logistically, no one really wanted to undertake it,” Devereaux said. “It kind of became a little impractical.”

“There weren’t enough people that were willing to put in enough time,” Devereaux said.

However, she also said that student groups who would potentially use the vans did not show significant interest in the proposal. “We just didn’t hear this huge need for it,” Devereaux said.

With plans for a van on hold, Devereaux said that the UA Financial Board would be allocating more funds than usual to cover transportation costs for student groups.