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Plagiarism Cases Increase, Long Term Stats Stay Flat

By Tongyan Lin


Associate Dean of Student Discipline Steven J. Tyrell and Professor Derek Rowell, chair of the committee on discipline (COD), presented data on the cases of academic and personal misconduct from the 2002-2003 school year at a March 17 faculty meeting. A total of 24 students were charged in 2002-2003 by the COD, which hears more serious cases of academic and personal misconduct. The Dean’s Office Panel, which handles other cases of personal misconduct, had 14 cases in the same time period.

Of the 24 students who had hearings with the COD, plagiarism was the most common offense, with 18 cases. Rowell said at the faculty meeting that this is a “slight increase in the number of plagiarism cases” from previous years, but he could not explain why. He said that a “slight majority” of the cases of plagiarism occurred in humanities classes.

Of the punishments dealt, 21 of the students received notations on their transcript. Among these cases, five degrees were withheld, one graduate degree was revoked, and eight students were suspended. Others received a disciplinary warning, defined as “written notice that the conduct engaged in is inconsistent with Institute policies” or a sanction of formal academic probation. No students were expelled last year by the COD.

Spike chalked up to randomness

Rowell, who has served on the committee for nine years, said that they “see spikes from year to year,” and that there is “no long term trend from what we can determine.” He said there are also typically closer to 15 cases total that the COD hears in a year, but he attributed changes in the numbers and types of cases to “random phenomena.”

Professor of Mathematics David S. Jerison, who has taught freshman math courses for several years, also said that he has not seen any trends. “Cases are extremely individual,” and “it’s too difficult to generalize the numbers,” he said.

However, one significant change this year was the number of cases involving graduate students that the COD heard, Rowell said. While this number is typically around one or two, there were 12 graduate students for last year.

At the faculty meeting, Rowell had said that one case involved five graduate students, two cases involved two students each, and three cases were for individuals.

Though Rowell said that the committee has “higher expectations” for graduate students, and continued to maintain that the numbers were inconclusive because the number of cases tends to be so low that it is hard to pick trends.

Disciplinary groups to combine

Tyrell and Rowell have also been making an effort to unite the two disciplinary systems on campus. As part of this effort, Tyrell and Rowell meet weekly to determine whether each case should be sent to the Dean’s panel or the COD.

Rowell said one reason for doing this was to “create uniformity” in the disciplinary process to help make it more fair. The process of combining the two programs is “slow and deliberate,” according to Rowell. In order to assist in the groups’ union, Rowell said that they are currently moving “to have the two groups more and more alike.”

Tyrell said that he and Rowell wish to speed up the hearing schedule. He said that the “turnaround time has been faster” as a result of collaboration and that it is “helpful to individual students.” However, he stressed that they were careful they were not “moving so quickly as to be unfair.”

In addition, Tyrell said there would be an orientation program this fall for discussing academic integrity.

Students do not cite work

Rowell said the most common case heard before the COD was one of a student copying and pasting material off the web for papers and essays. However, a “Google search on the phrase” is “typically how it’s found.” He also said that typically in plagiarism cases, faculty find work to be “too good” for the particular student.

Rowell said that often faculty did not want to have a hearing and would instead handle it internally or submit a letter to be placed on file in the Office of Student Discipline. In such a case, the student may still protest or have a hearing to resolve the issue.

James Paradis, head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, said “a fair amount of it is people just don’t understand ownership” or “don’t cite property.” Paradis said that although “one would expect that would be more likely with first years or second years,” there have been too few cases to determine a pattern.

Associate Professor of Philosophy Sally Haslanger also finds that students often use material that can be easily found through the Google Web page. “I fail them in the course,” she said. She said she also chooses to file a letter to the Office of Student Discipline, but that she has never taken any case to the Committee on Discipline.

“I don’t tend to find it in upper division classes,” Haslanger said, because “classes are smaller” and professors become more familiar with a student’s work. Haslanger, who teaches the course Problems of Philosophy (24.00) in the fall, said she trains her TAs to check for plagiarism in such large classes.

Professor of Physics Walter H. G. Lewin, who also serves on the COD, said, “you don’t see [cheating] very often in physics,” with cases more often being in areas such as literature or film. “The tricks that [students] have are very limited,” Lewin said, referring to his exams.

Dean’s office numbers normal

Rowell said that the number of cases that came before the Dean’s Office Panel, fourteen, was a similar to those in previous years. Personal misconduct cases involved primarily alcohol and unauthorized access to areas such as rooftops, as well as assault, harassment, and other offenses.

Eight of the students received disciplinary warnings, five received formal probation, and one student was expelled. In addition, the students participated in some form of educational, community, or counseling requirement.

Of these fourteen cases, twelve involved males and two involved females. Rowell said “it could be the case” that males are more involved in cases of personal misconduct. In addition, six of the cases involved first-year students, which Tyrell told the faculty may be the result of adjusting to a new environment.