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With a growing number of students committing acts of academic dishonesty, both nationally and here at Drexel, stopping the spread of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and outright cheating may sometimes feel as futile as a single person attempting to stand down the rising tide. The University’s Code of Conduct has clear definitions of plagiarism, fabrication, cheating, and academic misconduct. These definitions are mirrored in the Student Handbook (p. 96), but being able to define academic dishonesty is not the same as knowing what to do about it.
Sometimes it’s obvious that students intended to lie, cheat or steal. Sometimes it’s clear that they didn’t intend to do so. Other times it’s all but impossible to tell. For faculty, issuing sanctions that are fair can be a daunting task. In some programs, the department head or another administrator is involved in cases of academic dishonesty. In other programs, it is solely the faculty’s responsibility to determine appropriate sanctions.
Regardless of how academic dishonesty is handled at the college, program, or course level, Stephen Rupprecht, Assistant Dean of Students for Student Conduct and Community Standards (SCCS) has found that University-wide tracking is an essential part of Drexel’s academic integrity (AI) protocol. In the last two years, using two colleges chosen at random, Rupprecht found that 72% of the students who violated the AI policy did so in classes offered by colleges other than their own.
The high percentage of AI violators who commit academic dishonesty in a college other than their own highlights the importance of reporting violations. If each program or even each college handles violations exclusively internally, students could commit multiple AI violations without it ever surfacing that they are repeat offenders. SCCS offers sanction guidelines for AI violations (p. 96), with the severity of the sanction increasing after the first offence. It is intuitive that sanctions should increase in severity, but without the University tracking AI violations, it would be impossible to tell if a student had already violated the policy.
Knowing the importance of tracking, in the 2011-2012 academic year, SCCS made it easier to report AI violations. Faculty can submit the details of an AI violation u sing a simple online form created for SCCS by the College of Computing and Informatics. The goal of tracking is two-fold. Tracking allows faculty and program administrators to issue appropriate sanctions and it also gives them the opportunity to educate students. Rupprecht explains, “Our shared goal is to educate our students and provide for them every learning experience possible. When violations are reported, both the student and the student’s college are notified, which allows for follow-up from the college and its academic advising team.”
After the online form was created, reports of AI violations more than doubled. In an analysis of data from the three years preceding the form’s creation, SCCS found that the largest population of reported violations were committed by seniors, followed by graduate students. SCCS does not know whether it is simply that seniors and graduate students were more often reported to their office or if students at the senior and graduate level were truly the most common offenders of the AI policy. SCCS is currently conducting an analysis that includes the last two years of data. Their findings will be published in a future edition of the Quality Improvement Quarterly.