A lanky brunette in a purple sweater and black leggings rummages through her oversized Kathy Van Zeeland bag as she sits next to a blonde wearing a Miami University hoodie on the steps of Benton Hall. Seconds later, she says to the blonde, “Just do these two pages of problems for me, and I’ll be sure to put your name on the guest list for next weekend.”
Minutes later in the computer lab, a boy wearing a Culture of Champions T-shirt alternates quickly between two different screens: allfreeessays.com and a Microsoft Word document reading “An Analysis of Paradise by Toni Morrison.”
Rushing to the last class of the day, some students don’t think twice about witnessing two incidents of plagiarism.
A cheating crisis
For some Miami students, incidents of plagiarism are as common as seeing Swoop cheering for the basketball team at half time. And although these incidents are unethical, some students turn the other cheek.
Sophomore Katie Lenahan, a chemistry major, said she has witnessed plagiarism before.
“I’ve seen people cheat off tests in my chemistry classes before,” Lenahan said. “But they’re not cheating off me, so I really don’t care.”
According to a 2005-06 student survey conducted by Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity, 80 percent of Miami students indicated they would be “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to report an incident of cheating they observed. Eighty-eight percent of students indicated they believed fellow students would be “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to report an incident of cheating they had observed.
Additionally, 11 percent of students indicated they “learned a lot” about plagiarism at Miami-sponsored orientation programs, while more than one third of students said they learned “nothing at all” from these programs.
The survey results also revealed the different manners in which students cheat.
Fifty-seven percent of students indicated they had worked on an assignment with others when the instructor requested individual work, while 41 percent admitted to paraphrasing or copying a few sentences of material from an Internet source without appropriate footnotes or reference. Thirty percent of students admitted to receiving answers at least once from someone who had already taken a test, and 18 percent admitted to falsifying a bibliography.
According to Richard Nault, special assistant to the provost, the survey results are a concern to the Miami community.
“I think this data indicates that we need to take serious efforts on campus to create an even stronger commitment to personal integrity and honesty,” Nault said.
Assessing the problem
To help both faculty and students promote academic honestly, Nault said the office of the provost has launched and continues to support initiatives in three areas concerning cheating: education, prevention and adjudication.
In addition to these efforts, Rob Withers, assistant to the dean of libraries, said the academic integrity subcommittee of the First in 2009 campaign has analyzed survey data and reports of unethical behaviors to assess the present climate of academic honesty at Miami.
Withers said the committee decided that promotion of academic honesty and integrity should begin in the admissions process.
According to a report released by the committee, beginning in 2009 prospective students may be asked to write an admissions essay reflecting on the importance of personal and academic integrity. The report said first-year students would also be required to spend more time in orientation learning about policies and procedures dealing with academic misconduct within the Miami community.
According Withers, students in their first semester at Miami would have to take an online learning module, such as Miami eScholar, which focuses on promoting awareness and knowledge of principles of academic integrity.
Withers said Miami eScholar, which is currently being developed by University Libraries, consists of five modules presenting information about various aspects of academic integrity and offers students the opportunity to complete self-check exercises.
The Miami eScholar program has already been piloted by classes in the school of Engineering and Applied Science as well as in the Farmer School of Business.
In response to the increase in measures to prevent academic dishonesty, some students, such as sophomore Rachel Patterson, said they felt new programs will be ineffective.
“I feel like it’s not going to help students because someone can learn as much as possible about the rules of plagiarism, but when it comes down to getting a paper or something done on time, that person is going to forget about the rules and just try to finish their work,” Patterson said.
First-year Maggie Bingham agreed.
“I don’t think it will be beneficial to students because most people already know the procedures of academic misconduct and either stay away from it or still do it no matter what,” Bingham said.
For first-year Catherine Pingree, professors play a large role in discouraging plagiarism.
“Teachers play a big part in promoting academic honesty,” Pingree said. “Unless teachers start enforcing the rules, plagiarism is going to keep happening because people are going to keep doing it until they get caught.”
According to Withers, the academic integrity subcommittee has designed several regulations to assist current faculty in efforts to limit plagiarism.
For example, a person or office would serve as an adviser to faculty and graduate teaching assistants with regard to academic misconduct cases. The adviser’s job would be to outline and teach procedures, provide advice on gathering and documenting evidence and answer any questions teachers might have.
Already, teachers and students have access to the “Turn It In” program on Blackboard, to help prevent plagiarism.
To use the program, students or teachers can submit work to the system to produce an originality report, which emits a
percentage. The lower the percentage, the more original the work. The database checks students’ works against hundreds of other papers and documents that have already been submitted and stored in the database.
According to Kate Francis, manager of the Howe Writing Center at King Library, faculty can also design assignments that make plagiarism more difficult.
“Rather than giving an assignment and a due date and that’s it, faculty can break up the project, asking for a prospectus, several drafts and even reports on research midway,” Francis said.
Lynne Streeter, instructor of first-year English composition classes, said she follows a plan similar to Francis’ suggestion to both encourage original and critical thinking and to promote an environment of integrity and honest communication between herself and her students.
While Streeter said she does not have specific rules to discourage plagiarism, she said she has students write a response on the first day of class to become familiar with their writing.
“I read their responses in order to hear the students’ voices in their writing,” Streeter said. “It may sound nerdy, but I believe we all have writing styles that are as unique as our speaking voices. An astute professor can hear while reading a draft when a student shifts from his or her own words to someone else’s.”
As a faculty member, Streeter said she has a duty to foster positive and professional academic practices to encourage academic honesty amongst the student body.
“I think by doing so, we can emphasize the generation of ideas as a common practice and the stealing of ideas as an uncommon one,” Streeter said.
Nault, too, expressed a similar stance.
“My hope is that when students are graduated from Miami, persons will continue to respect their degrees because this is a place where students act with integrity and character,” Nault sai
d. “I hope that a Miami degree will say something about a graduate’s character.”
With a sigh of relief at the completion of your day, you reach the top stair to the floor of your dorm and make a quick left down the hallway. A bulletin board in your residence hall grabs your attention and you read:
“The cost of being found responsible for cheating on a paper, project, quiz, test or final once: Failing grade on that portion of course or entire course.
The cost of being found responsible cheating on a paper, project, quiz, test or final twice: Automatic failure of course, suspension from university, and the notation of ‘Suspension for Academic Misconduct’ on your permanent transcript.
The cost of receiving a degree from Miami University that you earned honestly: Priceless.”