The growing art of cheating

English professor James Brown has three things to say to his students about plagiarism.

“First, they’ll get caught. Second, they’ll have to face themselves in the mirror every morning . third, if they are capable of doing killer research, why not get credit for it by placing quotation marks around the material and citing the source? Seems a no-brainer to me.”

Despite professors’ efforts to counteract cheating, the number of cases the Office of Academic Integrity hears has increased between 5 and 10 percent each year of its seven-year existence, said the office’s director Tim Terpstra. He said he believes one of the main causes of the increase is the ease of taking information from the Internet.

“There has been an increase in plagiarism as opposed to the old fashioned kind of cheating, where you take a cheat sheet in or look at your neighbor’s paper,” Tersptra said.

The office receives about 100 cases of academic dishonesty a year, 80 percent of which are usually found in violation. Penalties for cheating range from failing an assignment to expulsion.

Sociology professor Diana Eglits said the use of papers or parts of papers from the Web is the biggest problem she has encountered with academic dishonesty.

“I have encountered a couple of cases where the paper was taken nearly verbatim from a Web site,” Eglits said.

Eglits said this new type of cheating influences the type of work she assigns.

“I try to assign work that is interesting and useful to students, but I also think I am forced to consider how I can make assignments that can’t easily be taken off the Web,” Eglits said.

While Terpstra and his office must deal with violations of academic integrity once they are reported, professors are forced to face the issue in the classroom.

“They’re not supposed to unilaterally sanction a student without keeping us informed, that is to protect the student essentially,” Terpstra explained.

Associate English professor Phyllis Mentzell Ryder said she deals with cases of plagiarism personally and then notifies the Office of Academic Integrity of her decision. She said the students can then go through the office to contest any decision she has made.

“A lot of students are plagiarizing on a particular assignment or in a particular course, that might tell us that the students don’t see the work as valuable or necessary,” Ryder said.

Ryder said she tries to prevent cheating by involving students as much as possible.

“It seems to me that if you can get a student interested in the assignment and to really see writing a paper as a learning process, then you’re doing the right thing on a lot of levels,” Ryder said.

Some students said “busy work” can fuel plagiarism, but professors have taken steps to prevent cheating.

Sophomore Brian Joshua said he knows students found in violation of plagiarism after their professors used online programs to detect even small amounts of work copied from the Internet.

Junior Megan Shea said a Math 10 professor gave her class a research assignment on the life of a mathematician. She said to inhibit cheating the professor limited the number of sources a student could use from the Web and repeated that he would recognize quotes taken directly from the Internet.

Shea said the Internet is an unreliable source, but students still “copy and paste.”

Junior Kate Muldawer said most students in her major, computer science, lose the temptation to cheat after their freshman year. She said most of her work cannot be found on the Web.

“Professors are so smart they’d catch us in a heartbeat,” Muldawer said.

Senior Jamie Parks said Internet plagiarism is foolish because students are risking their academic careers, especially if they want to pass the bar examination to become a lawyer.

“I see it as something they’re gambling with and they have a high likelihood to lose,” Parks said.

Most cases the Office of Academic Integrity receives are first offenses and minor infractions. The sanction for a case like this might be a failure of the assignment or failure of the class. A mild case is usually known as “negligent plagiarism” because it involves mistakes such as improper citation.

“It might be construed as sloppy work, but it is still viewed as plagiarism,” Terpstra said. “More serious cases are when people cut and paste intentionally.”

Serious infractions often lead to suspension or expulsion.

The code covers all GW schools except for the law school and medical school, which have their own codes.

About two-thirds of all cases reported to the office each year are undergraduate.

“My guess is that most of them are freshmen or sophomores, although that information has not been broken down yet,” Terpstra said.

A number of cases involve seniors in their last semester.

“I think that is a real tragedy because if those people get caught it is a real disappointment to the faculty members to have to report them,” Terpstra said.

All the schools covered by the code are represented on the Academic Integrity Council, which is comprised of students, faculty members and administrators. The council holds hearings on specific cases.

“Some institutions have councils that are all faculty members, others have all students, but we find the mix works,” Terpstra said.

A hearing often occurs with a serious or repeated violation when the sanction is suspension or expulsion. Two-thirds of the cases reported to the office do not require a hearing, although a student can choose to have a hearing if they wish to challenge a professor.

“I was most impressed with the seriousness and the common sense with which the student representatives, the administrators and the faculty members approached their task,” professor Frederick Lindahl said about his experience on the Academic Integrity Council. “Accused students were given a fair hearing, the ensuing closed-door discussion was frank and fair, and the punishment fit the crime in every situation I observed.”

In order to avoid going before one of the councils, professors recommend that students take care to attribute everything in their papers.

“Students write all sorts of strange things. It is more forgivable if they have just been misguided in their reading than if they are thinking strange things (from the beginning),” philosophy professor Michael Friend said. “As graders, we can only look up the sources if they are cited.”
Philosophy professor Paul Churchill said the best way to combat all types of cheating is to ensure students see the importance of what they are studying and force students to draw their own conclusions instead of “parroting back information.”

“There is a greater temptation to cheat when students view assignments as hurdles in the way of attaining credentials for the jobs they want, et cetera,” Churchill said. “Professors have to work with students to help them appreciate the intrinsic value of knowledge and abilities that come through learning.”

-Adina Matusow contributed to this report.

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