To cheat, or not to cheat?

They hang ominously on the wall of every classroom as a constant reminder to every student that “the right answer comes from you,” silently propounding academic integrity in a middle ground somewhere between parental motivation and condescending admonishment.

“Apparently, before the institution of these signs, the right answers came from everyone else,” freshman Fred LaPolla said.

While they appear to date from centuries ago with their yellowing backgrounds, curled corners and tattered edges, the signs actually originated in 1996 with the implementation of the University’s most recent Code of Academic Integrity.

Tim Terpstra, director of the GW Office of Academic Integrity, said the signs were implemented chiefly for two reasons: advertising and prevention. “(The signs) tell students that there is an academic code and a procedure out there to deal with allegations of dishonesty, and dissuade students from impulse cheating,” Terpstra said.

With the exponential growth of technology and the ever-shrinking sizes of portable communication devices, however, the code has once again come under scrutiny. Many say that it has become necessary to reanalyze the overall effectiveness of such programs.

More than 50 full-time GW students were asked to describe their feelings concerning the University’s Academic Integrity Code.

Most replied that they have noticed the signs and pamphlets eliciting academic integrity, yet the majority said that the advertisements are painfully ineffective.

Though they have been inundated with papers, pamphlets and PowerPoint presentations, most students said they have no idea what the Academic Integrity Council does or what defines and distinguishes plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, falsification, forgery and academic dishonesty.

Some students agreed with freshman Sean Gillis, who characterized the Academic Council as the “thing that kicks us out.”

When asked how seriously they take the Academic Integrity Code, a student who wished to remain anonymous replied, “Academic integrity? Yeah, like that happens.”

When the same sample of students was asked why some students feel the need to cheat or plagiarize, the majority replied that they may not have enough time or that professors give too much work and not enough time in which to complete it.

Some students divulged their most clandestine methods in circumventing proctors: writing on the inside of water bottles, on various parts of their body, on tissues, toilet paper and even on the lens of their eyeglasses.

The majority of students agreed with sophomore Karen Hussein, who said the signs are “a nice reminder” but are ineffective for someone intent on cheating or plagiarizing.

According to the Academic Council’s Web site (www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity/code.html), if the student is a first-time offender, the faculty member can act directly in conjunction with the department chair and the student has the opportunity to appeal the decision. Second offenses, however, are sent directly to the Academic Integrity Council for action by a hearing panel.

A student can only be found guilty if three-quarters of the voting panel members agree. The recommended minimum sanction in first-offense cases is failure of the assignment in question and failure of the course for repeat offenders. Expulsion can only be recommended by a unanimous vote.

Any sanction other than failure of the assignment in question remains on the student’s permanent record, defamed with the phrase, “Academic Dishonesty.” Though the student can petition for the removal of the offense after a specified number of years, the University retains a record of the transgression for an infinite period of time.

Regardless, many students agreed with Jay Karajgikar, who said, “Academic integrity is about individual morality. No sign is going to change that.”

This is the approach that Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., took in organizing their famed “Honor System.” According to their Web site, the honor system at Washington and Lee appears to be less bound by rules, regulations and requirements and yet “viewed by experts on academic integrity as the most effective in the nation.”

The catch: Washington and Lee follows what academic integrity experts affectionately refer to as the single penalty system. For any offense, there is only one penalty: expulsion.

While GW, Washington and Lee and 320 other institutions belong to the Center for Academic Integrity, affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, each system differs slightly according to the school’s needs.

GW, for example, follows a “modified honor code,” in which there are a variety of sanctions and a council that includes both students and faculty.

Terpstra said that because GW is an urban school with a “wide variety of students and some that commute,” it is more suited to a modified system that allows for extenuating circumstances.

About 80 cases per year arise where students are found to be in violation of the code, Terpstra said. The majority of these cases involve students who admit to the offense, and the council tries about 20.

Because technology has made it easier for students to cut, paste and plagiarize, approximately two-thirds of the cases that come before the council involve plagiarism with non-cited or incorrectly cited Internet sources, Terpstra said.

He added, however, that technology makes detection easier, as well. “The faculty has become adept at Google-ing phrases and detecting plagiarism,” Terpstra said.

Although the number of students found in violation of the code has increased in recent years, the rise in enrollment and technology may be partially to blame.

Despite the grave rhetoric, students continue to come to terms with the consequences in their own way. When asked to define academic integrity, freshman Melissa Hooper said, “Academic integrity is like sex – if you cheat, you don’t get any for a while.”

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