University enacts school of plagiarism

Alicia Balog

As part of a three–year initiative by the Academic Honesty Committee to streamline the academic honesty policies and procedures, students who cheat now have the option of attending plagiarism school and academic hearing panel.

Linda Williams, chair of the Academic Honesty Committee, said the creation of a school is meant to be analogous to traffic school.

“If you had some sort of minor traffic problem, instead of paying the fine and going to jail, you go to this traffic school to learn what you did wrong,” Williams said.

Williams said if the instructor thinks the student plagiarized unintentionally, the instructor and student can come to the agreement that the student will attend plagiarism school. The instructor will still have to fill out the form but will mark that he or she recommended the student to the program.

Vanessa Earp, associate professor in university libraries, organizes the plagiarism school at Kent campus.

She said students who attend the school usually make unintentional mistakes, such as documentation, citation or paraphrasing errors, and are given the opportunity only after their first offence. If a student plagiarizes again after attending the school, he or she goes to the academic hearing panel.

Breaking down changes

What used to happen:

Instructor suspected or caught a student cheating or plagiarizing.

Academic disciplinary line:

Instructor informed chairperson of department and dean of the college in which the class falls under.

Instructor issued sanction, which included:

1. Failure of the assignment

2. Failure of the class

3. Refusal to accept work

Chairperson and dean generally agreed with instructor.

Office of Student Conduct investigation:

Office of Student Conduct was informed about the student’s plagiarism.

Office of Student Conduct’s investigation could be stretched out while the staff looked into the matter.

Depending on whether there are multiple offenses, the dean of the college may dismiss the student from the program or the provost may dismiss the student from school.

What happens now:

Instructor suspects student of cheating or plagiarizing.

The instructor talks to the student, asking them to explain the situation.

The instructor fills out form and sends it to the student, Office of Student Conduct, his or her department chairperson and the dean of the student’s college.

The instructor can:

1. Refuse to accept the work

2. Fail the student for the assignment

3. Fail the student for the class or

4. Send the student to plagiarism school.

Office of Student Conduct looks into the case to see if the student has multiple infractions.

If there are multiple infractions, the student goes to the academic hearing panel.

If the plagiarism is a first-time offense and the instructor believes it was unintentional, the student and instructor can agree on the student attending plagiarism school..

She said each plagiarism school session is 45 minutes long but it might take two to three weeks to complete the program.

“The student and I will go over the assignment because sometimes it helps the student to have somebody who’s not their instructor explain to them why, according to the university policy, it may be considered plagiarism,” Earp said. “And then we also go over the plagiarism policy because sadly sometimes students don’t know what it is.”

Earp said the student then goes through some practice plagiarism cases and is given an assignment. Once the student turns in the assignment, Earp signs off the forms saying he or she completed plagiarism school.

She said the university tested the school as an option last academic year with eight students to decide on assignments.

“It was good to get the feedback from the instructors but also from the students to see what they felt was helpful, what they thought we should add to it,” Earp said. “A lot of the students were just very grateful to go through this process instead of receiving a harsher sanction, such as failing the assignment or failing the course.”

Williams said what students do in the school depends on the deal they make with their professors.

“The instructor will say ‘Well, if you went to plagiarism school, I would want you to write a whole new paper on a slightly different topic,’” Williams said. “So then the student says, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to do that’ rather than flunk the assignment.”

Rob Kairis, library director at Kent State Stark, organizes the branch’s plagiarism school and said the program started there in 2006 informally before it was approved for the rest of Kent campuses.

“It’s not just something one campus was doing informally, now it’s something every campus has the opportunity to do,” Kairis said.

Kairis said he’s communicated with people from other universities and colleges that have implemented plagiarism schools, such as community college in Arizona’s “Traffic School for Plagiarizers.”

“So it may sound like we stole each others’ ideas, which is a really bad thing speaking about plagiarism,” Kairis said. “But it’s just sort of an organic development of these kind of ideas in different places at the same time.”

Kairis said all the students who participated in the school found the program was a positive experience because they walk away with newfound knowledge, better writing skills and a second chance at passing the class.

“The old policy [in general] was all about catching and punishing students,” Kairis said. “This one introduces another idea of educating students.”

Streamlined investigation process

Williams explained that before the committee streamlined the process of dealing with plagiarism, two lines of investigation started.

“One of the charges of this committee was to streamline what happened after a student is accused of plagiarism or cheating,” Williams said.

One line of investigation involved the instructor informing the chairperson of the department and dean of the college where the class was taken about the plagiarism and then issuing a sanction to the student. Williams said the second line of investigation went through Judicial Affairs, now called the Office of Student Conduct.

“So you might have a decision by the chairperson and the dean that what the instructor has wanted to do is fine,” Williams said. “Meanwhile, the Judicial Affairs investigation would lag on and on and on and on.”

To improve on the investigations, the instructor now fills out a form with his or her sanction recommendation and sends it to the student, the Office of Student Conduct, his or her chairperson and the dean of the student’s college, Williams said.

The dean of the student’s college decides whether to dismiss the student from the program while the provost decides whether to dismiss the student from the university, depending on the severity of the case, Williams said.

The Office of Student Conduct will then check to see if the student has any other infractions. After multiple citations, the student will go to the newly created academic hearing panel. Williams said the panel, chosen by the provost, consists of faculty members and an undergraduate student for accused undergraduates or a graduate student for accused graduate students.

Williams said students can also appeal to the panel if they feel that they did not plagiarize. After presentation of the evidence, the panel will determine the student’s guilt. If there are any procedural problems or new evidence after the ruling, students or instructors can appeal the decision to the provost, who has the final say.

Williams said she hopes the new forms will help instructors report the plagiarism. This will allow the university to be aware of all cases of students’ plagiarism.

Williams said to learn more about the policies considering plagiarism and how to avoid or detect it, students and faculty can visit the new plagiarism page on the Kent website.

Link to plagiarism site: Plagiarism

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].