Associate dean hones in on cheating with new proposal

Colin Morris

University hopes to curtail dishonesty with statement

Nearly every syllabus is required to remind students of an official university-wide policy that prohibits cheating and plagiarism. If students break it, they risk receiving an F on the assignment or in the course, or worse.

Although syllabi usually outline the punishment for violating the policy, at least one administrator thinks students need a more explicit message.

E. Timothy Moore, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, along with the Academic Advisory Council, is proposing a Statement of Student Academic Intent that would represent a personal commitment to integrity.

The one-page document reads like a contract and outlines the university’s 13-page “Administrative policy regarding student cheating and plagiarism.” In addition to “I will not plagiarize” and “I will not cheat,” it includes statements like, “I will not commit forgery or fraud in any of my academic programs and university-related involvements.”

The document also addresses sanctions for offenses, which can include expulsion from the university.

Moore said he has been trying for years to beef up the consequences. In 2005, the Academic Advisory Council he oversees proposed a new grade, “XF,” be recorded on the transcripts of students who fail a course for cheating.

But the idea was only popular with about half the university community and ultimately was rejected by the Faculty Senate.

“It never saw the light of day,” he said.

Originally the Statement of Student Academic Intent had a line for a signature, but now Moore says he doubts it would be necessary.

“The document could serve as an honor code,” he said. “I’m optimistic this can be a first step (to prevent cheating) without making it a contract.”

But for that implied next step, Moore hasn’t given up hope on the XF grade.

“I still feel we need to take a stand, like other universities have, against egregious and repeat offenders,” he said.

Moore blames widespread misunderstanding of the XF grade for its failure two years ago.

“Professors can’t just assign XF,” he said. “They can only recommend it to the department, and it requires a dean’s approval.”

He says he hopes to bring it up again someday, but he plans to hold off at least until after the Statement of Academic Intent is implemented.

“Until the education level (about XF) has risen on campus,” he said, “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to push for the proposal’s approval.”

Rozell Duncan is an associate professor of Communication Studies and a member of the Learning Community on Plagiarism, a group that officially opposed the XF grade in a March 2006 letter to then-Provost Paul Gaston. She says a document like the Statement of Student Academic Intent would be a lot better than the XF grade.

“Personally, I think a code of conduct is appropriate if it clearly defines the rules,” she said. “Our opposition to the XF grade was not that it held students accountable – they should be – but that it’s not an effective means of learning. It brands students instead of reforming them.”

Duncan likens cheating to drunk driving convictions, saying if drivers can be sent to classes for reckless behavior, cheaters could be reformed as an alternative to marking them with a “Scarlet Letter.”

She also says the Statement of Student Academic Intent could serve students if it articulates the university policy well, and wouldn’t need a signature.

“Some institutions have students sign things,” she said. “But in my opinion, if a student accepts his admittance here, he accepts what it means to be here and accepts a code of conduct.

“The point is you need to be aware of what’s expected of you. It’s the same in the workplace – you’re expected to meet certain standards, and there’s not always a document for them.”

The statement was submitted to the Undergraduate Student Government for approval last spring. The Academic Advisory Council will review USG’s revision when it reconvenes in October.

Contact academic affairs reporter Colin Morris at [email protected].