Faculty underreport cheating

Sergio Cortes / The Collegian

Fresno State instructors underreport incidents of cheating and plagiarism, according to university officials.

Fresno State’s policy on cheating and plagiarism calls for instructors to report all incidents of cheating or plagiarism to the office of the vice president for student affairs and the dean of students.

During the 2007-2008 academic year, the university recorded 59 reports, compared to 162 during the 2008-2009 academic year.

Joyce Ester, the assistant vice president for judicial affairs and division planning, said the increase in reports was a reflection of more reporting, not more cheating.

Ester said she made an effort to let instructors know that her office, which is the clearinghouse for the reports, is not out to harangue students.

“It’s really just a policy and a process,” Ester said.

In a 2004 survey of 375 Fresno State faculty members, 46 percent reported they had at some point ignored a suspected incident of cheating.

A 2008 survey of 244 Fresno State faculty members reported that 10 percent filled out a report after catching a student cheating.

A member of the honor code committee, biology professor Jim Prince, said the problem is twofold. Faculty members are reluctant to report students because they think it is difficult and that it will ruin a student’s academic career.

Prince said the honor code committee has made an effort to encourage faculty members to report every incident of cheating and plagiarism. He said it’s difficult to know how many times a student has cheated otherwise.

“This way there’s going to be a trail,” Prince said. “And there’s going to be some consequences for what, we hope, are the small number of repeat cheaters.”

Prince said increased reporting would also serve as a deterrent.

Prince also referenced a study by the Center for Academic Integrity, which showed that just having an honor code at a university decreases cheating among students.

Dennis Nef, the dean of undergraduate studies, said one idea to combat repeat offenders is still in the idea phase. The program would handle a first offense of plagiarism similar to traffic school.

“So, many of our students who are caught cheating or plagiarizing, usually it’s plagiarism, claim they didn’t know that what they were doing was cheating or plagiarizing,” Nef said.

That kind of program, Nef said, would eliminate the I-didn’t-know excuse, as well as keep a paper trail.

Thomas Holyoke, a political science professor, said professors don’t do enough to teach students what constitutes plagiarism, and that may lead to an instructor’s reluctance to fill out a report.

Holyoke said he often spends the first couple of class meetings per semester going over plagiarism.

“I probably don’t talk about it enough,” Holyoke said.

Reports of cheating and plagiarism for the 2008-2009 academic year

The numbers represent the punishment received by the 162 students reported cheating or plagiarizing.

• 82 – 0 or an F for the test or assignment.

• 42 – an F for the course.

• 14 – loss of points on the assignment.

• 11 – loss of points, and a redo on the assignment.

• 4 – given a warning.

• 12 – other punishments on a case-by-case basis.

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