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Ditching Ethics

One out of 10 students has admitted to cheating at Drake University during their academic careers, according to a recently conducted

Photo: Sarah Andrews

One out of 10 students has admitted to cheating at Drake University during their academic careers, according to a recently conducted survey. That’s no surprise to Drake professors, who said that plagiarism occurs frequently in the classroom at the university.

Eric Saylor, professor of music history and musicology, said that he catches about one student per year. Assistant Professor of Biology Debora Christensen has had frequent occurrences in her laboratory classes that require students to write long reports.

The definition of cheating may vary, but Associate Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication David Wright defined it as a broad term.

“Cheating is anything that a student does to get around the requirements of the class,” Wright said.

No matter how the term is defined, cheating causes problems for professors and defaces the credibility of the university. Professors are trying to address the problem by stressing the ethics code of their college as well as the consequences of cheating and plagiarism.

Copy Cats

The results of an anonymous email survey conducted were from a sample size of 278, which accurately represented the student population with a 6 percent margin of error.

The survey was held in March and asked students if they had ever cheated in a Drake course and if they had, if they ever used technology while doing so.

Christensen said she believes cheating will keep getting worse.

“As soon as you come up with one way to slow down the problem, there will be a new technology we have to address,” Christensen said. “It’s always out there. Back in the day, it was people writing on baseball hats.”

Today, the baseball hat has been replaced with multimedia and the Internet.

“The Internet has made it so much easier to lift other people’s work,” said Kathleen Richardson, the director and associate professor of the SJMC.

Sophomore Matt Jones wouldn’t take work from the Internet in the first place.

“I don’t cheat because I generally feel it’s wrong. Even if it weren’t, I trust my own work more than someone else’s work,” he said.

Professors said that plagiarism is the most common form of cheating that is documented, much more than students colluding on tests. Christensen believes that most infractions are underreported university-wide.

“The worst part is that it’s not helping anybody, not the students or the institutions. It makes the value of a Drake education mean a lot less if this goes on,” she said.

The cases that have been reported and documented usually follow a common trend.

“The vast majority of what I have seen is blatant, unsophisticated plagiarism,” said Keith Summerville, associate dean of the arts and sciences college.

Christensen recalled a situation when she noticed two papers were very similar. After highlighting all of the recurrences, she discovered they only differed by three words.

“You want to be able to trust students. This makes being an instructor the worst job ever. I can’t tell you how horrible it makes me feel,” Christensen said.

Often it just takes a quick search in a search engine to discover a student has plagiarized. Saylor had a case while reading a student’s paper where he noticed that the font, size and color changed for three paragraphs and then returned to its previous form.

“Encountering it like that is not as uncommon as you might think, usually it’s a slap in the face like that,” said Summerville.

Technology Enablers

Other cheating situations have involved technologies such as cell phones and calculators.

Christensen observed a student texting during a make-up exam when she returned to the room after making a phone call.

“Cell phones are a huge problem. Students actually thought it was okay to stop in the middle of taking blood samples to take a call,” Christensen said.

Advanced calculators required in classes at Drake such as the Texas Instruments models TI-84 and TI-Nspire also have become tools for cheating.

“People put formulas into their calculators to help them on tests, but I think the professors know. They let us use them,” one Drake student said.

First-year health sciences student Kevin Watson elaborated on the practice.

“I have never done it, but I have heard of people putting formulas, notes, or anything else they would need to remember for the test into their calculators. I mean, you could write entire paragraphs in there if you wanted to,” Watson said.

Senior Ben Cooper believes that students may be more unaware of their academic transgressions.

“I’d like to believe that people do it unknowingly. But I suppose some students know it’s wrong, but feel it’s necessary,” he said.

Cheating can have detrimental effects on a student’s career. Consequences for cheating are established by professors, colleges and the university.

According to Drake’s academic dishonesty policy, the possible consequences include reprimand, grade penalty, dismissal from the course and a recommendation for dismissal from the university.

Some students take these consequences seriously, while others would rather pay the cost.

“What stops me is the fear of being caught and possibly kicked out of school. I’ve put a lot of effort into school and I don’t want to risk losing all the hard work,” said David Witkiewicz, a junior pharmacy major.

If a student is stuck between a rock and a hard place, they may choose to take that risk.

“I think that getting crunched for time would be a reason students would cheat,” said first-year music education major John Mattessich.

Paying the Price

Wright said it’s important to get students to understand the seriousness of cheating.

“We push the ethics code onto the first-year journalism students so they understand the severity of plagiarism and then they can’t pretend like they didn’t know about it,” Wright said.

Cooper expressed split feelings about cheating.

“Does cheating bother me? Yes and no. Does it hurt me? No. But does it hurt them in the long run? Yes. I guess it’s more of a disadvantage to them than it is to me,” Cooper said.

Christensen referred to technology as a double-edged sword. It has provided professors with beneficial teaching tools, but also gives students opportunities to plagiarize and cheat.

Richardson affirmed the use of advancing technology and cheating.

“Using technology has facilitated dishonesty and plagiarism over the last 10 years,” she said.


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1 Comment

  1. Tricia Bertram Gallant April 25, 2011

    Great article Christine and cudos to the Drake student newspaper for publishing this story (and your other one on “weapons of choice”). One of the most powerful shapers of cheating in our schools and colleges is silence; we seem to believe that if we don’t talk about it, don’t acknowledge it, and don’t address it, it doesn’t exist! You can see the power of silence at work in Cooper’s statement (commonly held by many students) that others’ cheating doesn’t hurt him. This “bystander” effect (where people stand by silently and watch students cheat without comment or intervention) is what enables the under and above ground cheating problem fester and spread. When students do not say “not cool!” and professors do not interrupt and report cheating, cheating does become normalized and the consequences of it minimized. I can assure you that after the financial meltdown, the Bernie Madoff scheme and other recent corporate corruption events, most employers would choose NOT to hire a university graduate who admits that he stands by while he knows others are acting unethically or against the law.

    Academic cheating is everyone’s business, whether we’re doing it or not.

    Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D.
    Immediate Past Chair, International Center for Academic Integrity

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