Cheating: risking it all for grades

By Eric Wein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Todd sits down in his history class ready to take a test. But this particular student is ready in another way.

The professor has all of the students bring in blue books, which he collects and passes out arbitrarily. Todd brings in three blue books, one to hand in and two with possible outlines of the test essay. As the rest of the students begin writing the essay, he reaches into his backpack and pulls out one of his ready-made blue books.

He also cheats in Spanish computer labs. In this instance, he gets the multiple choice answers prior and pulls them out while in front of the computer.

In accounting, he goes into a test with formulas written on small pieces of paper.

“I’m the cheating king,” Todd said. “The reason I cheat is pressure from my father to do well. I get uptight and my mind goes blank during exams.”

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Students cheat and plagiarize at the University of Arizona, but the faculty and administrators take precautions to minimize this and punish students when they suspect cheating and plagiarism.

During the 1992-93 school year, the most recent available data, 133 academic integrity cases were reported to the office of the dean of students. The process requires a professor to write a sanction that accuses a student of academic dishonesty. Of those cases, 102 involved cheating and 31 involved plagiarism.

The majority of reported academic integrity cases in 1992-93 involved upperclassmen. Seniors (40 reported cases) and juniors (36) were caught more than freshmen (17) and sophomores (31). Nine graduate students were reported for dishonesty.

Of the sanctions handed out during the 1992-93 year, the most cases reported were in the colleges of arts and science — social and behavioral sciences (31), engineering (31) and business (25). On the opposite end, the college of architecture reported one case and education did not report any.

“We’re equivalent to any other state university this size,” said Associate Dean of Students Alexis Hernandez, who handles academic integrity cases. “I don’t think it is worse or better than our colleagues around the country.”

The university is guided by the Code of Academic Integrity which defines what is construed as academic dishonesty.

“We see all types,” Hernandez said. “I think most of it is students copying papers or tests off other students.”

•••

When a student is suspected of cheating or plagiarism, a number of things can happen. Initially, the professor notifies the student of suspicions and evidence regarding that student’s guilt. If guilt is still suspected, the professor fills out a sanction that documents the alleged violation.

The student can accept the sanction and the punishment, or the student can appeal to the department head who reviews the information and renders a decision.

If the student appeals that decision, the case moves on to a hearing board composed of three faculty members and three students.

The board hears the case and makes a recommendation to Provost Paul Sypherd. Once the provost makes a decision, an appeal can be made, but the provost’s second decision is final.

Most cases are handled by professors or department heads, according to Hernandez.

Hernandez advises both the professor and the student as to what steps to follow. He does not mediate or make a decision that will affect either party.

A professor’s punishment can range from lowering a grade on a test or paper to failing the student in the course to suspension or expulsion, but such extreme measures are rare, Hernandez said.

•••

Professsors try to prevent cheating by using multiple test forms and using several people to monitor the test-takers.

“Sometimes students don’t realize when they copy off somebody next to them, they have a different test,” Hernandez said.

When it comes to plagiarism, professors are constantly on the lookout for papers that are not the student’s work.

Several papers are required of students in English composition classes, but Director Thomas Miller, an English professor, said courses are set up so that plagiarism would be difficult. Composition course instructors require students to periodically submit notes and rough drafts in an effort to minimize plagiarism because the process of developing the paper is seen by the teacher. Miller said efforts are also made to teach students how to attribute sources to prevent students from copying passages and using them as their own.

“Students usually plagiarize when they are facing deadline pressures that they are not prepared to meet, so they take short cuts,” Miller said. “We work with students so we spot those kinds of cases. A pretty good sign it’s occurring is when students switch topics late in the process.”

Miller said his department is composed of more 30-student size classes where students get more personal instruction. He said the composition department is unable to investigate widespread plagiarism problems because it has too few resources.

“(Students) give up the opportunity to learn when they plagiarize,” Miller said. “They deny themselves opportunities. They’re the ones that lose.”

Plagiarism still occurs, even in composition courses.

Mike, a junior, said during his freshman year, he was hired by other students to write term papers, charging as much as $50 for each paper. Two of the papers were for English composition courses and others were for a sociology and a psychology class.

“Those were good times. I always had money in my pocket,” he said. “It’s unethical, but you have to make money somehow.”

Mike’s days of writing papers for others ended when one of his clients was suspected for using a paper written by someone else. The teacher wanted to see photocopies of the sources and the client was worried about getting kicked out of school, and could have tried to get Mike thrown out as well. Since the paper in question was based on a high school term paper, Mike called his father back home and had photocopies of the source articles sent to Tucson. His father bailed him out by completing the task, but Mike vowed never to sell papers again.

•••

Not only do some students make money assisting others, but small businesses also do that task.

Professors are weary of services that assist students in cheating or plagiarizing. Classified advertisements pitch catalogs full of term papers which students can try to pass off as their own.

One such classified advertisement recently printed in the Arizona Daily Wildcat was from a company called Berkeley Research, which sends out a catalog of 29,000 term papers.

The company sells papers for $6.50 per page and recommends students use them in conjunction with books and articles for their own papers. Students can order papers over the phone and have them delivered by the next day.

Another flier circulated locally offers students the service of having a substitute attend their class and take their exam for them.

Associate Dean Hernandez said steps have been taken to investigate such local services, but he would not elaborate.

The best way professors can prevent cheating is to set up deterrents in their courses.

Multiple test forms and between 10 and 15 proctors are the reasons communication Professor Michael Burgoon said cheating cases are limited in his 200-student course.

“It’s impossible to totally prevent cheating,” Burgoon said. “What we try to do is make it more difficult to cheat rather than believe we can stop it completely.”

Burgoon also oversees several 35-student communication classes taught by teaching assistants, where he said cheating is more often reported. Plagiarism is sometimes detected when different students turn in identical projects in several sections. The department also keeps a file of papers and projects in case they are used in later years.

“I suppose there is a percentage of people who have different views of ethics and honesty than we would like them to have,” Burgoon said.

The majority of cheating cases in the engineering college do not center around tests and term papers.

Engineering Professor Glen Gerhard said he sometimes sees written work, laboratory assignments and homework assignments that look identical. When he notices students make the same errors, he realizes they may have worked too closely together.

“With the nature of the curriculum and the time pressure, some students may resort to cheating,” Gerhard said. “We understand the cause but we don’t condone it.”

First, he will warn his class. If it happens again, he will impose a sanction.

Gerhard also serves as the chairman of a committee that determines the wording of the code of integrity and how it should be enforced. The code tells faculty members what steps to take when suspecting a cheater, including

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informing the student what rights he or she has.

Eldon Shafer, a professor who teaches a sophomore-level accounting course required of all business majors, said he sees students turn in identical work sometimes for their assignments involving spread sheet equations done on computers. He said he found 10 students whose work was unoriginal out of the 600 students he taught last year.

Shafer said the key to curbing such problems is to offer tutoring so students will better understand the work rather than feel obligated to copy the work of others.

History Professor Curtis Bostick, who teaches a 100-level course, said he suspects cheating is easier to get away with in his 500-person class since there are only six proctors monitoring the exam.

Hernandez said Greek houses and other organizations that keep old tests on file are not violating academic integrity.

“It’s equivalent to having tests on reserve at the library,” Hernandez said. “The only time it is cheating is if someone has a test the professor does not allow outside the classroom.”

Professors can either change their tests or require that students hand them back.

•••

Hernandez alone comprises the bureau that handles university cheating cases. Much of his job involves replying to calls on methods to deal with alleged cheaters. Most inquiries come in waves, following midterms and finals every semester.

Jason said his only cheating endeavors came in a journalism ethics course. Since the professor required verbatim definitions, he brought two blue books into an exam, one of which had the definitions written in beforehand. He copied the definitions into the empty blue book and discarded the blue book full of answers.

“It’s kind of funny that I would cheat in an ethics class,” Jason said.

Cheating was brought to the national spotlight last year when the Naval Academy had what is believed to be its biggest cheating scandal ever. An investigation discovered that as many as 125 midshipmen had some prior knowledge about a third-year electrical engineering final exam and 28 students were actually implicated.

Professors at the UA worry that their students could get away with cheating, and students worry that they will be unfairly prosecuted for cheating acts when they are innocent.

One such student, Rob, had maintained an A in a Chinese humanities course going into the final exam, but ended up receiving a failing grade when he was suspected of helping another student cheat.

He finished his exam early, and because of fatigue, he was in a brief daze. The teacher assistant asked that the students turn in their papers, but Rob forgot and left it on his desk. A female student next to him was caught copying his answer sheet. The T.A. said he was guilty, telling him “the cheatee is as bad as the cheater.”

Rob’s case went to the department head, who also happened to be the course professor. The professor ended up giving him a failing grade in the course and the female student was expelled. Feeling mistreated by the system, he plans to take the course again and replace the grade.

“I don’t cheat because my answers are better than anyone else’s,” Rob said. “I trust my own answers.”

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