Over the past few semesters, there has been a significant increase in the number of reported students violating Honor Code regulations 1 and 2: giving or receiving unacknowledged assistance and plagiarism, respectively. The growing number of students being sent to the Honor Board has worried students, faculty, and administrators. Several people have speculated that this rise in reported Honor Code violations reflects an overall increase in academic dishonesty at the University.
“We have seen an increase in the number of cases coming to the board,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley. “The concern is that, from what I’m hearing from students, this is just the tip of the iceberg, [and] that there is likely a lot more academic dishonesty going on that the faculty isn’t even catching.”
There has been a steady increase in the number of reported violations since the seven reported cases in the 2008 fall semester. There were 29 reported cases in the 2011 fall semester. Much of the increase was due to cases of cheating via unacknowledged assistance, while the number of plagiarism cases has remained stable. Given the number of violations already reported during the 2012 spring semester, Whaley speculated that the number of violations could increase from the 38 reported cases during the 2010-2011 academic year.
“We’ll probably end this year with around 45 to 50 cases,” Whaley said. “We’ve already adjudicated ten cases this semester, and we have two more cases scheduled for next week, so I think the trend line is going to continue to increase.”
Reasons for this marked growth in violations remain unknown. Whaley said that several students argued that they were motivated to cheat or plagiarize because of a lack of proper preparation. Meanwhile, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Student Affairs Committee Chair Andrew Trexler ’14 speculated that the academic dishonesty was more reflective of widespread cultural problems.
“My thoughts on this is that it’s generally a generational, cultural issue,” Trexler said. “High schools across the country and the world have seen similar increases in cheating. It’s sort of a generational thing, where people our age see it as the norm and what’s acceptable and helps them succeed in the world, which they feel no need to change once they get to college.”
Trexler also said that technological developments and the existence of very large classes have made cheating simpler. Many professors are either unaware of or unable to stop what may be a large number of cheating students.
“Another aspect is that it’s really easy to cheat,” Trexler said. “At places like Wesleyan and elsewhere, when you have a class of more than 100 kids and there’s one professor who may or may not be proctoring the exam, it’s really easy to cheat.”
Some professors have taken steps to curtail academic dishonesty. Whaley mentioned several instances of this, including one professor who requires all papers be submitted through turnitin.com, an online plagiarism detector. Another professor distributes different versions of an exam to prevent cheating.
“I think faculty are gradually becoming aware that there’s more and more academic dishonesty happening, and they’re really concerned about it,” Whaley said. “It suggests that they may need to think differently about the autonomy and freedom they give to students with respect to completing academic work.”
This growing awareness has also led to cases in which professors confront students directly about academic dishonesty. The Honor Code specifically forbids unofficial negotiations between faculty and students on matters of academic dishonesty.
“This is not supposed to happen, but we know that it does,” Whaley said. “Technically speaking, the Honor Code says that a faculty member will not give out any punishment to a student without having the benefit of a hearing before the Honor Board. We do know of faculty members confronting students and coming to some sort of an arrangement.”
Honor Board members have observed that the number of Honor Code violations has been relatively even across academic years. Honor Board Co-Chair Max Livingston ’12 expressed concern about the observed prevalence of cheating within groups that include both upperclassmen and underclassmen.
“One worrying trend is students within particular sports teams or other extracurricular groups,” Livingston said. “So if a professor gives the same test several years in a row, the answers could be passed down between an intergenerational student group, where seniors are mixing with freshmen. This was seen in sports teams and fraternities.”
Despite a great deal of discussion among the faculty, administration, the WSA, and the Honor Board, no official policy to deal with the rise of academic dishonesty at the University has yet been adopted. However, Whaley mentioned that this issue would most likely be discussed in depth during the April faculty meeting. Additionally, he remained confident that actions on this matter could be taken soon.
“I think this is an important issue that we need to look at and that goes to the core of how we operate as an academic institution,” Whaley said. “I think some tough questions need to be asked and serious conversations need to be had. I would like this to happen before we begin another academic year.”
Plans to raise awareness about the Honor Code include a brief online course that all incoming students will be required to take before coming to the University this fall. This course would be similar to AlcoholEdu.
“I think raising awareness is just the first step,” Livingston said. “But I think if we want to maintain an Honor Code, we need to collectively, as a student body, raise the presence of the Honor Code and the respect for it. We should create an atmosphere in which cheating and plagiarism are recognized as things we do not do and that they’re not acceptable in our community.”