U of M faculties lack uniform penalties for students caught cheating

According to the University Discipline Committee report regarding the revision of the Student Discipline Bylaw and related Procedures, changes were made to section 2.1.1 so that the department head is allowed to deal with academic dishonesty issues.

Tom Berry, chair of the University Student Discipline Committee, said that if a department head acts on what they suspect to be a case of academic dishonesty, a student can appeal to the dean, then to the local discipline committee and finally to the University Discipline Committee.

“If you remove the heads from the process, there’s actually one less level of appeal for students,” said Berry. “[They] provide the students with an extra level of appeal.”

However, having department heads deal with cases of academic dishonesty, punishment may not be equal for students across different faculties, said Berry.

“One of the things that the committee has struggled with for a very long time is the fact that there is non-uniformity across campus, in relation to the application of the Student Discipline Bylaw. [ . . . ] Some of the faculties are much more strict in the application of the bylaw than other faculties.”

Doug Ruth, dean of engineering, said he would be surprised if a uniform penalty system could be established.

“We encourage our students to work in groups. That’s part of getting through engineering,” Ruth said, further explaining that encouraging cooperation between students and then penalizing them in a harsh manner wouldn’t make sense for his faculty.

Linda Wilson, associate dean for faculty of arts, said variation is found across and within faculties in regards to penalties given on similar breaches of academic integrity.

“But this variation falls within the range of recommended penalties for particular breaches in the Student Discipline Bylaw,” said Wilson.

Wilson said that in 2009, the vice-president (academic), Joanne Keselman, established an associate deans’ (undergraduate) working group on student discipline, which is being chaired by Lynn Smith, executive director of Student Affairs.

According to Wilson, the group discusses the variation in penalties across campus but also look to clarify the meanings of different forms of academic dishonesty within different U of M programs.
“[The group works to] identify not only the range of penalties applicable for a particular form of academic dishonesty, but also the typical penalties and the ranges of mitigating and aggravating variables that could decrease or increase the severity of the penalty,” said Wilson.

Ruth said that guidelines on the increase in the severity of disciplinary actions could possibly work.

“But I’d hate to live in a world where we believe every single infraction was equivalent.”
Wilson said that some circumstances do provide the opportunity for information to be shared about standard penalties amongst faculties and schools.

“I think we’ve tried to treat students fairly and equitably. But we have not yet been able to mandate uniform penalties across the campus,” said Berry.

Heather Morris of the University of Manitoba Student Advocacy Office said there are a variety of circumstances that constitute academic dishonesty including bring notes or electronic devices into examinations.

Penalties across faculties can range from a written reprimand that goes in a student’s file to failing the exam, failing the course, suspension or expulsion, and documentation on a student’s transcript.

According to Morris, the university tries to prevent students from cheating by making announcements prior to all exams, putting up posters in all entrances to exam rooms and by having students sign their exam booklets as an agreement to complete their work with integrity and not use dishonest means.