To cheat or not to cheat, that is the question

Every student at the University of Manitoba should be able to recall receiving a first day lecture from each professor about the university’s policy on plagiarism and academic dishonesty. But does this stop the practice from occurring within university walls?

The U of M’s general academic regulations define plagiarism as copying from another student, bringing unauthorized materials into the room, exam impersonation, or taking ideas or words of another person and passing them off as one’s own.

According to university discipline committee’s annual report for 2009-10, there were 105 reported cases of plagiarism, approximately 43 per cent of all reported academic dishonesty cases.

Brandy Usick, director of Student Advocacy and Accessibility, explained that approximately 18-20 per cent of the department’s total caseload each year involves disciplinary cases, including both academic dishonesty and inappropriate behaviour.

She noted that Student Advocacy “develops and delivers orientations, presentations and workshops for students, faculties and administrators” to educate the university community on the importance of academic integrity.
Usick explained that the university has a student discipline bylaw that informs a student of their rights should they be suspected of academic dishonesty or inappropriate behaviour.

“It also provides clear procedures for responding to an allegation,” she said.
“Under this bylaw, individual instructors do not have the jurisdiction to assign a penalty for academic discipline matters; they must refer the matter to their department head [ . . . ] or dean.”

Usick said various faculties have also implemented internal initiatives to help curb academic dishonesty.

“Some of those initiatives have included providing specific directions for appropriate outcomes for academic discipline cases, honesty declarations, and specific information to be contained in course outlines and review with students,” she said.

She added that Student Advocacy also prepares an annual report that provides information about its student caseload. “For 2009-10, Student Advocacy assisted with 183 cases of academic dishonesty and 84 of those involved plagiarism allegations,” she said.

Lori Wilkinson, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the faculty of arts, said that university is not planning to increase the penalties for academic dishonesty.
She mentioned that this is largely because each faculty has a right to institute its own penalties for academic dishonesty. “Although there are minor differences in some of the penalties, for the most part the faculties have similar penalties for similar offenses.”

Wilkinson noted that all faculties take academic dishonesty very seriously.
“If professors and deans ignored such incidents, it would erode the value of our degrees,” she said.

“Professional associations depend on the university to produce knowledgeable graduates who uphold standards of honesty and integrity.”

She also argued that students who cheat lack the skills necessary to be competent practitioners in their field.

“When universities ignore academic dishonesty cases, this has the potential to erode the profession in addition to the reputation of the university and graduates of its programs,” she said.

“For example, would you feel comfortable knowing that your physician cheated her way through medical school? Probably not.”

Wilkinson added that university is working to ensure students have a good understanding of academic dishonesty, pointing to resources such as Learning Assistance Centre, Student Advocacy, websites and workshops, all of which are available to teach students about detecting and avoiding problems regarding academic dishonesty.

Nour Rashid, UMSU vice-president (advocacy), commented that allegations of cheating, plagiarism, inappropriate collaboration or other forms of academic dishonesty are very serious problems for many students, and the consequences can stay with that student for the rest of their time in university and beyond.

“It is important for students to have the chance to defend themselves against charges of [academic dishonesty], which is where UMSU comes in,” Rashid said.
“The office of the UMSU vice-president (advocacy) is here to provide guidance and support to students who are dealing with charges of academic integrity, as well as to help reduce any other barriers they might face in their academic careers.”

Rashid mentioned many students come into her office with a wide range of questions and concerns for which she is able to assist them directly or connect them with an appropriate resource. “UMSU has an open door policy, so if students ever have a question, they can drop in and ask,” she added.

While cases may be few and far between, dealing with academic dishonesty is still a reality for many professors.

Elizabeth Troutt, an associate professor in the faculty of arts, said it is rare for her to find cases of plagiarism, and explained that in her courses where written research assignments are required, a lot of class time is spent talking about plagiarism, research, writing and citation.

She noted instructors would much rather have their students come to them with their difficulties than have students resort to dishonesty.

“Finding dishonesty and seeing students to be punished for it is an extremely painful set of dynamics for all of instructors,” she added.

“None of us like to think that students would engage in dishonesty, so it saddens and disappoints us when we see that happen.”

Hari Bapuji, an associate professor in the Asper school of business, said he has experienced students plagiarizing or being involved in academic dishonesty.

The most severe penalty Bapuji has seen was when a student could not graduate for almost one year. “The student was in his last course and also had a job lined up,” he said.

“Another student was trying to get into the Asper school of business but couldn’t” after being caught plagiarizing.

Unmesh Anant, an instructor in International College of Manitoba (ICM), said that it’s typical to see a few ICM students caught for plagiarism every semester.
“It is rare,” but still happens, he said.