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College Student Affairs Administrators Can Discourage Academic Cheating

News release about research by Robert Hendrickson on academic cheating

Hendrickson_sml.jpgby Joe Savrock (December 2008)

College student affairs administrators should assume a more proactive leadership role to discourage the unethical practice of academic cheating, suggests a Penn State researcher.

Academic cheating, including plagiarism, is a growing concern on college and university campuses, notes Robert Hendrickson, professor of higher education and senior scientist in Penn State’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. Hendrickson has done a large amount of research on the legal aspects of policy and administrative theory in higher education.

In a newly published article titled “The Epidemic of Academic Cheating and Plagiarism on the College Campus,” Hendrickson describes how student affairs administrators can have an active part in curtailing the incidence of student cheating. The article appears in the Fall 2008 issue of ACPA Developments, published by the American College Personnel Association. In his paper, Hendrickson says administrators need to have a good handle on the policy and legal issues related to cheating and plagiarism.

The paper notes that a growing number of colleges and universities are designating judicial affairs units to monitor academic dishonesty. These units offer resources for students, faculty, and staff to uphold integrity, character, and ethics and decrease the incidence of cheating.

“It is important for institutions to focus on ethical issues, including cheating and plagiarism, that serve as a barrier to receiving a sound education,” says Hendrickson. “Fraud, cheating, and plagiarism reduce the public trust in a university’s role to expand knowledge through research and scholarship. Producing graduates with a strong ethical compass to guide them in their career should be a top priority of any higher education institution.”

Hendrickson offers four strategies for student affairs administrators:
•    Collaborate with other administrative units to clarify the institution’s academic integrity policy.
•    Work with faculty to develop consistency in the enforcement of the integrity policy.
•    Develop a program to enhance student understanding of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism.
•    Design an assessment strategy to monitor the development of the institution’s ethical standards.

Hendrickson stresses the importance of honoring a student’s right to due process. “Accusations of cheating and plagiarism impact a person’s good name, constitutionally defined as a liberty interest, requiring the due process mandated for disciplinary dismissal cases as opposed to the less stringent due process requirements for academic dismissal,” notes Hendrickson.
Adequate due process, says Hendrickson, must adhere to a four-step process: (1) a notice of the charges, (2) a hearing, (3) the basics of a hearing, including disclosure of the names of prosecuting witnesses and a statement of the testimony, and (4) an opportunity for the student to present a defense case as well as witnesses.

In his article, Henderson discusses the growing use of Turnitin, an online resource that screens students’ papers for instances of plagiarism and provides a report to classroom instructors. Turnitin is an essential tool that allows an institution to meet students’ due process rights.

Turnitin sends a report to instructors informing them whether the student work is, in fact, original and whether any part of the paper may have been plagiarized. The service has amassed an extensive electronic database of student and scholarly work—it receives some 100,000 international submissions each day. Students who are enrolled at institutions that subscribe to the Turnitin service are required to enter into an online agreement, whereby they submit their paper to the service for review. As part of the agreement, the students allow their papers to be archived.

Several students filed federal lawsuits claiming that Turnitin violated their contract and copyright fair use rights. These students asserted that they implemented a disclaimer that Turnitin would not be permitted to archive their papers. However, the courts ruled in favor of the defendant.

“The process of archiving students’ work and sending a report to instructors is not a violation of copyright,” explains Hendrickson. “Therefore, Turnitin can continue to amass a database to which student submissions can be compared. The service can continue to be used to enforce institutional policies on cheating and plagiarism.”