New academic dishonesty policy being drafted for students, faculty

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A Dixie State University student who is passionate about academic dishonesty is working to draft a new policy that clearly defines when a student is caught in the act and how professors should reprimand. 

Traci Kent, a senior communication major from Mercer, Pennsylvania, reached out to the DSU Student Association after creating a film for her internship that focused on cheating and what professors can do to prevent it. Kent said she realized how many students were caught cheating at the Testing Center alone and the opportunity there is to cheat in the classroom. 

“Last spring, there were 31 students who were caught cheating in the Testing Center,” Kent said. “Who knows how many cheated who didn’t get caught?”

Kent is currently working with members of the student senate by creating a proposal for an Academic Honor and Integrity Policy for each department at DSU that clearly defines cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, misrepresentation and other possible forms of academic dishonesty. The department of social and behavioral sciences is the only department on campus that has implemented such a policy so far. Ultimately, it is up to the faculty members to adopt or dismiss the proposal. 

The new policy is designed to be clear, easy to read and effective. Kent said she believes the problem with the current policies outlined online and in the student handbook is that they aren’t being read, and therefore they aren’t being taken seriously.

“If we have to ask students to actually sign something in regards to academic dishonesty, it’s going to really bring it to their attention,” Kent said.

A big proponent of Kent’s initiative has been Samantha Tommer, DSUSA vice president of academics and a senior integrated studies major from La Habra, California. She wants to help Kent make the change not only because it is her responsibility to educate and protect students against cheating, but also because the current academic dishonesty codes aren’t clear.

“I sat down after doing all this research on our student codes, as well as policies at other schools, and I didn’t understand it, at all,” Tommer said. “It’s confusing. [Our goal] is to help simplify it and make it obvious for students.”

Kent is passionate about her degree and wants it to be more than a piece of paper. If cheating is happening on campus, Kent said her degree doesn’t mean anything because the integrity of the campus is compromised. 

Kent said students often cheat unknowingly by “double-dipping” or self-plagiarizing. Self-plagiarism is when a student uses the same written material for more than one class without permission from the instructor. Tommer said her research showed the majority of students at Dixie who have been caught cheating did so unintentionally by self-plagiarizing themselves. 

“We want to protect students from cases of unintentional cheating,” Tommer said. “[The initiative] is really to protect students from possible consequences that can be totally avoided.”

Tommer hopes to have a timeline of completion finalized by this week, and with the help of Kent, the senate plans to conduct surveys across campus to assess the need for a campus-wide policy. However, Tommer and Kent are hopeful because they have spoken to members of faculty and students across campus who have expressed the desire for a clearer campus-wide policy.

The faculty senate is also pushing toward clearer definitions of cheating and how faculty members are supposed to reprimand dishonest students. Erin O’Brien, faculty senate president-elect and an associate professor of biology, said it’s not that the current policies on academic dishonesty are vague, they just don’t quite meet all of the needs of the students and faculty.  

“We find that a lot of students just don’t know (they’re cheating),” she said. “What we’re trying to do is tweak it so that the policies are more clear. I’m not trying to imply that they’re not, but we want the process for dealing with academic integrity violations to be a little more equitable. Right now there are a couple of funny things about [the policies] that could have broader impacts for students.”

O’Brien said the policy will be designed to shift pressure away from instructors and get higher members of administration involved.

“[The policy] will make the situation a little bit more professional,” O’Brien said. “It’s sometimes hard when a student and faculty member sort of feel like they’re pitted against each other.”

In addition to taking the issue to the dean level, O’Brien said the process of appeals will be more clearly spelled out.

Tommer said two of her professors made her sign the policy last semester, and at the end of the semester she asked the professors if there were any issues with cheating. When the professors told her they didn’t experience one academic dishonesty issue, her belief that the policy will make a difference was verified.

“This [policy] should be put into place across campus because it holds everybody accountable,” Kent said. “If we as students don’t bring this from the bottom up, it’s going to come from the bottom down. If it does, students may be unhappy with what gets put into place.”

For any student who wants to see a change made at the university, contact Tommer at [email protected].