Students, faculty reflect on cheating as finals near

As finals approach, an ever-present issue for students and faculty alike looms in the horizon: cheating.

According to the Undergraduate Student Honor Code, cheating is a violation that includes “copying answers from another student’s exam” and “using a cheat sheet or crib notes in an exam.” The Code also defines plagiarism, “representing the words or ideas of someone else as your own,” and collusion, “working together on an academic undertaking for which a student is individually responsible.” Penalties for cheating range from probation and University service to suspension and expulsion.

Dayle Wilson, associate dean of students, said relatively few cheating cases are reported.

“Most complaints [to the Honor Council] come from plagiarism,” Wilson said. “They’re usually from the entry-level courses.”

According to the Honor Council, during the 2003-2004 school year, nine cases of cheating and two cases each of collusion and falsification, compared to 24 related to plagiarism, were reported. Wilson noted, however, that “not all cases are reported to the Honor Council.”

Faculty members feel especially strong about cheating. Tonya White, lecturer in the Department of Computer Information Systems, said she thinks all students should take cheating seriously.

“The academic integrity of the University affects the value of everyone’s degree,” she said.

Tonya White takes several steps to prevent cheating during her exams, including preparing multiple versions of the exam, trying to change the exam each semester and spreading out students in the examination room to make looking at other papers harder. She has reported students to the Honor Council, which she says is “an extremely fair and professional jury of peers to the defendant.”

Dr. Michael Miller, a history professor, deals with a different type of cheating: plagiarism.

“The first thing I do is to treat students as adults and as honorable people who are above cheating,” said Dr. Miller, who assigns essay assignments based solely on the lecture material, which he feels makes cheating more difficult.

Dr. Miller says the Internet is at fault for creating major problems related to plagiarism, which prompted him to switch his assignment approach. He described a time when more than six students in a class plagiarized substantially on a paper.

“The case was depressing, occupied several weeks of my time and interfered with the focus of the course,” Dr. Miller said. “Students who cheat are also cheating other students out of combined readings and writing exercises that have traditionally been a part of a college education.”

Cyndi White, teaching assistant in the Department of English, uses a completely different approach to plagiarism altogether.

“I try to prevent cheating by never duplicating assignments and always requiring an element of originality and creativity for the student,” Cyndi White said. “If a writing assignment requires a student to respond in a manner that is individual for him or her, then there is no chance for cheating, as every student has different ideas and opinions.”

She assigns papers and essays “a bit on the unconventional side” to avoid such situations.

“I once had a student fulfill an essay assignment by writing a 40-page research-based screenplay-talk about original,” Cyndi White said.

Students have mixed feelings about the issue. Jimmy Sachdev, sophomore, maintains that cheating is “trying to take advantage of someone else’s work, plus you don’t learn anything.” Sachdev has seen classmates been called on cheating.

“I think it’s bad, but it’s so common I don’t feel we can be so harsh-although we could fail [the cheater] on that test or paper,” Sachdev said.

Will Yeingst, sophomore, says he sees “people cheating and copying papers all the time.” Indeed, according to the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, 75 percent of students admit to cheating at least once.

Jay Rooney can be contacted at