Honor Council seeks student support

The University of Miami Undergraduate Honor Council plans to project a stronger presence on campus this year to highlight the importance of academic integrity.

Founded in the spring of 1986 after students voted in favor of a Student Government initiative, the student-run council consists of 29 representatives who are responsible for holding hearings of alleged violations of the university’s Honor Code.

The council has investigated more than 450 cases in the past 25 years, but Honor Council President Renata Baptista has recently noticed fewer cases in comparison to three years ago, when she first joined. The cases that have been adjudicated typically result in disciplinary probation or warnings. Thirty-three percent of the investigations have resulted in suspension, five percent in expulsion and 62 percent in disciplinary action or warnings.

While the majority of universities in the U.S. have honor codes and honor councils similar to UM’s, cheating is still a problem on college campuses. According to a survey conducted by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, 59.3 percent of students across the country have cheated on a test at least once; one in three has cheated at least twice in the past year.

Fifty percent of students did not believe that cheating was necessarily wrong, according to a recent survey by Who’s Who Among American High School Students.

The University of Central Florida recently experienced a cheating scandal last November in the College of Business. Professor Richard Quinn discovered that at least one-third of his students had cheated on an exam, according to Knight News, the campus newspaper. The number of cases UCF’s Office of Student Conduct has seen in recent years is drastically higher than UM’s statistics. The total incident reports processed in the 2011 spring semester alone was 597, more than UM has investigated in the past 25 years. In the fall semester of 2010, UCF received 777 incident reports, most likely a result of the cheating scandal in November.

“It’s scary to me that so many people are nonchalant about the whole thing,” Baptista said. “If you don’t have integrity now, you’ll have a weak character for your whole life.”

Although the cheating on UM’s campus hasn’t reached such an extreme, members of the council still want students to realize the importance of academic honesty.

“This year we want to develop a dialogue with the UM community,” Baptista said. “We want to be here for them; we’re not out to get them. We’re more involved on campus this year so we can spread our message.”

The council co-sponsored “PostSecret Live” on Tuesday, and will co-sponsor CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien’s appearance on Monday. It is also moving up its annual event, Academic Integrity Week, toward the beginning of spring semester to spread the council’s message before midterms.

“We have members of the Wellness Center attend A.I. Week to show students several techniques they can use to deal with stress,” Baptista said. “We also have the Writing Center bring materials to show students how to properly cite.”

These resources could prove beneficial considering plagiarism is one of the most common problems the council deals with, since many students fail to cite properly, Baptista said.

While UM provides students with numerous resources, some students do not take advantage of these opportunities.

“We’re hoping our involvement will raise awareness of the importance for academic integrity,” Baptista said. “There are many helpful organizations on campus students can use to avoid [cheating].”