In Depth

Academic Dishonesty Doubles Since 2007, Survey Says

11.4 percent of the 683 student respondents to The Phillipian’s State of the Academy Survey in March admitted cheating on a major assignment, described in the survey as a test or paper, while at Andover. A total of 36.2 percent of respondents admitted to doing the same on a minor assignment, classified in the survey as homework. These results, when compared to those from the 2007 survey, demonstrate apparent increases in academic dishonesty: the percentage of students who admitted cheating on a major assignment doubled, while the percentage of students admitting to dishonesty on minor assignments increased by nearly 11 percent. But administrators say that the jump may have little to do with an increase in the total amount of academic dishonesty among students. Chad Green, West Quad North Cluster Dean, said, “It may be just that there is more awareness about what is [academic dishonesty] and what is not.” “That’s a pretty significant jump. But I’m not sure that one statistic is enough to conclude that we have a greater problem,” Green added. Throughout conversations about academic dishonesty, Andover’s competitive culture is often cited as a major causal factor. #Responding to Dishonesty Although the school disciplines relatively few cases of academic dishonesty each year, John Rogers, Dean of Studies, acknowledged that many more incidents occur. Rogers said, “[Academic dishonesty] occurs much more frequently than it is caught, but it is not an ‘epidemic.’ Enough cases are caught that it sets an example for others.” To determine whether or not a student is guilty of academic dishonesty, the school proceeds with several investigative steps. If a teacher determines that a student has cheated, plagiarized or committed another form of academic dishonesty, the teacher is required to bring the issue to the department chair. At this stage, the instructor, department chair and student discuss the issue to verify whether an offense has actually occurred. If both the teacher and department chair agree that the student has been dishonest, then the case is brought to Rogers. If Rogers determines that the student has violated the terms outlined in the Blue Book, then the case is sent to the cluster discipline committee to determine an appropriate response. #Definitions of Dishonesty by Department Teachers and departments play a large role in the process of codifying academic dishonesty. For example, the English department has a specific policy on plagiarism and the natural science and math departments have calculator policies that outline which programs are acceptable. Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students, said, “Academic dishonesty is fairly easy to discover.” Rogers said, “We have made great improvements in the last years, but the policies could still be better. The more students think about [academic dishonesty] ahead of time, the less likely they will be to make bad decisions in a tight situation. A lot of students don’t realize how serious this actually is until they have found themselves facing a discipline committee.” #Questioning Intent The question of intent is also a topic of controversy when addressing academic dishonesty. Rogers said, “The line between students who plagiarize intentionally or ‘accidentally’ is a fine one, so we tend to avoid making any distinction. We have to respond to the actions and behaviors rather than trying to determine intentions. Plagiarism is usually clear. There are really very few ‘gray area’ cases.” Rogers said, “Context is important and so definitions will vary to some extent between departments and courses. The nature of the work, the level of the course, and the goals of the assignment and of the teacher are just some elements that need to be considered to determine how much help is appropriate. I think the definition we have in the Blue Book is very good – it clearly identifies what we consider academic dishonesty without constraining any courses or teachers.” Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, said, “[When determining cases of academic dishonesty], one of the questions we look at is, ‘Was there a knowing, willing deception or was it just a strange coincidence or an innocent mistake?’” According to Aya Murata, Pine Knoll Cluster Dean, the majority of dishonesty cases tend to occur near the end of the term, when students may be pressured to make impulsive last-minute decisions. Green said, “It’s rarely premeditated. In most of the cases I’ve dealt with the students felt extremely pressured by either the workload or the assignment itself. It could also be due to naïveté, when the students discover what they’re doing or what they’ve been doing at other schools is not acceptable at PA.” Rogers continued, “It is important for students to understand that academic dishonesty is academic dishonesty. The fundamental question is: did the student use the work of someone else as their own, intentionally or otherwise?” A male Upper, whose identity is being withheld by The Phillipian, was disciplined last year for a case of academic dishonesty. When an assignment was rescheduled for one of his classes, he told his teacher that he had emailed all of his teachers, asking them to move around his major assignments in order to accommodate for the initial date of the assignment. In reality he had only emailed one of his teachers. Upon emailing his other teachers, the teacher discovered that he had in fact lied. When the student was sent to the Disciplinary Committee, he was only censured. His cluster dean informed him that he could have received anything from a censure to probation. The Upper said, “I think they knew [the charge was] ridiculous . . . you get DC’ed for drinking not for exaggerating on an email.” #A Culture of Dishonesty? Andover is taking the question of academic dishonesty very seriously. Edwards said, “[The problem] is in the forefront of everyone’s mind now, especially the faculty.” For Hoyt, his suspicions of undisciplined incidents were confirmed at a meeting of School Congress last term. Hoyt said, “All of [the students in my room] knew of students who had cheated, either occasionally or on a regular basis.” Edwards said, “There are standards you have to create for yourself.” Hoyt agreed with the importance of the role of the individual student. Hoyt said, “Some of the dishonesty that occurs can only be properly policed by the students.” Edwards said, “[Discussion] needs to happen in every single classroom by every single teacher. Every teacher needs to share his or her views on the importance of the integrity of learning.” Flagstaff Cluster Dean Clyfe Beckwith said, “For the most part, students here are far above average for academic dishonesty and dishonesty in general. There are institutions where [academic dishonesty] is rampant, but it is much less noticeable here at Andover.” Kyle Rogers ’09 said, “The culture [at Phillips Academy] frowns upon dishonesty, but the environment can put kids in situations where they believe it’s the right path or it’s their only option . . . We have such a competitive and challenging school. It can bring out the worst or best in person. It just depends on the person.” Edwards added, “There are students here who are disappointed at the level of dishonesty in their peers. They are disappointed that their peers are able to tell a lie without thinking about the harm done to other people and themselves.” #Changing the Culture Hoyt believes in the necessity of cultivating an honest atmosphere. Hoyt said, “I think we need to create a student culture. For things like lying, cheating, stealing, we can say, ‘We don’t do that here. It goes against our identity.’ The identity of PA kids is not only about academics and big brains, but also big ethics.” According to Philomathean Society President Philip Meyer ’08, Philomathean is organizing a forum to discuss issues of academic dishonesty. Meyer said, “[Academic dishonesty] is obviously something that every single person here should be talking about.” For Edwards, the question is connected to personal values. Edwards said, “Wherever in life you’re going to be with yourself; be proud of who you are, not because of your grades, but because of the values you maintain.” Administrators believe that much of the academic dishonesty at Phillips Academy occurs because of inevitable educational pressures. Murata said, “The school expects a great deal from the students, but many students expect even more of themselves. Of course students are competitive, but they are much more supportive and helpful to each other. Students come to Andover to be surrounded with other intelligent students, so that is to be expected.” Dean Rogers said, “It is important for students to understand that academic dishonesty is dishonesty. The fundamental question is: did the student use the work of someone else as their own, intentionally or otherwise?” #What Motivates Dishonesty According to Rogers and Murata, the expectations placed on students by the school and by themselves often motivate academic dishonesty. Rogers said, “When you have this many students, it is probably inevitable that some will break the rules, even those having to do with academic dishonesty.” Hoyt also believes that academic dishonesty is a reflection of larger issues in society. Hoyt said, “I can see how it’s self-preservation to be a little deceitful.” However, he believes that something should be done about it. He said, “It’s a shame that it’s that hard [to resist cheating].” Rogers said, “There is always the pressure to do well, but most students recognize that their integrity is more important.” Hoyt said, “Honesty shouldn’t be contingent on personal consequences.” He continues, “If you were dishonest, then put your chin out and deal with it. It shows character.” However, teachers report that students are largely unaffected by the culture of dishonesty. Rogers said, “I am impressed by the number of students who are scrupulously honest here—who will tell me if I gave them too much credit on a test or quiz, for example.” Hoyt said, “[The students] take pride in being honest scholars.” Rogers and Murata said that the school and the administration have done a good job addressing this issue in the past years and making policies more clear. Currently, students electronically sign a plagiarism certification at the beginning of each year and English and history classes also review and discuss plagiarism in Fall Term. Teachers are also responsible for making clear their expectations for help and use of technology in their syllabus. Administrators have not noticed an increase in discipline for academic dishonesty, but do acknowledge a need for a cultural shift at Andover. Murata said that the number of students disciplined for academic dishonesty has remained relatively constant during her three-year tenure. According to Rogers one to five students are disciplined for academic dishonesty in a typical term. Hoyt said, “There’s no cast-iron mold.” Phillips Academy is active in discouraging academic dishonesty, and the administration has inaugurated discussions with students regarding academic dishonesty and current policies pertaining to it. Despite numerous discussions among faculty members, administrators and students, Hoyt said, “None of the conversations have been policy drivers, but that doesn’t mean [they] shouldn’t be.” Hoyt continued, “They’ve been more awareness-raising and community-building, both of which I believe are important.” According to Hoyt, the dialogue so far has been insufficient. He said, “The questions are, ‘Where do we go from here? What’s our ultimate goal?’ And we haven’t had that type of conversation yet.” Edwards said, “Anytime you’ve taken someone else’s words as your own, you’ve crossed the line . . . It’s about your core moral values. You’re taking this into college, into work, into your family. You can’t imagine that the lines are gray. You have to start thinking in black and white.” #How to Proceed Students and faculty have discussed the possibility of instating an honor code, following suit of many of Andover’s peer schools. Each Andover student electronically signs a certificate signifying understanding of what constitutes plagiarism at the beginning of the year, but this document only applies and refers to plagiarizing and not to other types of academic dishonesty. Jonathan Stableford, Chair of the English Department said, “I’m very interested in an honor code. Having had one in college that worked, I think it would be worthwhile to involve students and faculty in carefully designing one. Academic dishonesty must be part of our ethos, just like how we all understand non sibi.” Chelsea Carlson ’09 said, “It’s just sort of an unspoken honor code, and I feel like the value of honesty is just sort of driven through our heads . . . We have the plagiarism primer, we hear about it in All-School Meeting all the time and even in dorm conversations . . . I don’t really think it [an honor code] is necessary.” Travis Conley, Chair of the Chinese Department, said, “The school does a pretty good job of emphasizing honesty. I believe it would demoralize the students if we addressed the issue more.”