Campus cheating widespread

Brittney Cottingham

One of the many cheating techniques students use to cheat the system. (Photo by Chris Collins)

 

MSU students cheat. Records obtained by The Wichitan show how widespread it is across campus.

Over the past three years:

• 14 cases of plagiarism were confirmed in the Honors Program.

• A nursing student was booted from the program after fellow students turned her in for cheating on a test.

• A videotape captured a Marketing & Management Information Systems student using notes on an exam.

• A radiologic sciences student was withdrawn from a class with a permanent grade of F and dismissed from the program for plagiarizing an assignment.

These are only a few of the cheating incidents on record at MSU since 2008. The Wichitan obtained the cases from 2008 to present through state Open Record requests. All student names were redacted, keeping identities confidential.

In one blatant case, a female student in the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) program wrote notes on her hand before a test. The department chair spotted the human crib sheet and escorted her to the restroom. There, she watched her wash the incriminating evidence from her skin.

Afterward, the student was given a verbal warning and put on probation. Any further academic misconduct, the student was told, would result in her dismissal from the Radiologic Sciences program.

The Radiology Department also utilized the plagiarism detector Turnitin, which checks originality on essays in percentage, to catch students in the act.  One radiology student submitted a pathology report that had an overall similarity index of 76 percent. Upon further investigation by the department, it was determined that almost 100 percent of the submitted paper was made up of direct quotes from various sources. The student was given a grade of zero on the report.

In Fall 2010, a radiologic sciences professor caught a male and female student taking an online test at the same time in Clark Student Center. The test was supposed to be completed individually.

“No info was traded between us,” one student wrote in an email to the professor. “We both had our books so there was no need for that. To talk about being honest, I was invited to take the test today with a few other members.”

The second student proclaimed her innocence by apologizing not only to the professor, but also to the entire radiology program staff.

Both students were required to meet with the department chair. Even though the Blackboard test log showed they were taking the test at the same time, ultimately no punishment was given.

“(Punishments) may depend on if the cheating is incidental or if somebody is a repeat offender,” said Dr. Alisa White, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

White admits not every case fits neatly in the academic misconduct procedures listed in the MSU Student Handbook. She wants the current policy to be clearer, which is why this year, White has plans to ask the Academic Appeals Committee to review the policy and suggest changes.

The only cheating sanction in the Finance, Economics, and Legal Studies department in the past three years involved four students in Fall 2010 who submitted a group paper, which was plagiarized.

The students received an F for the course.

In July 2010, a team of students plagiarized on a marketing management team project. They received a zero on their assignment.

In the Honors Introductory Seminar class, 14 cases of cheating occurred.

When an Honors student purchased a term paper from the Internet, she received a zero on the paper, which was worth 20 percent of the grade for the class, 14 cases of cheating occurred.

Thirteen other cases also involved plagiarism where material was copied from web sites without citation. In every case, the student was given a zero on the assignment. No student chose to appeal.

“There is no such thing as being kicked out of the program,” Honors Program Director Dr. Mark Farris said. “There are students who, for various reasons, fail to remain active in the program. However, I will admit that for many students that fail to remain active, the criteria for regaining good standing are difficult to meet.”

The Fain College of Fine Arts reported 10 cases of plagiarism. Sixty percent of those cases were from the Mass Communication Department. On one occasion, three males turned in the same work.

Every plagiarism case in the Mass Communication Department ended with students failing the course.

Dr. Ron Fischli, dean of Fine Arts, said one of the reasons students might plagiarize is because they aren’t aware of what exactly plagiarism is.

“Also, sometimes it’s students who are desperate because they have put something off until the last minute,” he said. “I believe that they think it won’t be detected but faculty members are going to know.”

The English Department reported 12 cases of cheating, 11 of them plagiarism in Rhetoric and Composition I or II classes.

According to English chair Dr. David Rankin, the plagiarism was not extensive, ranging from only two to five sentences in eight of the papers to one or two paragraphs in three of the papers.

In nine of these incidents, the professors assigned a grade of F, while the students received a zero in the other two.

The twelfth case involved a repeat offender. The student included six paragraphs verbatim from six different sources from the Internet. The student was given a zero on the assignment. The same student then committed the second offense in the same class. As punishment, she was dropped from the course with a grade of F.

According to Dr. Ralph Fritzsch, accounting and MIS chair, the department does not maintain records of past cheating incidents.

However, The Wichitan’s Open Records request revealed an incidence of cheating in March 2010 in an MIS class.

A student listed in the Disability Support Services program was caught on videotape using additional notes, which were not allowed for the exam. The student received a zero on the test.

Three cases of academic dishonesty in nursing were sent to the Academic Appeals committee over the last three years.

A senior nursing student in May 2010 received a failing grade based on evidence of academic dishonesty after he placed Internet information in his essay during an open book exam.

According to the professor, the student’s response to an essay question was the same word for word as an online source.

In a memorandum to the appeals committee, the professor stated that she found it very unlikely that he memorized such a long passage, 50 words, including abbreviations and punctuation, verbatim.

The appeals committee saw no undisputed evidence to support that the student was graded differently from his peers.

The student lost the appeal and failed the course.

In February 2011, a female nursing student was charged with academic dishonesty after a professor and 14 witnesses saw her cheating in class. The event occurred in January of this year.

“A female student sitting to my right asked if we could change seats,” one witness wrote in an email to the professor. “(Two girls) could not keep their eyes on their own papers. After you called time, I noticed they both had left the last two questions on the quizzes blank and as the person to their left passed their paper right, the two girls began to try and copy answers from the other papers.”

This witness then claimed that she told the girls to stop writing and cheating.

“I believe cheating jeopardizes the integrity of our school and ultimately our profession,” this witness said. “If you are willing to cheat on a quiz, at what point do you draw the line?”

One of the nursing students charged with cheating then wrote a letter to Dr. Karen Polvado, chair of nursing, claiming to have been wrongfully accused.

“I did not talk, copy, share or compare answers with anyone during the quiz,” the student wrote. “(The professor) took the word of others without due diligence and expelled me from the program. In this country a person is innocent until it is proven that they are guilty. How can I be guilty if my side is never heard?”

This case was taken to the academic appeals committee in February.

The committee decided in favor of the department and the student was dismissed from the nursing program.

Two nursing students won their appeal in March of 2011 and continued in the nursing program after purchasing test banks off Craigslist. The committee decided that reasonable doubt existed as to whether either student actually cheated.

White said she assumes cheating is possibly more prevalent than what is reported.

White said that faculty members can help prevent online cheating by constructing assignments that discourage it.

“I actually prefer (cheating) be handled at the lowest level possible, so ideally it is resolved between the faculty member and the student,” White said. “I am not so concerned about the various differences among (how faculty members deal with cheating) as I am with making sure that class taught by that faculty member, everyone is treated equally.”

Currently, if a student is caught cheating, it does not go on their transcript.

White said this is something that is currently being discussed in committees.

Another committee has plans to upload pictures from student IDs to Banner.

This feature would allow professors to see students’ faces on the role sheet.

Cheating is a widespread problem for society as a whole, White said, but she does not believe that cheating is any more or less prevalent at Midwestern than it is anywhere else.

“I don’t think integrity is as cheap as people think it is,” White said. “We value integrity and if you have integrity, regardless what happens in your life, you can be successful.”

Dr. Patti Hamilton, interim dean for the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, also believes a cheating situation should start out being handled between the faculty member and the student, but as dean, she would like to be notified.

“If a student plagiarizes and it is handled with a faculty member and the dean is never told what happened that same student could be in someone else’s class. If the student cheats again and that teacher never tells the dean, then we won’t be helping the student,” Hamilton said.

According the Hamilton, the Texas Board of Nursing is not be notified if an undergraduate or graduate student is caught cheating.

But Hamilton said the department has a fear of graduating students who haven’t really learned all they should.

“I don’t want to be cared by somebody who cheated on tests for the thing I am in the hospital for,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said through the appeals process students get a lot of chances to plead their case.

“Sometimes things we thought should be considered cheating were not considered cheating by the other committee,” she said.

The MSU nursing program is strict when it comes to any form of cheating, Hamilton said.

“Faculty needs to be realistic about the fact that there are copies of tests floating around,” Hamilton said. “We should talk to our students more because it cheats them.”

The way professors create tests may also invite more cheating to occur, she pointed out.

“I don’t have an answer for how somebody with 100 students in their class could give a test that wasn’t multiple choice, but where it is possible we should be testing broader knowledge and not specific facts,” Hamilton said.