Fairfield students, faculty members and administrators are wrestling with a package of changes designed to promote academic honesty on campus.
Action came after a scathing December 2003 faculty report found that Fairfield was at the bottom of the list of peer schools in terms of its effort to promote academic honesty and combat plagiarism.
The report surveyed a range of schools including Villanova, College of the Holy Cross, Fordham, Princeton and Wesleyan among many others. It found Fairfield was closer to Marist with the least comprehensive policies on academic honesty.
Paul Caster, a professor at the school of business, has been teaching at Fairfield for just over 10 years and has encountered “very few instances of cheating.” According to Caster, these happened during his first couple of years here, causing him to believe “the climate of academic honesty has improved.”
“One thing I try to do is create an environment in the classroom that makes it more difficult for cheating to occur,” said Caster. “I’d much rather prevent it form happening than to have to deal with it after the fact.”
“Another thing I do is to have the honor code printed on all exams,” he said.
Caster is not alone in his efforts of prevention.
Art history professor Philip Eliasoph believes the issue of academic honesty should be viewed as an “unequivocal ‘no brainer’.”
“Just as faculty members realize that we are required to attribute and cite all external sources for our scholarly writing, students need to appropriate the same ‘rules of the game’ [and] represent an indestructible wall that cannot be bypassed,” said Eliasoph. “I strongly believe that the weakening of these standards has been exacerbated by easy access to a global cyber-web of instant information.”
“This alarming trend, reduced to a ‘click and copy’, has completely transformed the manner in which students search, capture, and translate printed data off the web,” said Eliasoph who is just one many teachers who have adopted a ‘no web’ policy for papers and assignments.
As teachers tighten up standards, some students say the school needs to go a better job teaching them what constitutes plagiarism.
Katherine D’Emic, ’06 was found earlier this year to be in violation of the university Academic Honesty policy for what she considers a “minor misquotation,” believes that her situation could have been avoided had she been taught exactly what is plagiarism at Fairfield.
“Teachers take judicial action without explaining what the student did wrong,” said D’Emic. “They should tell us what we did wrong and teach us how not to do it again.”
“I now have a warning on my record which is the same as someone who knowingly stole someone else’s work would get,” she said. “To this day, I’m still unclear as to how to cite facts and terms that can be found in more than one source.”
The disciplinary actions are now standard policy concerning academic honesty, although in previous years this was not always the case.
Until recently, punishment for a student in violation was at the discretion of the professors whose class it was and often went unreported to the dean. Professors now have to report all violations.
“Each student has a file that is housed with their academic dean,” said Timothy Snyder, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Because there is only one such file, any reporting of matters like plagiarism go through that dean’s office, in order to make it to the file.”
Another minor change students might notice is the positioning of the universities Academic Honesty policy in the student handbook.
According to the December 2003 report, the section on Academic Honesty was moved from page 23 in the 2002-2003 catalog to page 308 in last year’s catalog. The year the slightly longer section appears on page 39 of the student handbook and on Stagweb.
The faculty’s Academic Council also has formed a subcommittee to continue work on the issue.
The subcommittee surveyed faculty at the end of spring semester 2004 about the range and percentage of academic dishonesty perceived by faculty, personal experience and the process by which individual cases were handled.
Committee member Jo Yarrington said that when the results of the survey were reported, the committee was asked to continue its work, collaborate with the administration, and begin drafting faculty guidelines concerning the response to and reporting of incidents of academic dishonesty this coming spring.
“It would be wonderful is this institution became known nationally as one of the few schools with a really effective honor code that was respected by students,” said Caster. “I think this takes many years to achieve…it’s not something that will happen overnight but it is a desirable goal for the institution.”
“The ultimate goal concerning academic honesty is to create an environment where students and faculty understands the importance of personal integrity and live up to high standards of integrity and honesty,” said Grossman. “Jesuit education is based on personal responsibility and accountability.”
Coleen Washington ’06, says she has seen Fairfield get much tougher about academic honesty. But she isn’t sure the school is implementing the change well.
“All of a sudden they’re [teachers] being so strict about it, but they never formally taught us what constitutes as plagiarism,” said Washington.
Other students like Lauren Donaldson, ’06 say they have noticed only minor changes.
“The only real change I’ve noticed is the section teachers added to the syllabi about academic honesty,” she said.