Deans address plagiarism

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler launched the first annual Academic Integrity Awareness week with a keynote speech on Tuesday about the psychology behind cheating and ways to discourage plagiarism.

Awareness Week, which was organized by the Graduate School, will feature sessions for graduate students and faculty regarding research ethics, including a talk on “Preventing Plagiarism as Teaching Fellows.” While some students said they do not know if these events are necessary at Yale, others said events educating undergraduates on plagiarism should have been planned as well.

Butler said all colleges and universities should be concerned about plagiarism, and at Yale, a few such incidents are reported every year.

“Yale students are very capable and generally know the right way to behave, but a lot of people can succumb to the same temptations,” he said.

Butler said the Graduate School caught and punished six students last year for plagiarism, including a student who cheated during a doctoral exam.

Dean Salovey said universities must discuss ways to preserve integrity in the face of significant academic pressure, which is a challenge in competitive schools like Yale.

“We think that encouraging conversation on this issue is the best way to communicate it in an informal context,” he said.

In Tuesday’s keynote address — which drew a small group of mostly graduate students and faculty — Salovey recommended that faculty only present materials to students that appropriately give credit to the sources they use to avoid inadvertently giving them a model for plagiarism.

Yale’s cheating policy is different from that of many other colleges because professors generally avoid using professional cheating detection techniques so as not to imply that such measures are necessary, Salovey said.

“By introducing these methods, we would be saying that cheating is rampant,” he said. “I’d rather comment that honesty is rampant and work to guard against situations that would compel students to cheat.”

Bobbi Sutherland GRD ’09, who attended the talk, said she thinks cheating occurs in the undergraduate population because of the anxiety present in an academically competitive environment.

“I can easily see where such an impetus can come from,” she said. “But integrity is important, and not just grades.”

Sutherland said while she was glad that the Graduate School is arranging special sessions for teaching assistants, she was surprised to learn that this week’s events do not include any opportunities for undergraduate students.

Liza Cariaga-Lo, an assistant dean at the Graduate School and the director of the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, said plagiarism often originates from a general lack of knowledge about what constitutes cheating.

“I think that helping people understand what the boundaries are is an important issue,” she said.

Salovey said issues of academic integrity are addressed in freshman orientation, and sessions for other undergraduates may be offered in the future. He said this week is meant both to raise awareness and to generate ideas for future programs.

But some students said they don’t know if a week devoted to exploring plagiarism on campus is necessary.

Shira Helft ’10 said that while she does not think Awareness Week can do any harm to students, she does not think plagiarism is a problem at Yale.

“I think the general Yale population understands its consequences, so this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue,” she said.

Yale College General Conduct and Discipline guidelines define academic dishonesty as “Cheating on examinations, plagiarism, improper acknowledgment of sources in essays, and the use of a single essay in more than one course except in academically appropriate circumstances with the prior permission of the instructors.”

College officials said about 30 undergraduate plagiarism cases come before the Executive Committee every year.

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