Academic dishonesty cases skyrocket

The number of Yale students charged with cheating nearly doubled in the last academic year, according to the 2009-’10 Yale College Executive Committee Report.

Of the 80 cases the committee heard, 72 involved plagiarism or cheating, and the rest involved offenses related to alcohol, defiance of authority, unruly behavior and forgery. The number of cheating and plagiarism cases has increased sharply since the 2005-’06 academic year, when the Committee received only 18 cases.

“It’s hard to tell why we have the jump, whether more students are cheating or professors are being meticulous,” Committee Chair Margaret Clark said.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she thinks the increase suggests professors are more effectively detecting violations.

Director of the Writing Center Alfred Guy said a new policy instituted in 2007 ­— which requires professors to explain how they will address issues of academic integrity when they submit a proposal to start a new course or make significant changes to an existing one — might have made professors more likely to hold students accountable for academic dishonesty. He said the question about academic dishonesty on the Course Proposal Form directs professors to a link on the Writing Center website that gives possible strategies. He gets more questions from professors on academic dishonesty than any other topic on the site, he said, and he has heard professors recommend it to each other.

“I think it’s much more likely that some change in professors’ awareness would account for the spike, rather than some sudden change in student behavior,” he said in an e-mail.

Clark said 50 of the academic dishonesty cases concerned cheating, which normally comprises the use of notes or electronic devices during exams. She said illegal collaboration on problem sets was another frequent violation. Students generally do not resort to cheating because the work is too difficult, she said, but instead because they are seeking perfection.

“Yale students have pretty high standards for themselves,” she said, “and wanting an A or A-minus is one of the things that’s driving this.”

The Executive Committee reviewed 22 cases of plagiarism over the course of the year. Clark said most of the students involved had either copied from the Internet or submitted the same essay for different classes.

English Professor John Rogers said improvements in technology have both made it easier both for students to plagiarize and for professors to identify plagiarism. He added that he can quickly tell if a paragraph was written by a student or a senior scholar.

“A quick Google search of a phrase from a strange-seeming paragraph can easily produce the source,” he said.

Clark said it is every student’s responsibility to understand the regulations for academic dishonesty, adding that she was surprised by the number of students who claimed not to realize they were committing an offense.

“I would have thought that people would know this,” she said.

For this reason, Clark’s report recommends that the Yale Dean’s Office spread the information that the Executive Committee has learned about why people cheat. For example, students who have served on the committee could speak about trends they have observed, she said, adding that residential college deans should be thoroughly briefed about the committee’s findings.

Clark also advised that the committee make an increased effort to be timely with its decisions. Twelve cases brought to the committee last spring carried over to the fall, and Clark said it is taxing for students to have to wait so long for outcomes. But she said she is not sure how or if these recommendations will be implemented.

“The solutions haven’t been worked out,” she said.

The Writing Center defines plagiarism as use of another’s work, words, or ideas without attribution. The word “plagiarism” comes from the Latin word for “kidnapper” and is considered a form of theft, a breach of honesty in the academic community, according to the site.


  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    > “It’s hard to tell why we have the
    > jump…”

    No it’s not: GIGO.

  • River Tam

    As the world becomes more competitive, the limits of students’ ethics will be tested.

    Yalies can no longer expect to pull B’s in the history major and end up working for a top investment bank. A 3.5 in Econ no longer guarantees a job in Westport.

    Grades are temporary – ethics are forever.

  • prion

    The pursuit of perfection? High standards? Maybe ten years ago…

  • smartypants79

    Why don’t we add shame back into the picture–people don’t seem to have any sense anymore that being dishonest reflects on you as a person. If you’re going to cheat on something as simple as a response paper, why should anyone trust you when it comes to more important things?

  • Josh

    I don’t see why re-using a past essay in a different class is cheating. It’s YOUR work.

  • River Tam

    > I don’t see why re-using a past essay in a different class is cheating. It’s YOUR work.

    I’d tend to agree that it’s not in the same category ethically as copying someone else’s work. But reusing an essay defeats the point of the assignment. Writing is developmental. It would be as if you constructed a computer program to write an original essay for you (if such a thing were possible). It would be technically within the parameters of it being “your own work”, but would defeat the point of the exercise (unless you were taking a CS class, I guess).

    Circumventing the assignment is kind-of the definition of cheating.

  • 3lmcity

    Goodness, people cheat b/c they want to succeed, and what they cheat at isn’t that important.

    Say I write down a couple of formulas to get through a math class or whatever. It’s not a big deal, but keeping my gpa up is. How do you think bankers and lawyers make money? It’s just legalized cheating.

  • pablum

    >Circumventing the assignment is kind-of the definition of cheating.

    It’s not cheating, but it deserves a 0. The assignment is to write, not to photocopy.

  • 3lmcity

    1. Reusing my own work isn’t cheating. It’s my work, and if I want to use it again, what’s the big deal? Perhaps teacher’s should give better assignments.

    2. Ian Ayers. Why is it okay for a Yale professor to plagiarize and face no sanctions but not for students? A professor makes his living doing this and should know better. Strip him of his tenure if you are serious Yale.

  • townieexprof

    “Reusing my own work isn’t cheating. It’s my work, and if I want to use it again, what’s the big deal? Perhaps teacher’s should give better assignments.”

    “…teacher’s (sic) should give better assignments.”
    Really? Maybe you should have learned 6th grade grammar and punctuation before coming to Yale.

    “Reusing my own work isn’t cheating.”
    Yes it is, my witless lad. The professor expects original work for THAT assignment in THAT class, even if it was, originally, “YOUR work.” (You, of course, should have said “MY WORK”, not YOUR WORK. Just sayin’, yo.

    Although, I kinda doubt “work” and “original” are how you roll.

    Some of the above comments speak for themselves, in ways the writers seem unaware, about the lack of honesty and academic integrity that appear to be conspicuously absent in a majority of this generation of students.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    What I find interesting is that some see no dishonesty.

    Ah, what hath Relativism wrought….

  • onela22

    Commenters are right that reusing your own essay is not plagiarism. But it is cheating, for two reasons: (1) The purpose of a writing assignment is to learn something while completing it (not simply, as some may think, to test *whether* you’ve already learned something). You can’t learn anything by resubmitting your work. The University takes seriously the obligation to make sure you’re still learning, and so outlines consequences for actions that blatantly prevent that learning. (2) It’s dishonest. You may request permission to build on previous work in a given assignment (normally the professor will ask that the new work be longer or substantially revised for the specific context). If you don’t ask for this permission, you are misleading the professor about the conditions under which the work was produced.

    Non-students reuse their work all the time–this includes both academics and professional writers. But in most of those situations, the purpose of the work is to disseminate knowledge or produce an effect through writing (for instance, to make people buy a product). While professionals do learn through new or repeated practice, that’s not the primary reason for their writing. But student writing has a more hybrid purpose. While it should be shaped to create new knowledge or produce certain effects, it’s also an occasion for learning. An athlete can’t tell her coach “Instead of practicing today, I’d like you to review my efforts from yesterday’s practice.”

  • OldBlue75

    All: Your grades will not matter five years after you graduate; your knowledge, skills, and ethics will.
    3lmcity: With your attitude, I hope you never become a banker or lawyer (and, please, not a doctor).

  • 3lmcity

    Most Yale undergrads that are going into banking,law, and medicine have the exact same attitude.
    Professional schools are the only way to get ahead, and people will do anything to maximize their chances.

  • JacksonJackson

    Yes, Ayres should have been punished for his conduct. But as your mother always told you, two wrongs do not make a right.

    Something I observe is that students are more tolerant of each other’s cheating. Look at the end of a timed exam. A majority of students always stop when asked to stop, but there are a minority who just keep writing until the professor pulls the blue books out of their hands. That is clearly cheating. But I don’t see any evidence that the “good” students let the “bad” students know how they feel about this.

  • penny_lane

    I am shocked by how many people find it perfectly ethical to resubmit an essay written for another class. This seems to me to be the epitome of laziness. Why someone would work so hard to come to Yale, to study with the world’s finest students and professors, and yet put no effort into improving himself, I cannot tell. Perhaps this is why Yalies are such terrible writers: as soon as their prose resembles English if you squint your eyes and tilt your head, they stop trying.

  • 3lmcity

    @JJ because they all realize it is a game. if i need to finish a sentence, what’s an extra minute?
    @penny_lane b/c getting into yale is the prize. next stop goldman then hbs. that’s what you don’t get.

  • 3lmcity

    @penny_lane: also, with the exception of law, people who make money are technical people. look at medicine, banking, tech, etc. no one cares about your prose. can you do a differential diagnosis, a financial model, write code? that makes you $$.

  • 3lmcity

    @JJ Ayres goes to the heart of the matter. Either it’s wrong or right. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong for everyone. However, if you let tenured professors get away with it, you’re saying it’s not that big a deal. That’s why students don’t take it seriously.

  • Jaymin

    You know…this would never happen if they would just give us all A’s!

  • JacksonJackson

    These comments are very discouraging. They suggest a very cynical attitude toward achievement, the faculty, Yale itself… No, it is not a game, and I feel badly for those who cannot understand that there is nothing an “A” can get you that is worth throwing away your integrity.

  • SY10

    To all those bemoaning the degradation of academic honesty on the basis of an online comment board, you could at least note that almost all of the comments displaying a total lack of ethics are from a single poster. It doesn’t seem particularly valuable to judge an entire generation because an anonymous poster on an online comment board has no concern for integrity. I’d like to think most Yalies have some sense of right and wrong.

  • townieexprof

    “You know…this would never happen if they would just give us all A’s!
    Posted by Jaymin on November 13, 2010 at 8:52 p.m”

    Ahem…they already do.

  • JacksonJackson

    Townieexprof is right, and this is the most important kind of dishonesty on the part of the faculty. We give out As to work we know does not deserve it, simply because to do otherwise will involve us in conflict with students nobody wants. Science students must find this all very confusing, since their professors still have grading standards.

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