The majority of students surveyed in a News poll, more than 600 undergraduates, have witnessed cheating over the course of their Yale careers.
The majority of the 1,037 undergraduate respondents also said they understand what constitutes cheating at Yale, despite the fact that the majority have not read the University’s Undergraduate Regulations on academic dishonesty. But while University administrators and professors work to prevent cheating, academic dishonesty is still on the rise: The number of cheating and plagiarism cases brought to the Yale College’s highest discipinary body tripled from 24 in the 2006-’07 academic year to 72 in the 2009-’10 academic year.
For nearly ten years, Jonathan Edwards Master Penelope Laurans has included academic honesty in her presentation to new faculty, which is designed familiarize them with Yale and its customs and traditions. She reminds them that not all students have a firm understanding of academic dishonesty, she said, so teachers should make their expectations clear to students.
“Yale has to ensure the integrity of its own degrees, and it must recognize and honor right from wrong,” she said, “so it is [Yale’s] responsibility to see that cheating is addressed when it is discovered.”
Eighty percent of respondents said they already understand what constitutes cheating on problem sets, and only 15 percent said they have ever knowingly cheated on an assignment or exam. Still, students are unclear on how certain practices — such as working with a partner on a problem set or recycling written work for different classes — can cross into academic dishonesty.
“I can see that the [Dean’s Office] has some work to do in educating Yale students,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, “particularly with regard to the question of ‘turning in the same essay for two classes’ as well as in terms of understanding the Undergraduate Regulations.”
One out of three respondents said they did not know that turning in the same essay to different courses is considered cheating — and over half said they do not think it should be considered cheating.
“They’re your ideas still,” said Raquel Guarino ’13. “If [the essay prompts are] asking substantively the same question, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Executive Committee Chair Margaret Clark said there are some instances when students can write about a topic more than once — but only if the student discusses the assignment with the professor and tries to add something new. Catherine Nicholson, an English professor and assistant director of undergraduate studies in the English Department, said she enjoys when reading and discussion in her courses overlap with students’ other coursework.
“I’m very supportive of students who want to adapt an assignment to allow that other perspective in,” she said. “It’s worth trusting that they won’t exploit that option unfairly because that sort of cross-pollination is liberal arts education at its best.”
Nicholson said she sends an e-mail to English professors at the beginning of each semester reminding them to discuss plagiarism with their students. She said she also presents examples of plagiarism to her own students to make the rules “seem less like unintelligible abstractions.”
Professors who assign problem sets face a different challenge in explaining and preventing cheating — and some choose not to explain it at all.
Mathematics professor Andrew Casson said he does not explicitly announce his policies to his students, but he allows them to work together as long as each student actively contributes. He said problem sets are not a significant portion of students’ grades, and he has not run into problems with cheating very often.
But Noelle Thew ’14 said she thinks many students copy answers for problem sets.
“It has to do with stress and feeling like you don’t have enough time to work through the problems on your own, or you convince yourself that you’ll go over it later to fully understand,” Thew said.
Somin Lee ’14 said students who copy answers on problem sets will likely suffer later in the course.
Economics professor Ray Fair said he announces his policy in class, and he permits students to work together as long as they write their own answers and write the names of the other group members at the top of the page. If an answer seems familiar as he or his teaching fellows are grading, he said, the names allow them to quickly check if the answers were copied.
But Andrew Everett ’12 said he still thinks of problem sets as “a gray area.”
“They expect you to work together and not have the same answers,” Everett said, “which doesn’t really make sense.”
The Executive Committee saw 80 total cases during the 2009-’10 academic year, 90 percent of which involved cheating or plagiarism.