Two weeks after the 2010-’11 Executive Committee report showed that instances of cheating remained high in Yale College last year, administrators opened discussions about whether the University should do more to prevent violations of academic integrity.
Yale has taken steps over the last five years to address plagiarism and other academic violations across the University — from modifying the course proposal process in Yale College in 2007 to introducing anti-plagiarism software in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences admissions office this fall. Despite these measures, the Executive Committee in the college has still seen an increase in cheating incidents over the same period, and administrators convened Tuesday to review Yale’s current approach to preventing cheating University-wide and discuss what additional methods Yale could employ.
“There is a general agreement that we could do more, and we need to put our heads together and try to figure out what would be most effective,” said Pamela Schirmeister, associate dean of Yale College and the Graduate School.
In 2010-’11, 53 cases of cheating were brought before the Yale College Executive Committee — a drastic jump from the 29 cases in 2007-’08 and the 17 in 2005-’06. Despite a steady rise in cheating over the past several years, Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said the latest discussions about cheating were not sparked by that trend, but by the basic concern that “cheating is antithetical to learning.”
Margaret Clark, who chaired the Executive Committee for the past three years, said the committee often sees cases of plagiarism in which students copy and paste materials from the Internet, but acknowledge their wrongdoing when brought before the committee.
“[Students] get overwhelmed here with extracurricular activities and classes and all kinds of things,” Clark said. “What’s very typical is to hear someone say that ‘I left this until the last minute and I panicked; I did the cutting-and-pasting.’”
The Graduate School, by contrast, has traditionally reported very low rates of cheating, Associate Dean of the Graduate School Richard Sleight said.
First-semester students at the Graduate School are required to complete two online multiple-choice assessments on professional ethics — known as modules — before they can enroll in a second term. One of the modules focuses on academic integrity, while the other addresses sexual harassment.
The module on academic integrity was introduced in 2006, following a year in which the Graduate School saw “a handful” of plagiarism incidents, Schirmeister said. While the Graduate School has witnessed fewer cases of cheating since the module’s introduction, Sleight said reported cheating was so low initially that it would be difficult to determine if the module had produced the recent decline. He added that the module is “an effective introduction” to issues of academic integrity, and shows students that the Graduate School is serious about honest work.
Though the Graduate School typically sees few cheating cases, Schirmeister said these select cases are all the more serious because graduate students are preparing for futures in academia.
“If they plagiarize or falsify data, they’re in the wrong line of work,” she said.
The Graduate School introduced an additional anti-cheating measure this fall when it began using new software in its online application system that tests whether an applicant’s materials — from the personal statement to writing samples — are copied from the Internet. The software generates a “similarity score” that analyzes how much of an applicant’s materials match work on the Internet, and Robert Colonna, director of admissions for the Graduate School, said individual graduate programs will be able to make use of the results at their discretion.
Colonna said the Graduate School decided to try the software for a one-year period after being approached by the vendor of its online application system over the summer. He added that the Graduate School did not adopt the software in response to a specific cheating incident, but rather felt it would be useful in reviewing applications.
Though Clark said academic integrity must ultimately rest with students, she added that some professors are more explicit than others about defining what constitutes cheating in their syllabi.
Yale College has required since 2007 that professors submitting proposals for new courses specify how they will handle issues related to academic integrity, Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said. Because types of cheating vary across disciplines — plagiarism in a paper is different from falsification of data in the sciences — instructors must indicate what is and is not appropriate for each proposed course.
Gordon said that at a recent conference of the national Center for Academic Integrity, Yale was the only school represented with this sort of course proposal requirement.
In addition, Director of the Writing Center Alfred Guy said the college emphasizes how to properly use and attribute sources in introductory English classes. Nearly half of each incoming class enrolls in English 114 or 120 every year, he said, adding that these courses use at least one class or homework assignment to explicitly discuss plagiarism.
“[Students] are told by someone that plagiarism is not in your interest, even if you get away with it,” Guy said.
Residential college deans also stress the importance of academic integrity in “fireside chats” with incoming freshmen each year, Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker said.
Of the 53 cheating cases brought before the Executive Committee last year, 24 involved plagiarism.