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.