As incidents of plagiarism have risen on campus, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway reminded students last week that academic dishonesty can often be unintentional.
Last Thursday, in a campus-wide email, Holloway emphasized the importance of academic integrity and gave several common examples of plagiarism. According to the most recent Executive Committee Chair’s Semi-annual Report, released in spring 2013, there were 30 cases of academic dishonesty during the semester, including 18 cases of plagiarism. In fall 2012, there were only 23 cases of academic dishonesty, including eight plagiarism charges. Holloway said students should always be thinking about the integrity of their work, and included examples of plagiarism specific to STEM classes — for example, collaborating on a problem set without a professor’s explicit permission — and relevant to the humanities, like listing all sources consulted for a paper.
“Humanists tend to work by themselves, scientists tend to work collaboratively,” Holloway told the News. “We’re getting better at recognizing different pedagogical models.”
Holloway noted that while a similar email goes out every year, this is an issue that requires continual awareness.
In particular, Holloway explained that because of the collaborative approach taken in many STEM classes, some students have trouble separating the group aspect of a project from their individual work. But Yale and peer institutions are doing a better job of explaining and solving these concerns than they have in the past, he said.
The spring 2013 Executive Committee chair’s report described cases of academic dishonesty that included students who collaborated on take-home exams and problem sets, students who submitted lab reports or assignments that were not their own and a student who submitted the same paper for two different courses.
Holloway closed the email with an explanation of why academic integrity is so important, explaining that instructors value it not only because they expect students to receive credit for their work, but also because it is the basis of Yale’s educational mission.
“Your instructors value see your work as the means by which you learn,” Holloway wrote in the email. “You uphold academic integrity, then, not only to comply with Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations but also to allow Yale to fulfill its mission: to educate you.”
Professor Emily Greenwood, director of undergraduate studies for the classics department, wrote in an email that professional citation styles have a strong influence on undergraduate work. She explained that a current trend in some humanities and social sciences publications toward limiting the number of footnotes and citations may cause undergraduates who model their work after professional examples to do the same. Greenwood also noted that professors at Yale have an obligation to make the sources they have incorporated into their lectures clear to students.
Professor Jim Duncan, DUS for biomedical engineering, wrote in an email that he has not had to deal with any issues of academic dishonesty in his department. He also noted that he is unaware of any differences between the humanities and STEM fields in this regard.
Students interviewed were unaware of specific examples of plagiarism occurring on campus and said that the distinction between collaborative work and academic dishonesty is often unclear.
Ade Ben-Salahuddin ’18, who plans to major in a STEM field, said he sees a distinction between incorrectly citing a resource by accident and intentionally plagiarizing. He added that he doubts anyone in his chemistry class has asked their professor whether collaboration on assignments is permissible, but he knows that students work together.
Luke Cartwright ’16 said that in some computer science classes he has taken, professors have encouraged or even required collaboration on problem sets. In those cases, Cartwright said he doesn’t think that professors are especially concerned about plagiarism, as they expect that all of their students will get the same correct answers.
Even students in the humanities agreed that academic dishonesty policy is often unclear.
Nitika Khaitan ’16, a humanities major, said that she does not believe plagiarism is a huge problem within her major, but that she could be unaware of its prevalence. She also noted that she is unaware of the specifics of the Executive Committee’s policy — she is unsure, for instance, of what violations would lead to a suspension.
“I can’t fathom someone copying an entire paper,” she said.
In spring 2012, there were 31 cases of academic dishonesty, including 23 charges of plagiarism.