After Increase in Hearings, Plagiarism Policy to Change
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
In response to a dramatic increase in academic infraction hearings in the past two years, members of the Academic Infractions Board (AIB) and the Academic Affairs Committee of Student Council are considering implementing changes to the College’s plagiarism policy for next fall. This re-evaluation aims to give the associate provost greater authority in deciding whether or not the AIB hears a case, reform the way Kenyon’s plagiarism policy is presented to first-year students and increase campus awareness of the policy.
The AIB heard a record 17 cases in the 2010-2011 school year, a 50 percent increase from the previous year. This academic year, the AIB held 11 hearings, six of which were plagiarism infractions. Often, these violations are accidental and stem from a lack of experience with Kenyon’s plagiarism policy. According to last year’s statistics, almost half of the students involved in hearings were first years. Student Council Vice-President for Academic Affairs Hannah Stewart ’12 said that because so many of the AIB hearings have involved unintentional errors, the policy change is focused on first years, although it does not apply exclusively to them.
“We’re looking at changing the system so that some students will see the [associate] provost for a more informal meeting rather than a hearing,” she said. “If a student maybe did something unintentional … perhaps that could be expunged from their record so that students that are trying to get into competitive medical schools or graduate schools won’t have to deal with this later on.”
Associate Professor of Philosophy and current chair of the AIB Yang Xiao said any change will be mainly procedural, mostly reforming the process by which cases are brought before the full board. He emphasized, however, that the increased workload in recent years for members of the AIB has been taxing. “If we have 15 hearings a year, as it has been the case for the last two academic years, to be an AIB member is like having an additional class: one meets 15 times, discussing a paper and comparing it with other papers,” Xiao said. The new process would help to cut down on this workload, since members of the AIB hope the associate provost meetings will be comprehensive enough to reduce the number of cases that reach a full hearing.
As it stands, the process for hearings is lengthy and involves several steps. If a professor or staff member suspects a student of committing an academic infraction, he or she reports the incident to the department chair, who considers the validity of the claim and then reports it to the chair of the AIB and the dean for academic advising and support. Next, the accused student, the AIB chair and the dean of academic advising and support meet to discuss the allegation. The AIB then determines whether the case warrants a hearing; if it does, it informs the student and gives him or her the opportunity to review the evidence in the case.
After the hearing, the AIB presents a verdict and suggestion for punishment to a designated associate provost (currently Associate Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Ric Sheffield), who makes the final decision and sends a formal letter to the student informing him or her of the verdict. If the penalty is too severe or too mild, Sheffield recommends that the AIB revise the decision. Otherwise, decisions are final.
Kenyon’s selectivity — and the pressures placed on high-achieving students who attend Kenyon and other colleges like it — most likely contribute to the high incidence of plagiarism and other academic infractions, Sheffield said.
Still, it is unclear why the incidence has been on the rise in recent years, and Sheffield said most students cheat because they are pressed for time, not because they want to. “I’ve rarely seen a case in seven [years] where I feel the student is really a dastardly person,” he said. “I think they panic. They get sloppy.”
The other modifications to Kenyon’s policy intend to foster a broader understanding of the rules for academic infractions, Stewart said. “The way we’re approaching plagiarism and the way we advertise our policy is no longer working, and students recognize that as well,” she said. “We’re trying to work together to come up with a better solution.” Proposals include modifying the way the plagiarism policy is presented at first-year orientation and standardizing how professors define the policy in their syllabi.
Currently, the plagiarism education discussion during first-year orientation is conducted in Rosse Hall, and Sheffield said most first years tend to ignore the conversation. Instead, Sheffield’s ideal policy would include a twice-annual plagiarism education session conducted by each of the four academic disciplines. “I’d like to have the sessions done by disciplines of the College, because the way you write in the natural sciences is not how you write in the humanities or the social sciences,” he said. “I don’t think it’s effective to have 400 kids sitting in a room [with someone] talking at them. It’s not salient. It’s not relevant or germane to their lives because they’re thinking ‘This has nothing to do with me.’”