Illustration by Walter Stanford
Illustration by Walter Stanford

A Matter of Honor

“There’s the assumption that plagiarism and cheating are often done by the students who are really struggling to make it at Duke. But I think in a significant number of these cases, it’s the more driven, the more competitive students who are trying to get the edge.”
June 1, 2001

Last semester, a longtime Duke professor had an academically unsettling experience. For a freshman seminar, he had assigned a paper on the writings of Louis Armstrong. One of the fifteen papers that came back to him didn’t seem quite right. It was “beautifully written,” he recalls. But it dwelled on the generic topic of jazz and American culture. And it came from a student who hadn’t exactly performed with distinction in class.

Suspicious of the paper’s origins, the professor brought it to the university’s associate dean for judicial affairs, Kacie Wallace ’89. Through a keyword search, it took Wallace less than five minutes to find the paper on an Internet term-paper site. The student had even kept the original title. It’s not tough to find Internet assistance in those moments of academic crisis: One site offers “more than 25,000 topics to choose from”—in the category of post-Civil War U.S. history alone, those topics range from “President McKinley and Expansionism” to “Mexican-American Soldiers in World War II”—along with “custom writing services.”

The head of the faculty’s Academic Council, Peter Burian, observes that cheating has been a pedagogic problem at least since students assembled in Plato’s academy. And ancient authors traded charges of plagiarism. (Burian is a classical studies professor.) But there seems to be a fresh focus on the problem. In the 1960s, one in four surveyed students admitted to cheating once or more on a test in the previous year. By 1993, that figure had doubled. And given the Internet addiction of today’s students, there’s concern about whether the ease of electronic cutting and pasting will aggravate the problem.

That concern was given new weight this spring, when some 122 University of Virginia students were accused of copying from one another’s term papers in an introductory physics course. As many as half of them are expected to face the only penalty available for cheating: “permanent dismissal from the university,” or loss of degrees awarded in earlier years, as the so-called “single sanction” rule demands. In force for almost 160 years, Virginia’s honor system “directly expresses the principle of student self-governance,” according to a statement from the Honor Committee.

“‘Honor’ at the university is far more than a word or a student organization. The Honor System provides students with tangible benefits enjoyed every day. You may write checks with local merchants simply by showing your student I.D., and you may take unproctored exams in the comfort of your room or in a pavilion garden. Students at the university live in at atmosphere unfettered by distrust and temptation.”

Technology, though, can heighten temptation. And the irony in this episode is apparent: The same technology that fostered plagiarism allowed its detection. A computer program devised by the physics professor—a program that detects similar word patterns in term papers—uncovered the copying. As a New York Times article reported, “In an era when people swap music over the Internet, forward e-mail messages, and send texts to each other with a single keystroke, the lines between collaboration and theft have blurred.”

Penny Rue ’75, dean of students at the University of Virginia, says student habits with the Internet have “made it more difficult for faculty to educate students about what constitutes proper research techniques, how to cite different kinds of work appropriately, how to give suitable attribution for ideas. This is a serious challenge to all universities in the information age.” But even given the fracas over physics, she doesn’t see a serious challenge to the venerable honor system. “I believe this episode has affirmed the honor code and its importance to the university,” she says, adding that Virginia’s alumni “consistently cite the honor system as one of the most important features” of their campus experience.

“The level of conversation about this incident at virtually any university gathering shows the seriousness with which the community views the honor system. There is disagreement about the single sanction, but that is natural, and shows that students still care very much about the system and want to make it their own.”

In the 1999-2000 academic year, Duke took part in a multi-institutional survey project meant to show whether, in fact, students cared very much about academic integrity. With support from the John Templeton Foundation, the project was led by the Center for Academic Integrity, a national consortium of 200 colleges and universities that is based at Duke and is affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Four hundred Duke students were invited to participate in the survey; 242 replied. Faculty members were also surveyed.

The Duke survey showed a fairly small number of transgressions in several areas—plagiarizing a paper; turning in a paper based on information obtained from a term-paper “mill” or website; copying from other students with or without their knowledge; cheating on a test or helping someone else cheat on a test. But it did point to a range of other problem behaviors. Forty-five percent of the responding students reported that they had engaged in unauthorized collaboration; 38.5 percent in copying a few sentences without footnoting them in a paper; 37 percent in falsifying lab or research data; 24 percent in getting questions or answers from someone who had already taken a test; 21 percent in receiving substantial, non-permitted help on an assignment; 19 percent in fabricating or falsifying a bibliography.

Probably the biggest survey surprise came in attitudes toward cheating. Most students frowned on copying from others with or without their knowledge, or writing a paper for another student, or plagiarizing in any fashion. But only 24 percent gauged unauthorized collaboration as a serious form of cheating. Receiving substantial, non-permitted help on an assignment and falsifying lab or research data received around the same ranking. Just 40 percent viewed copying another student’s computer program as serious; the figure for the more general category of turning in work done by someone else was a less-than-reassuring 44 percent. While most students aren’t rampantly cheating, a lot of them have a remarkably casual attitude toward cheating.

Part of that attitude may reflect what Missy Walker ’03 refers to as “ambiguity in faculty expectations.” Walker, chair of the student-run Honor Council, says that in math and engineering classes in particular, problem sets completed as homework are a substantial part of a student’s grade. In the absence of explicit faculty guidance, students will be quick to realize the advantages of working in tandem. She notes that students charged with plagiarism routinely say they didn’t know the conventions of citation.

Cheating arises not just in an atmosphere of ambiguity, but in a culture committed to getting ahead. In a survey by Who’s Who Among High School Students, 80 percent of high-achieving high school students admitted to having cheated—a figure suggesting that it’s not just the struggling student who’s the problem student. Eighty-three percent said cheating was common at their school; 53 percent did not believe that cheating was a serious ethical violation. Some anecdotal indications point to the same problem. Students at a Chicago high school, including some of the top scholars in the school and the student-body president, were found to have cheated in an academic decathlon in 1995. They had used a pilfered test to memorize the answers. (Newspaper accounts also noted that in the same year, the president of the school board was jailed for income-tax evasion.)

Such reported behavior is consistent with findings from the work of Donald McCabe, founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a professor of organization management at Rutgers University. McCabe has conducted surveys with tens of thousands of students over the past decade. He was the principal investigator for the most recent study; he also ran two previous surveys at Duke in 1990 and 1995.

“I believe there’s less cheating at the more selective, more competitive schools,” he says, “though there is more cheating among the more competitive students. Most people feel that where there’s a high grade point average, there’s a lower amount of cheating, that it’s an inverse relationship. Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Some students at the bottom are cheating out of necessity to keep parents off their backs, to keep up their grades in order to stay eligible for scholarships. And some students at the top are cheating owing to the intensity of the competition. They want to go to the top professional schools, and a hundredth of a point on their GPA, as they see it, might make the critical difference. They’re just driven.”Duke students were driven—though hardly with great interest or energy—to install the current honor code in the spring of 1993. Just 2,600 undergraduates voted in the campus election, and just 52 percent supported the honor code. Characterizing the code as “modest in its expectations,” President Nannerl O. Keohane says it “has yet really to take root on campus.” She adds, “It is true that all students sign it, it is routinely posted and printed, and it does bind students to demonstrate integrity in the pursuit of their intellectual endeavors and to encourage their peers to do the same. However, for many students and faculty members, the honor code is peripheral, elective, and unclear.”

The recent survey backs up those assessments: Sixty-two percent of the student respondents rated “the average student’s understanding of Duke’s policies concerning student cheating” low or very low. Even higher percentages of faculty rated the faculty’s understanding of those policies low or very low.

If the honor code is peripheral, part of the reason may be that it speaks to an age of chivalry and elitism—to values that have fallen out of the favor in broad sectors of the academy. Elizabeth Kiss, director of the Kenan Institute, acknowledges that the traditional honor-code schools are often rooted in “notions of gentlemanly honor.” As she sees it, though, “You could make a very strong case for an honor code from a diverse, democratic vision of an academic community.

“One of the things that’s really powerful about an honor code is that the students develop the rules and help to adjudicate them. Even if you look at schools that haven’t moved to a full-blown honor code, one of the things they feel very strongly about is student involvement in the process. Students are living under the rules that they themselves helped to frame and are responsible for upholding. I think that’s a very powerful expression of the democratic ideal. There are some schools—and I think this would be an interesting model for Duke to consider—where students every year have to reformulate the honor code, so that the process is always fluid and students are always a part of it.”

A “cheating culture,” Kiss says, is defined by an us-versus-them attitude, where it’s either students against other students or, more typically, students against the faculty. “What you find in very well-functioning honor-code communities is a sense that students feel they have a stake in the system. They feel this is their code.”

Kiss says immersion in a strong honor-code environment can change individual student behavior, and can in fact be life-changing. And McCabe’s research seems to confirm that: For the student who cheated in high school and goes on to an honor-code university, “there’s a high probability that he’ll be extremely reluctant to cheat, or at worst will engage in nickel-and-dime cheating, not serious cheating.” McCabe says that peer influence exerts a stronger influence than an individual sense of honor. “At campuses with strong honor codes, particularly those that are smaller in size and where it’s hard to remain anonymous, the reason you don’t cheat is that it’s socially unacceptable. Other students will know who the cheaters are, and they will look down on you. They’ve been given a tremendous amount of freedom in this environment, non-proctored exams and so on. They’re primarily responsible for maintaining that environment, and they are responding to the high level of trust that exists.”

It’s a good thing if students are sufficiently malleable to develop new habits: McCabe has found that cheating in high schools is quickly migrating to the Internet. “And while Internet cheating is not yet endemic in college, watch out,” says The Philadelphia Inquirer in reporting on the latest McCabe findings. “Today’s high-school students surely will bring it with their backpacks.”

As Kiss puts it, “There is strong evidence that the so-called invisible curriculum is especially important for students—what the peer culture is like, what messages they’re getting from their peers. And if you ask students who graduate from honor-code schools what was most important about their college experience, the honor code is one of the first things they cite. People talk about it as a touchstone of their professional lives; this is something they will keep thinking about.” The college years, then, can be key years of moral development.

Exactly, says divinity school professor Stanley Hauerwas. An academic community should be less concerned with teaching values—which he says can be reduced to arguing over the attributes of cherry ice cream as against chocolate ice cream—than about teaching virtues. Classroom objectivity is pure cowardice, he says. “I think the modern university that says we want to train students to make up their own minds is simply self-deceptive. No teacher teaches to have students make up their own minds. I tell my students that they don’t have minds worth making up until I’ve trained them.”

The faculty, in his view, have let go of important notions of authority in favor of a reliance on expertise—“a peculiar modern invention,” as he calls it, that substitutes command of information for wisdom. For his part, Hauerwas is drawn to the master-apprentice relationship historically associated with the craft trades, where “the truth and truthfulness become absolutely essential for carrying on,” he says. “Moral life is about the formation of virtuous people by tradition-formed communities.

“People always ask me, Where are these institutions that still produce people of virtue? And I always say, [the Marine training camp at] Parris Island and medical schools. Medical schools are still quite extraordinary in the kind of moral training they provide. For example, one of the fundamental commitments of medicine is that you are to care for a patient in a way that transcends all other considerations. So this could be a vile child molester, and yet you as the physician have to take care of their bad gall bladder. Now that’s really extraordinary moral training. You must do this to be honored, to be a member of the medical world. I think the Marines are really very good at it too. I’m a pacifist, but as a person committed to non-violence, I think we have to be at least as intentional in our training of people as the Marines are.”

In a Duke talk he gave a year ago, Hauerwas said that cheating is “a more serious crime than murder for those engaged in the activities of learning and teaching.” He went on to argue that “Because judgments must be learned through apprenticeship to master, some dead, some living, we cannot and do not use others’ work without due acknowledgment, because that would betray our activity.” Due acknowledgment of someone else’s work, then, “is a way of indicating who are the necessary members of the conversation I am participating in to acquire the same kinds of nuanced judgments that I find exhibited in their lives.”

Hauerwas defends honor codes as necessary because “we need one another to be good, and that is what we gesture to one another through an honor code.” Good communities and good institutions “need to find ways to remind themselves of what they are about as well as to give initiates a sense of those forms of life that make the community what it is.”

Doesn’t it demand a huge cultural shift to demand that students turn in other students who violate a code of conduct? In the Duke survey, just 18 percent of the responding students said they would report a cheating incident to an appropriate authority. “Of course, it’s a big thing to ask,” says Hauerwas. “But I can’t imagine life going on in the university without that requirement. Our work would be impossible if we didn’t believe in it.”
One often-cited example of a community that gives frequent expression to honor is Davidson College, whose president is Bobby Vagt M.Div. ’73. Vagt says the practice of honor was first codified at Davidson back in the mid-1800s; the focus was on preventing lying, cheating, and stealing. Over time, the responsibility has shifted in the direction of students, and honor has come to be understood “more in terms of positives than negatives.”

The Davidson honor code encompasses the social and academic spheres alike. “Life is of a single piece. We see the transition from the classroom to the dorm room as seamless in terms of personal comportment,” Vagt says. He says the code is “embedded” in the community, and that it’s one of the top reasons students cite for attending Davidson. There are deliberate conversations about honor, discussions organized by the student Honor Council, and public signing ceremonies. “Rather than having a set of rules of what we can’t do, we really define what our expectations are for each other. It goes beyond self-scheduled exams; it’s why people leave book bags hanging around unattended, why doors are left unlocked.”

Davidson’s code requires student to refrain from cheating, including plagiarism. It also specifies that “every student shall be honor-bound to report immediately all violations of the honor code which come under his or her observation; failure to do so shall be a violation of the honor code.” Vagt calls the reporting requirement “the hardest piece of the honor code,” but he says it works: The college had four honor-code cases in the fall semester, and in two of the cases students turned in other students.

But according to Rutgers researcher McCabe, “turning in other students doesn’t happen often,” even at schools with strong honor codes. “The ‘rat clause,’ as students lovingly refer to it, varies from the requirement that students should confront another student or report the transgression, to a recommendation to report, to a requirement to report but with no penalty for failing to report.” The national trend, he says, is for colleges and universities to reduce the reporting pressure placed on students. And where student reporting does go on, it’s typically because someone was affected directly by another’s cheating—perhaps because a grading curve was thrown off, or the student’s own test answers were being copied.

Even The New York Times Magazine’s “Ethicist” columnist, Randy Cohn, isn’t big on student reporting requirements. In a late-April column, he wrote: “While it is reasonable to ask students to regulate their own behavior, little good will come of compelling them to police the behavior of their schoolmates. For one thing, few will do so. Our society has real ambivalence about informing. To punish only the occasional kid for failing to inform is arbitrary and capricious, and it undermines the sense of the school as a just community.”

“Some people would say that because it’s so hard for students to report, we should drop reporting requirements from honor codes,” says the Kenan Ethics Institute’s Kiss. “There are others who would say—and I’m inclined to be in this group—that it’s really important to have that requirement there. The service academies have started to distinguish rather sharply between breaking the code by not reporting someone and breaking the code by cheating. If used to be that if somehow they found out that you knew somebody had cheated, you could be expelled. They’re starting to recognize that this is an incredibly hard moral dilemma for a young person. But at the same time, having that obligation in the code may be a very important way of at least getting a student to confront someone—not necessarily to turn them in, but to confront them and say, you’ve put me in a horrible position because I’m obligated to report you and yet I feel like I can’t report you out of a sense of friendship or loyalty.”

An obligation to report carries a strong deterrence value against cheating, Kiss says. “Not only are students afraid that somebody will rat on them, but, on a more noble level, they’re thinking that they don’t want to put their fellow students in this really horrible situation. So you’re creating a kind of community ethos.”

There may be gentler paths toward a community ethos. The University of Maryland at College Park has a code that does not include provisions for non-proctored exams or obligate students to report any cheating they might observe. But it does provide for significant student involvement in the resolution of alleged cases of academic misconduct among students. And it encourages student involvement in promoting academic integrity. Gary Pavela, Maryland’s director of judicial programs and student ethical development, says student members of the Honor Committee lobbied the academic deans to make academic integrity a prime topic in classes. A decade ago, Maryland had no honor code.

Pavela characterizes the atmosphere then as “a little like the Cold War, where the faculty were designing ways to prevent academic cheating and the students treated beating the system as a game. Honor codes and honor councils can challenge the attitude that’s fairly common in high schools and some colleges that academic integrity is sort of us versus them, faculty versus students.” The code was finally put in place at the suggestion of students serving on the institution’s governing board.

As he ponders an emerging interest in academic integrity, Pavela speaks in Hauerwas-like language, emphasizing the campus as a place of enlightenment. He sees that interest, in part, as a reaction to the view that “particularly at large institutions, faculty members have vacated the fields of ethics and character development, that they feel very uncomfortable talking about those things in their discipline.” Students, then, have the sense “that they’re missing something, that this isn’t a trade school, and they are interested in hearing out faculty on broader and deeper issues. There’s almost a spiritual interest in finding meaning.”

“The implementation of an honor code is incremental,” Pavela says. “We may evolve into the full traditional model here. Maybe the next step is non-proctored exams; we’re expressly heading in that direction. But it won’t work to simply say, tomorrow we’re having non-proctored exams. It’s not a matter of an edict. It’s a matter of creating a culture. The more students hear the faculty and their own peers talking about wanting to be at a place where honor is valued, the less academic dishonesty there will be.”

Part of creating such a culture is being clear about expectations. In his introductory “Electric Circuits” course, Gary Ybarra, assistant research professor in electrical and computer engineering, gives his students a written statement about honor. The statement spells out examples of academically dishonest behavior that he’s encountered—submitting another student’s work, submitting a lab report for which the lab exercise was never performed, accessing another student’s computer files and transferring data.

Ybarra, who sits on the Undergraduate Judicial Board, makes it clear in the statement that he feels an obligation “to confront those individuals whose work is questionable.” He notes that “the very nature of engineering is collaborative,” and that “creativity is often generated from sharing ideas and discussing methods of attacking problems.” But he offers a specific warning against “showing to others any written solution to a problem that is to be turned in for a grade.” (In his research, Rutgers’ McCabe has noted a dramatic increase in student collaboration on assignments where the professor had explicitly asked for individual work. “While some professors strongly encourage such work, others forbid it, and some fail to delineate their expectations,” he and a co-author write in Change magazine. “In the face of such confusion, many students choose the path of least resistance and elect to work together.”)

Ybarra says that when he began teaching at Duke in 1983, he didn’t make it a habit to stress academic-integrity issues. After taking several cases to the judicial board, he decided to outline his expectations in writing. He also says he takes practical steps to combat “wandering eyes,” such as giving different versions of the test in a test sitting.

Because of careless work habits and time-management issues, even good students can succumb to the cheating temptation, Ybarra says. “The engineering curriculum in particular is very demanding. Some students who haven’t planned very carefully how to manage their time can experience panic as the due date for an assignment nears. And their judgment can change. That can happen to anyone, from the academically challenged to the academically gifted.”

But a lot of professors are reluctant to take cheating incidents to the judicial board, he says, preferring instead to deal with those incidents “in-house”—perhaps by failing the student in the assignment. They may feel that judicial-board procedures are too cumbersome and time-consuming. “It’s a hassle not only in terms of time and energy, but the very purpose of it is sickening,” Ybarra says. “It’s unpleasant for everyone involved; it’s unpleasant for the student, it’s unpleasant for the professor.”

Professors also may think that the likely punishment won’t fit the offense. The “precedented sanction,” in his phrase, is a two-semester suspension from the university. He offers the examples of a student who is a chronic copier of others’ work, and another student who, before turning in homework, talks through a single problem with his classmates. Those are very different infractions, but they may not be treated differently, he says. “I’ve seen a student who copied lab reports all semester and got a two-semester suspension. I’ve had a student who turned in ten lines of computer code identical to another person; working out those ten lines of code might have taken an hour or less. And they got the same sanction. That’s a problem.”

The judicial board adjudicated eighteen academic-dishonesty cases in the fall semester. (A hearing panel consists of three students, one academic dean, and one faculty member or a student-affairs administrator from a pool of Undergraduate Judicial Board members.) Kacie Wallace, the chief judicial-affairs officer, says, “I know we can’t have absolute consensus on what the sanctions should be. But I do think we should probably be doing more to talk with faculty about what the sanctions are. And if there’s not agreement, then let’s change them. We’re not wedded to particular sanctions; it’s just sort of what has evolved over the years.”

Wallace also sees the system in more flexible terms than Ybarra. If there is a finding of academic dishonesty, whether it’s plagiarism or cheating, “the discussion will start at a two-semester suspension,” she says. “They will look at the nature of the violation. Is it egregious, or is it less of an infraction? Is it just a quick lapse in judgment, or did the student really take some time to prepare for this infraction? They’ll also look at what was going on with the student at the time of the violation. If there are lots of personal issues—family issues, illness—then the board may take that into consideration. Very few cases will result in what we call a suspended suspension, which means there’s no actual time away from school. Maybe 30 to 40 percent of the cases will result in a one-semester suspension. The majority probably result in a two-semester suspension. But we’ve also had two expulsions this year, permanent expulsions for academic dishonesty, in very egregious cases.”

In both of the recent expulsion cases, the students “were doing very well in school,” Wallace says. “There’s the assumption that plagiarism and cheating are often done by the students who are really struggling to make it at Duke. But I think in a significant number of these cases, it’s the more driven, the more competitive students who are trying to get the edge. There’s a lot of parental pressure to make all A’s. There’s a lot of peer pressure to succeed. There’s a lot of pressure to get into a particular law school or medical school.” And that felt pressure can make the judicial hearings all the more wrenching, she says. “Students and their families are very outcome-driven. And sometimes it feels like the education itself is less important than what the final transcript shows, what the GPA shows, what the résumé shows. Rather than seeing it as an educational intervention, which is how we would like to see the process, they see it as affecting where the student goes next. We’re looking for an educational opportunity and they’re looking for an outcome.”

Cheating infractions range from bringing in notes to a test to stealing a test to changing answers and then submitting the test for re-grading. While plagiarism cases have been on the rise, instructors are more effective in combating it. Duke decided against deploying a university-wide service, available commercially, that automatically compares submitted papers to every document available on the Internet. Still, says Wallace, some academic departments have been identifying plagiarism-combating search engines—like Turnitin.com, which advertises an online service that makes “determining the originality of any paper a breeze.”

She says, “In the Eighties, when I was in school, you had to do more work to cheat. You had to steal tests, you had to collaborate with somebody, you had to look on someone else’s paper. Now, it’s easier to do it in the confines of your own room.” Cheating and plagiarism have become more an act of intellectual gamesmanship than an exercise in physical labor, she says. Academic dishonesty may not be more rampant or more egregious than in the past, but it’s stealthier. She mentions a couple of cases where students interested in previewing tests have tried to break into a faculty member’s computer account.

Wallace acknowledges faculty concerns about the time investment involved in investigating academic-integrity cases. Some faculty members will simply hand her a paper, tell her it doesn’t resemble the student’s work, and ask her to investigate it. Others will spend hours in Internet searches. “None of us likes to take the time” to probe for dishonesty and to show up for a hearing, she says, “but it’s an important thing” for an academic community. And she says she wishes there were broader understanding that presumably punitive sanctions are intended also to be educational. “If you hear what goes on in those board hearings, if you hear the struggles these students are having, a lot of times what they need is a break from school, a break to sort of re-prioritize, to figure out what’s going on before they come back and refocus. We’ve done a lot of psychological counseling, academic-skills counseling, reflection papers.”

There’s been a lot of reflecting on the part of the faculty. That’s been satisfying to Missy Walker ’03, chair of the Honor Council, who, in an open letter to the faculty, said they served—consciously or not—as role models for students. “Between August and May, we are…literally and figuratively taking notes.” In all four of her fall-semester courses, she says, instructors discussed the honor code in class and placed it on their syllabi. And at the initiative of the student Honor Council, freshman orientation last fall included, for the first time, an honor-code “signing ceremony.” Walker says she and other members of the Honor Council have overheard fellow students talking about the honor code; one student, she says, challenged another’s casual stance toward cheating by reminding him that he had “signed that thing saying you wouldn’t cheat.”

In April, the executive committee of the Arts and Sciences Council and the Engineering Faculty Council endorsed a several-part resolution on academic integrity. The joint resolution calls for the creation of an Academic Integrity Council, which would develop outreach programs, look for other ways to promote integrity, and monitor the impact of technology on academic dishonesty. The resolution encourages faculty to clearly communicate a concern for honesty to their students, and to educate their students about the nature of misconduct in their discipline. Educational approaches might include printing a statement about the honor code on course syllabi, asking students to write out and sign an honor pledge on assignments, serving as a role model by citing sources in lectures, or providing clear guidelines regarding collaboration.

There are also suggested prevention measures: assigning narrow and specific research topics and collecting drafts; changing exams and problem sets annually; and reducing the temptation to cheat by having students sit at a distance from each other or producing alternate versions of an exam.

One goal targeted by the resolution is clarifying academic-integrity policies. In the ambiguous language of the current faculty handbook, instructors are either “expected” or “required” to report academic-integrity violations to the judicial board. And—though it may be seen as inconsistent with having an honor code—they are required to proctor exams. The resolution supports a first-time publication embracing all aspects of academic integrity.

According to Walker, “Obviously, there is a point in every Duke student’s life where he or she will no longer be taking exams, a point where the primary focus of his or her life will no longer be in writing papers for introductory classes. It is at that point where the most vital ethical decisions will be made: What does a signature mean? What is a verbal statement or a promise? What should I do? These and others are the questions we will face—as researchers, politicians, journalists, or stay-at-home parents.”

Maybe an honor code can be considered a “utopian” idea, Walker says. Or maybe “a game.” She says she prefers to think of it as practice for a thoughtful life.

Illustration by Walter Stanford.

The Duke survey showed a fairly small number of transgressions in several areas—plagiarizing a paper; turning in a paper based on information obtained from a term-paper “mill” or website; copying from other students with or without their knowledge; cheating on a test or helping someone else cheat on a test. But it did point to a range of other problem behaviors. Forty-five percent of the responding students reported that they had engaged in unauthorized collaboration; 38.5 percent in copying a few sentences without footnoting them in a paper; 37 percent in falsifying lab or research data; 24 percent in getting questions or answers from someone who had already taken a test; 21 percent in receiving substantial, non-permitted help on an assignment; 19 percent in fabricating or falsifying a bibliography. 

Probably the biggest survey surprise came in attitudes toward cheating. Most students frowned on copying from others with or without their knowledge, or writing a paper for another student, or plagiarizing in any fashion. But only 24 percent gauged unauthorized collaboration as a serious form of cheating. Receiving substantial, non-permitted help on an assignment and falsifying lab or research data received around the same ranking. Just 40 percent viewed copying another student’s computer program as serious; the figure for the more general category of turning in work done by someone else was a less-than-reassuring 44 percent. While most students aren’t rampantly cheating, a lot of them have a remarkably casual attitude toward cheating.

Part of that attitude may reflect what Missy Walker ’03 refers to as “ambiguity in faculty expectations.” Walker, chair of the student-run Honor Council, says that in math and engineering classes in particular, problem sets completed as homework are a substantial part of a student’s grade. In the absence of explicit faculty guidance, students will be quick to realize the advantages of working in tandem. She notes that students charged with plagiarism routinely say they didn’t know the conventions of citation. 


ACTIONS AND ATTITUDES


   These are some of the results from an Academic Integrity Survey at Duke released in the spring of 2000. Four hundred students were surveyed, and 242 responded for a response rate of 61 percent. Roughly equal numbers of the respondents were sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
Percentage of respondents who have engaged in the following actions once or more than once since coming to Duke:
Unauthorized collaboration45%
Copying a few sentences without footnoting them in a paper38.5%
Falsifying lab or research data37%
Getting questions or answers from someone who has already taken test24%
Receiving substantial, non-permitted help on an assignment21%
Fabricating or falsifying a bibliography19%
Copying material, almost word for word, from any source and turning it in as your own work11% 
Copying from another student during a test/exam without their knowledge 11% 
Copying another student’s computer program9% 
Helping someone else cheat on a test8% 
Plagiarizing a paper in any way using the Internet as a source6% 
Cheating on a test in any other way6% 
Turning in work done by someone else5% 
Using non-permitted crib notes (or cheat sheet) during a test4% 
Copying from another student during a test/exam with their knowledge4% 
Writing or providing a paper for another student2% 
Turning in a paper based on information obtained from a term-paper “mill” or website2% 
Percentage of respondents who consider the following forms of cheating serious:
Copying from another student during a test/exam with their knowledge85% 
Copying from another student during a test/exam without their knowledge83% 
Writing or providing a paper for another student79% 
Copying a few sentences without footnoting them in a paper77% 
Cheating on a test in any other way75% 
Copying material, almost word for word, from any source and turning it in as your own work74% 
Plagiarizing a paper in any way using the Internet as a source70% 
Turning in a paper based on information obtained from a term- paper “mill” or website69% 
Getting questions or answers from someone who has already taken test67% 
Helping someone else cheat on a test66% 
Using non-permitted crib notes (or cheat sheet) during a test51% 
Turning in work done by someone else44% 
Copying another student’s computer program40% 
Fabricating or falsifying a bibliography38% 
Falsifying lab or research data28% 
Receiving substantial, non-permitted help on an assignment27%
Unauthorized collaboration24%

 

 

  • As editor, Bliwise has overall responsibility for editorial direction and content and for representing the magazine to its various constituencies. He also teaches a seminar in magazine journalism through Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.