Academic integrity discussed
Rutgers professor shares national, SVSU data on cheating, plagiarism
February 6, 2006 —
Dr. Donald McCabe, professor of organization management at Rutgers University, shared his data on academic dishonesty during the Albert J. Beutler Forum on Ethics and Practice on Tuesday. McCabe, who also visited several classrooms throughout the day, gave his main lecture in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall.
McCabe has been examining academic integrity for over 15 years and helped create the Center for Academic Integrity, a coalition of American as well as Canadian universities centered at Duke University which coordinates collaborative efforts to educate students, faculty, and the general public about academic dishonesty.
The CAI also consults universities that are dealing with the issue and helps craft solutions that will cater to a particular university's needs. McCabe estimated that he has surveyed around 100,000 college students and 14,000 faculty members in over 140 institutions.
McCabe informally spoke to a small group of faculty and staff about his work earlier in the day. Present were Merry Jo Brandimore, director of Residential Life, Dr. Frank Dane, the James V. Finkbeiner Endowed Chair in Ethics and Public Policy, Melissa Seitz, English lecturer, and McCabe, who primed those present on the nature of his work, his past experience, and what to expect in his upcoming lecture.
The small group managed to cover a vast array of topics concerning academic integrity, including but not limited to: the "honor system," discipline and punishment, confrontation, reporting, appeals, recognition, and the role of the faculty.
Dominating the discussion was the notion of deep student committal being vital to the success of any program.
"You got to let the students start this thing," suggested McCabe, who said that student participation was essential. "We want students to do the right things for the right reasons."
The theme of student involvement in a successful academic program was prevalent throughout the conversation. McCabe referenced the genesis of the program at Kansas State: the provost of the university took it upon himself to generate official interest in such a program, but delegated significant responsibility to the students to generate the policies that would eventually serve their peers.
McCabe cited this particular instance to demonstrate the effectiveness of flexibility when crafting policy; the provost was in the unique position to clear any bureaucratic or administrative hurdles the students managing the development of the program might encounter.
In addition to concerns about other schools' programs and methods, the conversation inevitably drifted towards SVSU's own policy. As Brandimore said, "We have no idea where it came from."
SVSU's student conduct policy is the only written documentation that provides students with any guidelines regarding academic integrity. It appears as if there is currently no concrete, distinct policy that deals solely with the issues surrounding academic honesty. Those who attended the meeting said there were discussions taking place at various levels within the University, but did not share many details.
After about an hour of informative dialogue, the attendees parted ways. The primary theme was simple: when crafting official policy concerning academic integrity, the wisest route involves as many parties as is expedient. Students, faculty, administrators, and staff must all feel as though they are part of the system - a "culture" of honesty must be forged on the campus, as McCabe said.
In McCabe's formal presentation, "Understanding Academic Diversity from Student and Faculty Perspectives," he presented some of his research and elaborated on the meanings of the statistics. McCabe explained his methodology: statistics are gathered by students self-reporting incidences of cheating. He argued that self-reporting is effective because three fundamental elements keep it that way: the students self-report - they are not "tattling" on one another; the students are not forced to fill out his surveys; and the sample sizes used are fairly large (around 26,000 students were surveyed in the 2004-2005 school year alone).
McCabe noted that a preliminary Web-based survey of SVSU produced a low turnout: 212 students and 16 faculty members filled it out (the survey in question is still available). Using this information, which he admitted must be interpreted carefully, McCabe compared SVSU's data with the national averages.
According to his data, 33 percent of students surveyed reported instances of test cheating, compared with the national data, which indicated that only 23 percent of students reporting test cheating. This particular statistic was the only "major" one presented that was especially different from the norm. Nearly every other statistic that came from SVSU - instances of written plagiarism, instances of "copy and paste" plagiarism, etc. - were roughly commensurate with the national averages.
McCabe's research also indicated that business and communication majors self-reported the most cheating, males tend to cheat a bit more than females (although a few of his recent surveys indicated that in some places females are bucking this trend), and students with low or high GPAs tend to cheat more. McCabe argued that students with low GPAs are often trying to "save" themselves from a punishment a low GPA will cause, whether it be official (e.g. the University) or unofficial (e.g. parents). Students with high GPAs tend to cheat because of the highly competitive nature of these students.
Finally, McCabe noted that athletes and those involved in Greek life reported more cheating. He argued this is because they often have concerns that may be equally important and lay outside of the academic sphere.