By Leighah Beausoleil
Since Academic Year 2016-17 (AY16-17) reported cases of academic dishonesty have decreased by approximately 88%, according to data provided by Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences Susan Dargan.
There were 59 reported cases of academic dishonesty in AY16-17, according to the data. In AY20-21, there were seven cases.
The largest year-to-year decline was between AY18-19 and AY19-20, with an approximate 60% decrease in reported cases, according to the data.
Of the 162 reported cases for academic years since AY16-17, 152 were first-time infractions and the remaining 10 were second-time infractions, according to the data.
The type of infraction was identifiable for 160 of the reported cases. Of those cases, approximately 73.1% were instances of plagiarism, approximately 25.6% were instances of cheating on an exam, and the remaining 1.3% were cases in which a student gave work to another student, according to the data.
Dargan said she found the decline in cases to be “interesting.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” she said. “It may be that the faculty are less likely to record it, particularly during a pandemic. And maybe there’s less going on during a pandemic.”
Dargan added changes in learning due to the pandemic led to the use of online formats that may make it more difficult for students to cheat or plagiarize because the software is able to monitor the students more closely.
She said, “The important thing here is frequency,” and she encourages professors to report instances of academic dishonesty to allow the policy to identify repeat offenders because if a student commits three infractions, “they can be dismissed from the University.”
According to the current academic honesty policy, faculty are “expected” to report cases of academic dishonesty, but it is not required.
The policy does require faculty to reference the University policy in their syllabi. However, it would be “difficult” to identify when an infraction goes unreported by a professor, according to Dargan.
She added the policy was updated in AY18-19.
According to the policy proposal, the Dean of Students Office would no longer oversee cases of academic dishonesty – instead, the academic deans would.
Other changes included making the policy more clear and outlining the student appeal process in more detail.
Dargan said, “It was unclear to me, and I think to a lot of other people on the Academic Standing Committee, what percentage of these were investigated, and what percent were found to be problematic. And my feeling is that a lot of these cases were just reported cases.”
The new policy would also require academic deans to oversee instances of multiple infractions, according to the proposal.
Dargan said multiple infractions are “very uncommon.”
She added when they do happen, instances of second infractions tend to be close to a student’s first infraction.
Dargan said academic honesty is a “complicated topic,” adding, “Part of me is always wondering, ‘Why give assignments that can be easily plagiarized?’ And when I was an instructor, I started to question that,” she said.
She said, “I try to make my assignments as idiosyncratic as possible, and more based on experiences and engagement than testing – that doesn’t fit every discipline.”
Dargan emphasized the importance of communication about not only the policy, but helping students understand why this is relevant and will be relevant later on in their professional lives.
Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said, “I think our policy is a good policy.
“I think it’s really important for students to understand the value of doing their own work,” Zimmerman said.
She reflected on her time as a faculty member and her experiences with cases of academic dishonesty, adding she believes the number of cases has grown over the past 10 to 15 years due to increased access to the internet and resources that make those behaviors easier.
Zimmerman added in some cases, the work involved in plagiarizing can be almost as much work or more than completing the actual assignment itself.
Shelli Waetzig, chair of the Academic Policies Committee, said she was “surprised” by the decline in cases as shown through the data.
“I think the nature of remote learning definitely increases the potential for academic dishonesty,” she said. “And that is just the nature of remote learning – people will have access to a lot more devices when they’re taking online exams.”
When it comes to instructors reporting or not reporting cases of academic dishonesty, Waetzig said she can see both sides.
“There’s a lot of paperwork that goes along with, you know, submitting those things,” she added.
However, she said reporting cases is important in discouraging those behaviors and being able to catch offenders who have multiple infractions.
“I think the policy is working,” she added. “I think it’s fine. I think if people follow the policy, it does what it needs to do, right? It goes up the ladder the way it’s supposed to go.
“The problem is, it’s a chain of events that needs to happen. And there are various people that have to move those things forward,” Waetzig said.
She added she does not believe this problem lies within the policy itself.
Waetzig is also a non-voting member of the Appeals Committee, which is a subcommittee of the Academic Policies Committee.
“We have recently revamped that policy in a way to make it so that students get their representation,” she said. “They get a chance to speak their piece at the Appeal Committee.”
Waetzig added, “This gives them their opportunity to at least state their case and sort of be heard at a nonpartisan committee level.”
As of March 22, Waetzig said the committee saw four appeal cases last year and two so far this year.
Marc Cote, dean of Arts and Humanities, said the hard part of the policy is ensuring everyone involved understands the “ins and outs” of the process.
“I think the steps are in place to create a fair process, where the student has the opportunity to talk with the instructor prior to it being lodged as a complaint,” Cote said. “And then the student has the opportunity to appeal and there are several steps – some in place to ensure privacy, some in place to ensure timely delivery of decisions.”
Cote said he understands instructors’ decisions to not report cases of academic dishonesty.
“I’m sort of comfortable with that,” he said. “We give great leeway to faculty in their syllabi and their academic pedagogy, and some faculty may feel that things are best dealt with in the classroom situation and they may decide that the best route is to work one-on-one with students and I respect that difference of opinion.”
Cote said he would be interested in having a discussion with students about the policy and creating the opportunity for students to make their own “code of conduct” that they would sign and demonstrate their awareness and commitment to academic honesty.
“That way, it does build greater awareness of the policy itself, but also makes students involved in the decision-making process,” he said.
David Smailes, interim chair of the Political Science Department, said policies such as the academic honesty policy are truly aimed at educating students and creating “teachable moments.”
He said the policies aren’t meant to be a “criminal code,” but to demonstrate to students how they should act as scholars and educate them on standards they are going to be held to even beyond college.
“The idea of attributing, properly, other people’s work and so on – that’s a universal policy anywhere you’re going to be working,” Smailes added.
He said he was “not too surprised” the number of cases weren’t as high as previous years because of remote learning.
Smailes said he believes the current academic honesty policy is “flexible” enough to allow faculty to implement it fairly, but also “rigorous” enough to set a clear standard of academic honesty for students.
“I think that the area that is maybe most unclear to students is the definition of plagiarism,” he said. “As much as I think policies try to define plagiarism as clearly as they can, there’s always a little bit of a gray area around some of those definitions.”
Given this, Smailes said, faculty can “turn those into teachable moments to be able to help students understand where the limits are as far as plagiarism goes.”
Vincent Ferraro, chair of the Sociology and Criminology Department, said he neither expected nor was surprised by the decline in cases of academic dishonesty.
Ferraro said given changes to coursework and assignments, he understands why there could be fewer violations of the policy.
“Potentially, there were some changes to the types of assignments that students were doing in a remote-synchronous environment rather than a face-to-face environment,” he said.
“You’ve also got the fact that we transitioned to a new system – Canvas as an LMS versus Blackboard,” he said, adding he would be interested to see next year’s data to see if the Learning Management System had an effect.
Ferraro said he does not believe students are aware of or understand the academic honesty policy.
“I don’t want to give the impression that it’s just students not doing their homework,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case. I’m actually not sure how many faculty are broadly and fully aware of the policy, either.”
Ferarro said it could be helpful for students to learn about the policy as a part of their first-year experience, but that the policy should also be revisited “often” throughout their academic career to ensure students have the opportunity to ask questions.
He said violations of the policy could be the result of students not having a full understanding of what is expected of them.
“We know that there are cultural differences around the world,” he added. “There’s enough studies on that to suggest that the violation of the code – any code for that matter – is culturally bounded. So, I think it’s complicated and much as we might like to apply it in a very literal way, I think that there’s a nuance that it can get steamrolled.”
Some students said they were surprised to see the decline of cases in the data.
Ben Hurney, a freshman studio art major, said he is not familiar with FSU’s academic honesty policy, but looking at the data, he would have expected it to have the opposite outcome.
Hurney said remote learning “definitely increased the amount of talking about work and tests.
“Just being able to take a test online definitely increases that. A lot of my teachers in high school would watch your screen while you take a test. It was harder, but it definitely did increase,” he added.
Sabrina Beach, a senior psychology major, said she is “kind of” familiar with the policy, adding she knows there is “no tolerance for plagiarism.”
Beach said, “I think it’s good that they have it in place, but it makes me anxious because I recheck my work all the time to make sure I don’t accidentally plagiarize.”
Zach Ade, a freshman in the pre-engineering program, said he isn’t familiar with FSU’s policy, but he is aware of what policies typically are in place in schools.
Ade said when it comes to academic dishonesty, he doesn’t “feel too strongly one way or the other.
“I think plagiarism is still pretty bad, though, because you’re just taking someone else’s work as your own,” he added. “But like cheating – like using a cheat sheet or something – I don’t really care that much if other people do it.”