Task force to take aim at cheating, plagiarism

Plagiarism and cheating — two thorny problems challenging universities nationwide — are among the issues to be tackled by a new Faculty Senate task force.

Washington State University’s Faculty Senate recently appointed a task force on academic integrity and assigned it to study:

• developing an academic integrity code
• helping plan education and prevention procedures
• designing an equitable discipline process that faculty will consistently use.

This month the group is recruiting members for three subcommittees. Each subcommittee will tackle one of the above issues.

The Faculty Senate has responsibility for curriculum and academic rules, including discipline. Because of concerns expressed by both faculty and students about plagiarism and cheating in general, the Faculty Senate’s planning review committee was asked to do a preliminary survey of the issues.

After meeting with many groups, Faculty Senate Executive Secretary and psychology professor Tom Brigham said, the committee concluded that violations of academic integrity are indeed a serious problem. The review found 51 percent of a representative sample of WSU students reporting that they knowingly cheated on an assignment or examination in the past year.

University President V. Lane Rawlins has stressed academic integrity as a core value in education, essential to both personal and professional integrity. Realizing this, the Faculty Senate voted to appoint a task force to develop programs to deal with problems associated with academic integrity.

“This is a critical undertaking if WSU is to achieve its goals of ‘offering the best undergraduate experience in a research university,’ and ‘creating an environment of trust and respect in all we do,’ ” Brigham said.

Although she agrees the effort is important, student leader Lisa Williams, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said perhaps the first work the task force should do is “generate dialogue about what, exactly, ‘integrity’ means,” especially in a university environment where students compete.

“Working with others and their ideas cooperatively instead of competing would, it seems to me, encourage academic integrity by default,” Williams said.

“In a corporatized world where individual ownership receives so much emphasis,” she said, “it becomes difficult to understand — let alone explain to students — how ownership of something concrete differs from ownership of something abstract, like an idea or theory.”

The head of the task force said education alone probably is not sufficient.“Since 51 percent of WSU students admit that they knowingly cheat occasionally, the problem cannot be addressed exclusively by educating students about what constitutes plagiarism, though that remains important,” said chair Paul Brians, a professor in the English Department.

He said other suggestions have been put forward. “Among ideas under consideration are requiring faculty to report to Student Affairs any time they lower a grade because a student cheated.” Another possible change, he said, might be a grade designation for cheating that a student only could have removed from the record after he or she performed some designated affirmative or remedial action.

These are preliminary ideas only and, because these are difficult issues, the senate set no deadline for the task force to complete its work. But it is expected that sometime next fall there will be draft programs for consideration by the university community. The Faculty Senate will then work with the various branches of student government, the Division of Student Affairs, the administration and the Board of Regents for their adoption and implementation.

In addition to Brians, the task force is composed of two undergraduate students from the Pullman campus, one undergraduate student from the urban campuses, one graduate student, one professional student, an associate dean of students and two additional faculty members.

The subcommittees each will include four students and three faculty members, Brians said. Anyone interested in serving on the Student Honor Code Subcommittee, the Education and Prevention Subcommittee and/or the Discipline Subcommittee should contact Brians at brians@wsu.edu or Brigham at Brigham at brigham@mail.wsu.edu.