February 12, 2008

GPSA Examines Academic Integrity

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Dean of University Faculty Charles Walcott Ph.D ’59 raised concerns over academic integrity at Cornell at the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly’s Council of Representatives yesterday afternoon in Clark Hall.
“We live in a world where there has been an increasing amount of dishonesty and malfeasance of one form or another. If you look at studies that have been done of high school students, approximately 60 percent of them report cheating. [img_assist|nid=27668|title=Serious matters|desc=Charles Walcott ’59, dean of University faculty, leads a discussion about academic integrity at the fifth meeting of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]If you ask Cornell undergraduates how many of them have cheated on an examination, plagiarized on a paper, or done something of that sort, the percentage is over 30 percent,” said Walcott. “It seems clear to me that we have fundamentally a problem at the University of academic integrity,” he said.
In response to this growing problem, the administration has established a subcommittee chaired by Walcott to frame the issues, initiate discussion and develop a plan of action. The purview of the subcommittee will not only be limited to academic integrity, but will further include examining integrity overall and the attitudes surrounding issues of integrity, enforcement and punishment.
Types of academic integrity infringements include, but are not limited to, cheating on exams, plagiarizing and illegitimate medical excuses.
Complicating the issue of maintaining a high level of academic integrity is that the problem is not limited to Cornell students. According to findings by the subcommittee, faculty and staff also demonstrate a “lack of passion” towards academic integrity by not following up on cases brought to their attention, thus leading to inconsistencies in identifying violations of academic integrity and subsequent punishments.
“I know of a number of examples where teaching assistants have caught people cheating on exams, gone to the faculty member involved and the faculty member says, ‘Oh, we’re just going to ignore it. It is too much work to go through the whole academic integrity process.’ I think that is a terrible message to send to graduate students — I think it is a bad message to send to undergraduates. So the problem is not just graduate students, it is not just undergraduate students, it is faculty to some extent as well — all of us are involved in this,” Walcott said.
Members of GPSA expressed similar concerns regarding the need to act.
“I hear again and again that the ‘bureaucratic red tape’ is something that frustrates professors and graduate students with the [amount of time needed] bring up issues of academic integrity and follow up on issues of academic integrity,” said Tamara Pardo grad, a member of the subcommittee. “If that’s the problem, then we need to figure something out.”
Central to solving the issue of academic integrity is exploring why it occurs, since students who have excellent academic records can compromise their academic integrity when under pressure and stress.
“Maybe there needs to be a more comprehensive approach in dealing with students that goes beyond the academic integrity frame. Why did a student crack, a student who has a great record? There are personal problems that are not getting addressed in this process,” said Jonathan Sclarsic ’08 grad, a judicial codes councilor. “It’s not necessarily enough of a wakeup call to just get a failing grade. We should find alternative ways to address students and cultivate students. The process is important and we need to step back and take a bigger picture and think about why are things happening and how can we help students.”
Ideas generated by the subcommittee thus far vary greatly in scope. One idea is the standardization of enforcement and punishment via a “Code of Academic Integrity,” as exists at the University of Virginia, while another idea looks to incorporate academic integrity topics into freshmen writing seminars, since it is the one course taken by every undergraduate.
More drastic proposed changes include creating alternate grading scales where all students can earn an A for doing exceptional work, as opposed to the current scheme in some classes that is based on a distribution where only the top one percent can get As. Another change could a supplemental application essay on integrity.
Another important issue brought up during the meeting was President David Skorton’s rejection of calls to reform the proposed changes of the Krause Report, overruling the suggestions of the Codes and Judicial Committee of the University Assembly. The University Assembly will be meeting on tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. to discuss and respond to this issue.
The Krause Report is a report commissioned by former President Hunter Rawlings to examine Cornell’s Campus Code of Conduct. The report, conducted by Barbara Krause, a former Cornell judicial administrator, called for a sweeping overhaul to the CCC, including eliminating offenders’ rights to counsel and to remain silent.