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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Office enforces Aggie honor system

 
 

Since September of 2004 the Aggie Honor System Office has held its doors open to students and faculty alike to review violations and adjudicate cases from falsified doctors’ notes to plagiarized papers, and everything in between.
Timothy Powers, Class of 2001 and the head of the AHSO, said any reported violations concerning academic misconduct have to come through his office and his case officers, and they are in no shortage of work.
Over the past three years, the AHSO has maintained an average of a little more than 200 cases per semester, Powers said, with around 80 percent of those in either plagiarism or direct cheating. However, Powers said he suspects some violations are never reported.
“If a student has been accused of academic misconduct then our office needs to be aware of that,” Powers said. “We may have a student who is plagiarizing in multiple classes, but if the faculty isn’t telling us then that student may just get multiple slaps on the wrist instead of coming to our office and being held accountable. The other part of that is if a student is accused of cheating and is reported to our office then that student has a chance to appeal, where through the professor only they may not.”
As defined by the AHSO, academic “misconduct in research or scholarship is the fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing, reviewing or reporting research.”
Valerie Balester, executive director for the University Writing Center, said students often don’t recognize the use of misconduct in their writing.
“They often don’t realize they have to cite things like photos from the Internet or songs,” Balester said. “And some disciplines have different rules than others. In physics right now there’s a debate about just how many words you can cite from an article without being a ‘plagiarist.'”
Lauren McAuliffe, a writing consultant with the University Writing Center and a speaker in the Academic Integrity Development Program, said most plagiarism violations are really unintentional.
“In the plagiarism workshops we really try to focus on the fact that most plagiarism is not intentional, because most students don’t understand that,” Mcauliffe said. “Even parroting an author with a citation can be considered plagiarism in some cases. So there’s a gray area I think students are often surprised at.”
Tim Scott, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Science, said this gray, area along with the actual intention of the violator, makes academic misconduct cases difficult to judge.
“I think we’re still struggling a bit in defining what academic dishonesty is, and the thing that I struggle with is intentional or unintentional,” Scott said. “If you fail to cite something correctly you’re charged with scholastic dishonesty, if you happen to be applying to professional school that could have a big impact. Now if you say ‘this was wrong’ and you’re graded down for it but not charged, and you learn from that, should you then carry that around that you’ve been charged?”
The process of adjudicating an instance of academic misconduct is multi-part, with the first step being reporting the violation. If the student is a first-time offender, the reporting faculty member has the option to handle the violation on his or her own or to refer it to the Honor Council. If the student is a second-time offender, the Honor Council is the only option.
Powers said he sees three types of student responses to violation reports, the most prevalent being an ownership of guilt and a desire to put the mistake behind them.
“Students respond one of three ways typically,” Powers said. “The ‘Yes I did this, it was a temporary lapse of judgment, I know I was wrong and I’m kind of glad I got caught,’ the ‘Yes I did this, but I didn’t know it was against the rules,’ and the ‘No, I didn’t do this.'”
Powers said around 80 percent of cases are resolved fairly easily with most students being forthcoming about their involvement. The remaining 20 percent of cases are appeals, with roughly half of these resulting in a dismissal.
If a student has been found to have committed academic misconduct and is in violation of the Honor Code, the Honor Council has a full range of sanctions available to them.
Powers said the majority of offenders do not come close to an expulsion. Most first-time offenders just receive a zero on the applicable assignment. Only around 15 percent receive an F* to denote failure by academic dishonesty, and in the past 10 years, Powers said, there have been only three students expelled for an Honor Code violation.
Even for the ones who do end up with the F*, Powers said they generally take care of it pretty quickly.
“The vast majority are on probation for six months maximum and they’re done,” Powers said “We have some who never file to get off, but those are very few.”
For those students who are found guilty of Honor Code violations, their sanctions may require participation in the AHSO’s Academic Integrity Development Program. Partnered with campus organizations like the University Writing Center, the program takes students through a multifaceted learning experience where they get help with everything from stress and time management to citations and ethics. Powers said it’s a two-part approach.
“We do one half of the program on ethics and decision making, and the other half about equipping students with the tools they need to succeed,” Powers said. “There are so many University resources that are underutilized by students.”
The program boasts a great success rate as well, with 179 AIDP ‘graduates’ in the past three years and only three being referred back to AHSO as subsequent offenders. Ultimately the vast majority of students go on to never see the AHSO again, Powers said.
“Our repeat offender rate is unbelievably low,” Powers said. “Either because they become terrified of messing up again, or they truly learn what it means to cheat or plagiarize so they don’t do it again.”
Andrew Armstrong, director of undergraduate programs for the College of Liberal Arts, said ultimately students need to learn that the faculty and students are all on the same team.
“No one shows up here to see ‘how can I fail another student today,’ we show up thinking ‘What can I do to help this student earn their diploma,'” Armstrong said.

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