Zero-tolerance policy overly burdens students

    A.S. Commissioner of Student Advocacy Jeff Boyd announced last week that Eleanor Roosevelt College tallied the most academic dishonesty cases last year, accounting for 46 percent of all cases at UCSD with 97 of a total 210 — over twice as many as any other college. The scope of this discrepancy casts doubt on the academic dishonesty policy used to prosecute suspected cheaters.

    Boyd attributed the volume of cases to the college’s use of the popular online plagiarism prevention service Turnitin.com in Making of the Modern World classes. While there is nothing inherently wrong with running a student’s work through a database to compose what the service calls “originality reports” and “similarity indexes,” its coupling with a zero-tolerance policy like the one used at ERC is problematic.

    It is unfair for only some colleges to use Turnitin.com — made available to all faculty by the Office of Student Policies and Judicial Affairs in 2001 — in their required writing classes. Even if the system were flawless, students at different colleges should not face different degrees of dishonesty investigation when the consequences of a prosecution can involve academic probation, an F or worse.

    The very nature of a zero-tolerance policy is dangerous when a for-profit business is responsible for raising the red flag that mandates a case. A certain amount of error is inevitable when student work is compared with millions of published works and student papers, as well as the contents of the Internet. While ERC Dean of Student Affairs Patricia Scott claims the policy has been re-evaluated since the slew of cases, ERC and others employing Turnitin.com would do well to revisit the cases wrongly prosecuted and develop a more flexible approach in the future.

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