Making the Grade

    Christina Aushana & Emily Ku/Guardian

    Dawn is breaking and only one page of the philosophy paper has been written. Chemistry lecture is two hours away and all but two problems go unanswered. Programming homework is due in 20 minutes and the code is still a foreign language. Many students, even after telling themselves they’ll never do it again, corner themselves into situations where cheating is seemingly the only remaining option.

    As the recent arrest of three students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University has made clear, academic integrity is a major concern on college campuses nationwide. Accused of hacking into their university’s computer system and changing about 650 grades of over 90 students, the suspects face up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy, five years for unauthorized access of a protected computer and a minimum of two years for aggravated identify theft.

    In the aftermath of the allegations, UCSD’s Academic Integrity Office is starting up new programs, as well as refining current processes, to ensure academic integrity on campus. This year will see the first of the university’s Academic Integrity Seminars, in which students caught cheating work with UCSD’s academic integrity coordinator Tricia Bertram Gallant to address the issue and complete assignments.

    This year, five undergraduate students, serving as peer representatives for the program, overseen by Gallant, are putting together a campaign for the first week of Winter Quarter.

    One issue the campaign will tackle is that cheating not only affects the individual, but largely contributes to a university’s overall academic reputation.

    “As a school gets known as a cheater school, employers and grad schools are just left to make judgments and assumptions about the people they’re seeing; ‘is that person a cheater?’” Gallant said. “It’s actually to everyone’s disadvantage if cheating happens at UCSD.”

    Punishment for plagiarism or cheating varies from academic probation to a quarter- or year-long suspension, and — in particularly serious cases — can warrant dismissal from the entire UC system.

    Last year, there was a record-high 446 allegations of cheating, a total of 56 suspensions and five dismissals. However, according to Gallant, these numbers don’t nearly represent the extent of cheating that goes unnoticed.

    “It’s probably just a drop in the bucket,” she said. “There’s way more cheating than that. Every student I’ve talked to has said that.”

    Indeed, there seems to be a lack of confidence among classmates as campuswide surveys have shown the amount of students who actually cheat is much lower than the amount of students thought by their peers to have cheated. For example, though only three percent of UCSD students admitted to submitting a paper purchased or obtained from an outside source, 46 percent believed their peers had done so.

    However, when academic dishonesty does occur, the social consequences can be devastating.

    Computer science graduate student Matus Telgarsky got a slap in the face when two fellow students turned in a replica of an assignment he spent a great deal of time preparing.

    “For the rest of my life, I will disrespect these people,” Telgarsky said. “All that matters in academia are your ideas and your reputation; you can steal ideas, but if people find out, your reputation is annihilated.”

    But, according to Telgarsky, getting away clean after cheating in the computer science field is extremely difficult. Assignments are largely based in submitted computer codes, which are checked thoroughly by an automated tool that actually understands the code.

    Revelle College senior Jason Mallory, a transfer student and philosophy major, believes that it would be similarly difficult to cheat successfully in his department.

    “Some professors use TurnItIn.com; you’d have to be really stupid to copy a complete paper,” he said. “I can’t even think of ways that you could [cheat on an in-class exam], it would be so hard to fit so much information on a cell phone or even pieces of paper.”

    However, dodging the obstacles, some students still choose to cheat.

    “The K-12 system is ‘use whatever resources you need to get yourself into college,’” Gallant said. “[They] didn’t counter that message with one of integrity and honesty.”

    With 300 to 400 students to a class it can be difficult to form a bond with professors, eliminating the motivation for academic honesty that results from desire to keep the respect or trust of a particular mentor.

    “One of the biggest problems I hear from students here at UCSD is the lack of connection both to the campus and with their professors,” Gallant said. “The less relationship there is the easier it is for a human being to feel like they’re justified in duping someone.”

    Furthermore, Gallant believes that the “Net generation” wasn’t necessarily taught how to correctly handle intellectual property; with ideas, thoughts and opinions floating freely online, consistently within arm’s reach, she feels respect of owners’ rights has decreasd.

    Gallant notes that when a student is torn between appeasing a roommate who wants to use an old test and staying true to the larger community, the smaller and more immediate communities take precedent.

    Meanwhile, the integrity of debatable study practices such as using past exams or working in groups with classmates is constatly brought into question.

    “There’s a huge gray area,” Telgarsky said. “There’s a huge spirit of collaboration in schools, when you’re in class you talk to your friends about it, and at what point does that turn into cheating? There are technical things you can do to mitigate cheating, but there’s already a culture formed.”

    Gallant believes this culture is partly due to the newness of UCSD’s academic integrity program.

    “We haven’t been at it that long,” Gallant said. “We need more student voice, we need more professors talking more about it and why it’s important. Cheating happens in classrooms so academic integrity conversations need to happen in classrooms as well.”

    UCSD physics professor Herbert Levine said that utilizing or posting old exams released by the instructor is a legitimate and useful way to study for new tests.

    “To be fair, there’s a lot of material in some courses, and you’d like to get some insight into what the person teaching thinks is the most important points,” Levine said in an interview conducted by Joanne Tong, an assistant to the academic integrity peer educators. “If you can get that by looking at past exams and talking to past students that’s fine.”

    A recent survey on cheating among college students in the North American region, conducted by Donald L. McCabe of Rutgers University, showed the disparities between UCSD and the region. Categories in which UCSD students’ cheated significantly more than the rest of the region were “copying another student’s homework,” “copying material, almost word for word, from any source and turning it in as your own work” and “turning in a paper copied, at least in part, from another student’s lab paper, lab report, computer program or homework assignment.”

    Although glancing at your neighbor’s midterm or copying someone else’s homework hurriedly before class doesn’t equate to breaking into an office building and forging an identity to change students’ grades, Gallant said that curbing less severe behaviors and dealing with them early is a possible method of successful prevention.

    “All cheating can build habits of character that can lead to fraudulent behavior,” Gallant said. “If you keep doing little things and get away with them and start taking short cuts, [it can] lead to more serious behaviors. So that’s why we want to catch students early on. I have more hope for students who have been caught than for the students who haven’t gotten caught but cheat.”

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