Following the rules

GVL/Mackenzie Bush - Daniel Taccolini and Haleigh Hunter work together in the Writing Center Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.

Mackenzie Bush

GVL/Mackenzie Bush – Daniel Taccolini and Haleigh Hunter work together in the Writing Center Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.

Dylan Grosser

Of the thousands of universities across the United States, all of them are subject to handling situations of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. At Grand Valley State University, there has been an increase in the reporting of violations of academic integrity since a new “centralized reporting system” was implemented in 2014.

Aaron Haight, assistant dean of students, said the new system has helped clear up some “confusions” in the way plagiarism or other violations of academic integrity are reported by faculty. It has also resulted in the availability of data which shows the amount of violations of academic integrity per academic year.

In the 2014-2015 school year, there were roughly 70 reports of violations of academic integrity and six students who went through the student conduct review process. In the 2015-2016 school year, there were 98 reported violations and 12 students who went through the process. So far into the 2016-2017 school year, there have been 43 reported violations and 2 students who have been through the process. The dean of students office could not provide data on the number of violations of academic integrity from years prior to 2014.

Haight said the data is still in its early stages, and conclusions that could be drawn from it might be premature. She said she is skeptical the data reflects an increase in the amount of plagiarism happening at GVSU and instead thinks it captures more of the faculty utilizing the system to report violations of academic integrity.

“I don’t think we have an increase in (plagiarism) happening across campus,” Haight said. “I think we’re seeing it being reported more because we now have a more centralized system of reporting, which two years ago we didn’t have.”

According GVSU’s student code, “Any ideas or material taken from another source for either written or oral presentation must be fully acknowledged. Offering the work of someone else as one’s own is plagiarism.” The student code’s interpretation of plagiarism is congruent to other dictionaries’ definitions of plagiarism as well.

If a student is caught plagiarizing a work or several works, the consequences can vary, depending on the faculty member who reported it. In the classroom, students could receive a warning from the professor, be asked to redo the assignment where plagiarism was found, receive a failing grade on the assignment or receive a failing grade in the class. 

Students who are caught in their second offense—or if their first offense were “egregious in nature”—can be sent through the university’s student conduct review process, where a variety of things can happen. A student could be assigned a grade penalty for the class, be asked to go through a workshop through the Mary Idema Pew Library or the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors or be suspended from the institution. If plagiarism is realized after a student graduates, then that student faces the possibility of having their degree revoked.

“It could be a number of different things, and it really depends on circumstances,” Haight said.

Patrick Johnson, director of the Writing Center, said the Writing Center is the best place on campus that deals with unintentional plagiarism or with preventing plagiarism. He said many students on academic probation are sent to the Writing Center to receive feedback on what happened in their plagiarized work.

“If a student is struggling with citation and/or with taking a source and using it in their paper effectively, we are a place where (they) can get assistance with that,” Johnson said.

With many first-time plagiarism offenders, Haight said the university tries to stay educational in nature with consequences while respecting the value of academic integrity. Most first-time offenses do not go on a student’s permanent record, and students are sometimes given the benefit of the doubt by faculty members.

“We don’t like to kick people out of school,” Haight said. “We want them to learn from their mistakes.”

Haight said she believes many students plagiarize because they are behind in their classwork and have other responsibilities. She said it could be a lack of preparation as well.

“It’s panic, it’s stress, and so I think they act like they’re backed up against a wall and they don’t have a choice,” Haight said.

Johnson said he encountered cases of plagiarism when he was a teacher, and in his experience, faculty members are often very frustrated by plagiarism.

“It feels as though there’s been a whole breaking down of the academic system when somebody tries to cheat,” Johnson said. “Granted, from a student’s point of view, I know why it happens.”

Haight said after more data comes in that tracks the number of plagiarism incidents per academic department, conclusions can be drawn about which areas of study or courses contain the highest plagiarism reports, which could lead to future preventative measures.