Plagiarism policy in place

by Clint Hutchcroft

A new academic integrity policy is now in place at Simpson College that faculty and administrators hope will help eliminate acts of plagiarism and allow for more consistent consequences for suspected students.

According to the Simpson College handbook, “Dishonesty in academic work robs all of us of our integrity in learning and demeans the natural talents we have for creative living.”

A task force of eight faculty members has been working for more than a year to create the new policy and have it in place this semester.

One solution has been to educate people about the problem, hopefully before it occurs. Simpson has purchased a program that all incoming freshmen and faculty must access online. It is a tutorial on how to identify and avoid plagiarism.

“People will be surprised about how little they know when it comes to identifying plagiarism,” Steve Griffith, senior vice president of Academic Affairs and academic dean, said.

Griffith has been working with faculty to create a fair and equal approach for handling cases of student dishonesty.

When faculty members suspect that part or all of an essay or exam has been plagiarized, they are now required to send a report to Griffith.

Once a faculty report is made, a file is opened about the student in the dean’s office, and the matter kept private.

If caught again committing another act of academic dishonesty, the student will be punished by the academic council. Punishments include, but are not limited to suspension, expulsion or academic probation. Appeals to charges of academic dishonesty are also handled by the academic council and the dean.

Current educators at Simpson have usually followed a three-point principal for handling dishonesty in school work. They could fail the student’s assignment with a requirement to resubmit the work, fail the student’s assignment altogether or fail the student for the entire course. But recently, a new approach some refer to as the “mae culpa,” has been added by some professors.

The method allows for the entire class to determine whether or not a student should be allowed to stay in the course.

If the student accused of plagiarism chooses, he or she can write an explanation of the action. The professor then reads allowed the explanation and a secret ballot is used to vote on whether the student will remain in the course.

Professor of History Nick Proctor said he began using a mae culpa approach when he began to see that students where not worried about the consequences of dishonesty.

“The mae culpa tactic is to publicize the fact that there are cheaters among us and that there are more serious consequences than just a slap on the wrist,” Proctor said.

The suspected student’s identity is kept private throughout the process.

Professor of English Nancy St. Clair said the process for submitting reports to the dean is somewhat informal.

“There is no formal report to be sent,” St. Clair said. “A professor reaches their conclusions about the dishonesty and sends the documents to the dean to research. I know from experience that there is always someone willing to do it a first time, but second occurrences never happen.”

The handbook outlines a list of possible punishments for students who are caught, but Griffith has laid out the ground plan for their approach.

“The student will probably be suspended the first time,” Griffith said. “But if it happens again, we will have to lean towards expulsion, because you’re only going to get one chance.”