“Students need to decide to do the right thing at the point of temptation. It has to be as uncomfortable to cheat as it is to not buckle your seatbelt,” chemistry Prof. Brian Coppola said yesterday at a town hall meeting in Angell Hall.
Coppola was one of three professors who served as panelists for the meeting, which addressed a variety of problems and perspectives regarding academic integrity within the University community.
LSA Academic Advisor and event co-planner Susan Gass commented on the urgency of the meeting, stating that increasing ambiguity over what is right and wrong in the classroom made the discussion necessary.
“The statistics are astounding about what students feel is a serious offense now as opposed to two years ago. Apparently the majority of students don’t feel it’s a major offense to take something off of the Internet and present it as their work. I think this is of great concern,” Gass said.
Issues raised at the meeting included the responsibilities of faculty to respond to dishonesty in the classroom, initiating a dialogue between students and faculty, academic misconduct associated with the Internet and the establishment of an intellectual community with a higher appreciation for honesty.
“It’s the job of each department to put forth and constantly revise what it means for students to act with integrity. I’m surprised that these documents are not there for students now,” English Prof. and panelist John Whittier-Ferguson said.
“Not acknowledging people’s work makes the people doing the work unwilling to (contribute further work), and those people who are taking are essentially tearing the community apart,” Whittier-Ferguson added.
One professor in the audience responded to the remarks of the panelists, saying that he did not believe that integrity is currently viewed as a high priority in the academic community or understood uniformly. Panelists and event planners reacted by saying that creating a uniform understanding is essential to making this issue a higher priority.
“It’s impossible to innumerate the number of ways that you can go wrong. I think that something we need to discuss is how to outline the basic principles (of integrity) without having to list everything,” Engineering Prof. Ann Ford, a panelist, said.
Ford cited the School of Engineering’s honor code as a successful definition of expectations for students with regard to academic honesty.
“(The Honor Code) creates a basic atmosphere of trust between the students and faculty in the College of Engineering. The vast majority of students work very hard and are honest and feel very threatened by this problem,” Ford said.
Students present at the meeting showed concern over academic misconduct, but some had different priorities from those of the professors.
“I don’t think the system works currently. If a student is suspected of cheating, basically you have no way of proving that you didn’t cheat,” Business senior Robbie Tran said.
In spite of the disagreement about priorities within academic integrity, meeting planners said the event was successful in getting people together to discuss the problem.
“The point this raised is that what is really important is the dialogue. We need to have long term conversations about this with students in particular, even if we have to discuss it in every course,” LSA Academic Advisor and co-planner Scott Kassner said.
For those interested in more information about this issue, the University Library has created a website, www.lib.umich.edu/acadintegrity, with resources for students and faculty about how to address concerns over dishonesty.
“What we’re trying to do is create a source that is helpful, but not necessarily exhaustive,” University Librarian Patricia Yocum said.