Plagiarism at IUP: under-detected, under-reported

A Civic Project story

By Danielle Betts

 

INDIANA — Codi L. Holstein, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania sophomore early-childhood-education major, never thought her professor would notice when she copied and pasted information straight from a website into an English 121/ Humanities Literature paper during spring semester 2010.

“My teacher noticed that some of my information used for my paper came directly from SparkNotes.com,” said Holstein during a Feb. 12 interview in Wallwork Suites. “I knew I was plagiarizing because I was using someone else’s ideas and thoughts and making them my own. I just never thought my teacher would notice.”

SparkNotes.com says it helps students with confusing schoolwork (“When your books and teachers don’t make sense, we do”), including term papers and tests, according to its website.

Holstein said her professor knew she was a good student and let her go with a warning and a caution to be careful: When she uses someone else’s words, she must cite who and where the words came from.

Although Holstein was caught, her admitted plagiarism did not make her a statistic. IUP has an academic-integrity process for documenting such cases. But not many such cases are documented.

The resolution of Holstein’s case is regarded as a “Level One” — an informal meeting between faculty and the student only, with no record or appeal.

In academic year 2007-2008, IUP recorded 22 “Level Two” cases — involving an officially documented agreement between a faculty member and a student — said Lynnan Mocek, executive staff assistant in IUP’s Provost Office, during an April 20 interview at her 203 Sutton Hall office. Two department hearings and three integrity boards were also conducted during that academic year.

Between September 2010 and March 2011, nine cases were recorded, ranging from plagiarism, classroom disruption and cheating.

Mocek cautioned that the official figures do not accurately reflect the scope of the plagiarism problem at IUP.

“The number of plagiarism cases are disproportionally low because faculty handles it one-on-one with the student,” said Mocek.

Meanwhile, trends suggest that plagiarism in U.S. higher education is widespread and growing.

In a 1999 survey, The Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University found three-quarters of 2,100 students at 21 college campuses admitted to some cheating in the previous year, and 10 percent said they had plagiarized using the Internet. In a 2001 survey, 41 percent admitted to plagiarism using the Internet, a fourfold increase.

Moreover, 77 percent of college students surveyed for a 2007 study did not regard such practices as a serious concern. The increase has been attributed at least in part to ease of access to Internet information.

At IUP, it is difficult to document whether plagiarism has increased, said Mocek.

“Faculty chooses to handle this as an educational process rather a punitive process,” said Mocek. “Cases beyond Level One we keep track of. That is why it is hard to pinpoint.”

Most cases of plagiarism have stayed between faculty member and student, said Michele Norwood, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, during a Feb. 24 interview at her 201 McElhaney office.

“The most severe case that I saw involved a graduate student in 2005,” said Norwood. “That student copied and pasted a paper from the internet. That student failed the course.”

Further action depends on the severity of the violation, said Norwood.

The 2010-2011 Undergraduate Catalog details university policies on plagiarism and related academic-integrity offenses. Many course syllabi distributed to IUP students include sections on such offenses, as well.

Kala N. Misavage, a sophomore and hospitality management major, said she has never been caught plagiarizing. But she recalls her professors telling her and her peers that plagiarism has consequences.

“The teachers that I’ve had stress that plagiarism is something not worth committing,” said Misavage in a Feb. 6 interview at her Locus Street apartment. “If a teacher knows your work and notices something that’s not right about what was said or written, he or she will confront you. And you can face serious consequences.”

Not all college students heed the warnings.

In 2009, a study by The Center for Academic Integrity, an affiliate of the Robert J. Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University, found that almost 80 percent of college students admit to cheating once during their college career, according to Plagiarism.org,

Online plagiarism-detection services such as Turnitin.com are available for students and teachers — including professors at IUP. But Misavage said few IUP professors use the service because they incorrectly assume that students won’t plagiarize.

“They obviously trust their students enough to not have their students submit papers to a reliable detection service,” said Misavage. “I think the university is foolish for not making Turnitin.com mandatory.”

Academic freedom prevents IUP from requiring professors to use Turnitin, Norwood said.

“Faculty members choose as they deem necessary,” said Norwood. “There are some that do. But it’s not mandatory.”

Danielle Betts, a junior journalism major at IUP, is from Norwood, N.J. 

 

Sidebar: Plagiarism at other PaSSHE campuses

As with Indiana University of Pennsylvania, plagiarism is an underreported problem at other Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education campuses, according to a telephone spot check.

At Clarion University — like IUP, a PaSSHE campus in western Pennsylvania — a couple of academic-integrity cases were heard officially during the 2010-2011 academic year.

“So far this year, only two students have been brought to the judicial conduct board,” said Matthew G. Shaffer, coordinator of judicial affairs and residential life at Clarion during an April 13 phone interview.

Plagiarism may be more prevalent than the numbers might suggest, said Shaffer. An undocumented number of cases may stay between the student and professor.

Edinboro University has recorded 31 academic-dishonesty cases in the past five years, said Natalie Rusnak, graduate assistant of judicial affairs in an April 13 email.

“This report is from our judicial records and includes all charges of dishonesty,” said Rusnak. “This may not necessarily mean plagiarism.”

Danielle Betts

 

Sidebar: Plagiarism across cultures 

The literature on plagiarism reflects a culture clash: What may be encouraged as a show of respect for elders in some countries is regarded as intellectual theft in the United States.

A similar clash is apparent on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus when it comes to coping with intellectual integrity among international students.

The consequences of plagiarism involving international students should not be as severe as violations involving American students, said Michele Norwood, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at IUP.

“As you work with different students, you have to take into consideration who they are,” said Norwood. “What is OK internationally is not always necessarily OK in the U.S.”

Lynnan Mocek executive staff assistant in IUP’s Provost Office, said university policy makes no such distinction.

“There is no delineation,” said Mocek. “Whether you are international or not, plagiarism is not tolerated. Sanctioning is the same.”

Danielle Betts

 

Sidebar: IUP Academic Integrity Policy and Procedure

The list of consequences plagiarizers face is found under the Academic Integrity Policy and Procedures section of the IUP undergraduate catalog.

Options for resolution of plagiarism cases are:

Informal resolution: A faculty member and student may schedule a meeting to discuss the case without submitting any formal documentation.

Resolution by documented agreement. If option No. 1 is not successful, then faculty member and student will sign a documented agreement referral form.

Resolution by formal adjudication. If the case is severe, sanctions may include failure on the assignment, failure in the course, and/or suspension or expulsion.

Danielle Betts

 

Sidebar: To get involved

To get involved in issues involving academic integrity and plagiarism at IUP, contact the Academic Integrity Board and Office of the Provost:

Dr. MaryAnne Hannibal
Director
Center for Teaching Excellence
137 Stouffer Hall
1175 Maple Street
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-7800
Email: MaryAnne.Hannibal@iup.edu

Lynann Mocek
Executive staff  assistant
IUP Office of the Provost
203 Sutton Hall
1011 South Drive
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-3001
Email: Lynann.Mocek@iup.edu

 

Sidebar: For more information

For more information about this story, contact the following:

Michele Norwood
Associate Dean
Humanities and Social Science Office
201 McElhaney Hall
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 734-357-2280
Email: Michele.Norwood@iup.edu

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