The office of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences has asked all faculty to include the following statement on their syllabi:
Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct : ‘Academic misconduct includes but is not limited to cheating, encouraging academic dishonesty, fabrication, plagiarism, bribes, favors, threats, grade tampering, non-original work, and examination by proxy. Procedures regarding academic misconduct are delineated in “Student Policies and Procedures” article X, section 2. If an incident of academic misconduct occurs, the instructor has the option to notify the student and adjust grades downward, award a failing grade for the semester, or seek further sanctions against the student.’
I objected to this statement. I wrote the following: "I do not wish to put this statement on my syllabi for principled reasons. First, the statement is in quotation marks (oddly using the British convention rather than the American), and no source is given, violating my stipulation to my students that any quoted matter must be properly cited. Second, the statement conveys a hostile and threatening tone, one I do not wish to convey to my students; I go to great lengths to convey to my students that I am there to help them become more capable, a message at great variance from the tone and message of the above statement. The statement replicates several from the administration threatening sanctions if we do not do what the administration says. I do not wish to speak to my students in that fashion.
"What do others think?"
Only one person from the dean's office responded, and that person is to be commended for engaging the issue. The response was this: "The plagiarism statement has quotation marks around it because it was copied word for word from the statement used in the syllabus of a colleague in the college of Arts and Sciences. I asked permission to use it, and the faculty member said sure, but that it had been copied work for word from somewhere else. The quotation marks are therefore an artifact of the unclear provenance of statement but a recognition of the fact that it was copied word for word. There is no conspiracy."
I replied: :"Of course, the remark about the quotation marks without citation was not my main point but a 'dig' at the failure to cite in a remark about plagiarism. To repeat my main point:
“'I would prefer to assume that, of course, no one would cheat and then deal with misconduct as it may arise. If one person says to another, "I expect you to be honest," it expresses the possibility that someone might not be honest and is an insult to that person. We assume honesty; it goes without saying. We deal with dishonesty if we must.' [I was quoting from a response to my coordinator's efforts to justify the statement; I had forwarded the correspondence between myself and the coordinator to the deans and chairs.]
“What do the rest of you think about this point as an objection to the plagiarism statement on a syllabus?”
Again, among the deans and chairs only a single dean responded, writing, “I suppose the same could be said about almost anything – traffic rules, house rules, what is considered a criminal offence, tax laws, property transfers,… there are rules and regulations, and they are [usually] written down. And they do not suggest that everyone is dishonest unless proved otherwise. Academic integrity is at the foundation of our enterprise – and maybe it appears to some individuals that all students and faculty understand and adopt it, but a university education is also increasingly a credentialing process, a means to an end, where the exigencies of the deadline or grade affect performance and practice. ….
“… it makes more sense to arrange a forum/teach in – faculty, students, judicial affairs, journalists, researchers, etc.
“If you yourself choose to have some other statement about academic integrity, have it as a topic of learning and discussion in your classes so that students know the issues, consequences and concerns, you could do so. Keep in mind that when a student does cheat, the university takes it seriously, and we do not want to hear ‘everybody does it’, ‘I didn’t’ know it was wrong’, ‘you didn’t say we couldn’t copy’.”
I replied: “I would love to do a forum on the topic. I believe it would be immensely helpful. But it should be phrased as a question: how should faculty deal with cheating? Or something like that?
“NO ONE should infer that I tolerate cheating. I don’t. However, I deal with it as the behavior of an individual, not the class. The only thing I say (I don’t write it down) is that I am there to help them to read with better comprehension of complex texts and to help them to write more clearly and precisely about complex ideas which may not be their own ideas; then I say, “When you write I want your own bad writing. If you wrote like a professional you would not need to be in college. So give me your own writing so that I can help you to write better.” And I spend a lot of time with students in one-on-one or small group sessions going over their papers (because they have to rewrite them; they weren’t good enough).
“I do not believe that a schedule of assignments for a class is the same as saying ‘you need to be honest’ to students. The former represents a schedule of what we will do so that students understand the class requirements. The latter is an insult to the student.
“The point about the change in the nature of universities is obviously relevant; so also is the observation that, in a predominately black university, racist assumptions about student behavior may creep in. In my classes I have read aloud the university’s ‘Code of Excellence’ to illustrate how negative racial stereotyping of black people plays out at Chicago State. The bookstore will not let students into the textbook aisles ‘because they might steal.’ Students sign up for financial aid at the last minute ‘because they are ghetto.’ Do you think that the University of Chicago requires that all syllabi contain a statement about academic misconduct?
“[to the dean who engaged my objection to the plagiarism statement] thank you for engaging in a conversation on these issues. What do others think?”
Since writing that I checked what NCATE asks for, and that don’t ask for a plagiarism warning.
And what do readers of this post think? Is the plagiarism statement racist? Am I off base?