'Basically, I didn't think she would catch me."
That's how a College junior convicted of plagiarizing a final paper last spring described what he was thinking right before he turned it in to his professor.
The paper, written for a music class at Penn, was a profile of his brother, a musician - part of which his brother had written.
The professor, however, sensed a discrepancy, and brought it up with the student - who requested anonymity for privacy reasons. He admitted his indiscretion, and the case was referred to the Office of Student Conduct, which eventually placed him on academic probation, among other punishments.
At Penn, the disciplinary process isn't always as straightforward or simple as the aforementioned case - some incidents are never referred to OSC, while others can't always be proven.
For the ones that are, the path from plagiarism to punishment is often long and winding, with multiple steps, varying degrees of sanctions and numerous opportunities for appeals.
But, ultimately, officials say the process does what college was designed to do in the first place: provide something of a learning experience for those who must go through such an ordeal.
The Extent of
A recent survey released by the Center of Academic Integrity at Duke University found that, on most college campuses, 70 percent of students admit to some cheating - including plagiarism. And, according to CAI Executive Director Tim Dodd, that percentage "is up substantially from rates reported in the 1960s and 1970s."
A similar survey conducted by the University Honor Council, which is now at least four years old, found that 63 percent of students at Penn had committed some form of cheating, according to Kent Peterman, director of academic affairs for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Whether or not the percentages from the surveys accurately represent the number of cheaters - and plagiarizers - at Penn is hard to know.
One factor that might contribute to that ambiguity is that professors are not mandated to turn cases of suspected academic-honesty violations over to the Office of Student Conduct, according to Interim Director Ed Rentezelas.
His office deals with cases involving both academic-honesty violations and instances of student misconduct. During the 2005-2006 academic year, it handled 60 cases of academic misconduct.
Sometimes, faculty are "not sure what's actually happened," said Director of Academic Advising for the College of Arts and Sciences Janet Tighe, adding that she always encourages colleagues to discuss issues with the Office of Student Conduct.
But, even after they speak to OSC, "the ball is still in their court," she said - professors aren't obligated to refer cases even if they consult with OSC.
Tighe, who is also dean of freshmen, has "seen faculty give the student a zero [and] have the student re-write the paper" instead of deciding to formally refer a freshman's case to OSC for investigation.
Another complicating factor arises from the different viewpoints that professors take on how to talk to students about academic integrity.
History and Sociology professor Thomas Sugrue, for instance, makes an announcement about his "zero-tolerance policy toward cheating" to his classes at the beginning of each semester.
"Unfortunately, I have caught a number of cheaters over the years," Sugrue said, adding that when that happens, he fails the student and refers the case to the Office of Student Conduct.
To Catch a Copy
OSC's process of catching plagiarism is "a little more basic" than some more-advanced services currently available, Rentezelas admitted.
Office officials use Google, go to the library and use journal search engines like JSTOR to find the source for an allegedly plagiarized paper.
But, sometimes, suspected plagiarism can't be proven.
Rentezelas said his office has had cases "where a professor will call up and say, 'This just does not sound like the student's voice based on their past work,' and, if we can't find anything, then we tell them there's nothing there, or there may be something there, . but we just can't find it."
Electronic services exist that scan papers for potential plagiarism - Penn had a trial subscription to one such service, Turnitin, two years ago. However, the University decided to discontinue use of the program due to lack of interest, Rentezelas said.
Using detection methods like Turnitin has been "a vexed kind of issue," Peterman said. Faculty want to develop "a relationship based on intellectual interests, and, when you introduce this kind of enforcement mechanism, it conveys a different message - it kind of pollutes the relationship between students and faculty."
In addition, Turnitin retains a "digital fingerprint" of each paper ever submitted for analysis, against which all new submissions are checked, Clark said.
That raises questions about whether professors have the right to give students' work to a company, knowing that it will be retained and used for future plagiarism checks, Peterman said
Path to Punishment Begins
After receiving a case from a professor, OSC sends a "notice letter" to the student, informing him or her that the complaint has been filed, Rentezelas said.
Along with the letter, the student also receives a copy of Penn's Code of Academic Integrity and a copy of Penn's Student Disciplinary System Charter, he said.
Accused students are also provided with a list of advisors - either faculty or students - who have been trained on the OSC process and can answer questions that they might not want to ask the office directly, he added.
The student is then required to meet with an OSC representative to discuss the case.
After the allegation is presented, the student "will have the opportunity to then . give us their side of the story," he said.
And if a student fesses up to his or her mistake, it might mean a less severe punishment.
"What you're looking for on the part of the student is the realization that they did something wrong," Rentezelas said.
But it's hard to get that message across, he said, when students aren't completely honest.
Some accused students have claimed not to know it's necessary to cite Internet sources, he said, and, in these cases, "I don't think the student is really telling me the truth." After the meeting, OSC will launch its own investigation into the alleged offense.
"For academic-integrity cases, we'll speak to the professor, TAs - anyone else the student feels we should talk to," Rentezelas said.
When the investigation is complete, OSC staff must decide whether a violation of University policy was committed.
"If the answer is no, then there is no case," but "it's rare" for that to happen, Rentezelas said. "If the professor's sending it over, they're pretty sure that something's up, so to speak."
But if the answer is yes, an appropriate punishment, or "sanction," as OSC calls it, must be imposed upon the student.
The Severity of Sanctions
There are six levels of sanctions for students found guilty in academic-integrity cases. Ranging from least to most severe, they are: warning, reprimand, academic probation, suspension, disciplinary withdrawal and expulsion. The first two sanctions - warnings and reprimands - are fairly minor and are rarely chosen in academic-integrity cases, Rentezelas said.
But regardless of the sanction a student receives, he or she will still have a notation placed in his or her academic file, the permanent record kept in the dean's office of the student's school.
A notation about the case only appears on the student's actual transcript if he or she is expelled.
"We work off the premise that a suspension is the benchmark," he said. "We kind of sway either way depending on what the details are in that individual case."
And those details can include such factors as the student's year at Penn, the type of assignment on which he or she cheated, their history with the OSC and anything pertinent going on in the student's personal life, Rentezelas said.
Chances to Respond
But once OSC notifies a convicted student of its choice of sanction, it's not final.
The student has three options in how to respond: accept the sanction; write a counterproposal to OSC with an argument for a different sanction; or go to a hearing in front of two students from the University Honor Council and three professors.
"We'll get on average one hearing per semester," said Taylor Jenkins, a Wharton senior and council member. "It comes toward the end of the semester," when students are working on final projects and papers.
This hearing, too, can be appealed to a disciplinary appellate officer, who will listen to a recording of the hearing and hand down a final judgment.
Getting the Word Out
Although the College junior found guilty of plagiarizing the paper for his class last year was not suspended - he thinks his honesty with his professor and OSC officials throughout the process saved him from that fate - one of his sanctions was talking to incoming students about the importance of academic integrity during New Student Orientation.
"You tend to understand a lot better from another student's perspective, and, with issues of this grave nature, it's important . for incoming students to realize the importance of integrity and academic honesty during that program," Jenkins said.Comments powered by Disqus
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