Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bogus Classes Taken by 3100 Students at UNC

A new report details the extent of University of North Carolina's academic fraud stemming from years of offering classes for which there were very few requirements needed to pass the course  ("Academic Fraud or Not, UNC Students Likely Will Keep Degrees," CNN, October 26, 2014). Some 3100 students including many athletes took these courses in the African-American studies program (AFAM) to keep their GPAs high enough for eligibility to play collegiate sports.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Do you think it's a good idea to give students the option to confess that they committed an academically dishonest act in return for a lesser punishment? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think that students should be given the option to correct a plagiarized paper in return for a lower grade instead of getting a failing grade? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think students who use this "regret clause" will learn from their mistake and not commit academically dishonest acts again? Why or why not?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Harvard Softens Penalty on Cheaters If They Confess

If you feel remorse after committing an unethical act in a Harvard computer science course and report it within 72 hours, your professor may give you a lighter penalty ("CS50 Introduces New Integrity Policy, Bypassing Ad Board," The Harvard Crimson, September 26, 2014). This new punishment plan in David J. Malan's class has been dubbed the "regret clause." It is listed in his syllabus under the Academic Integrity heading at This option, based on a student's remorse, is outside the usual academic integrity offense case procedure that requires consultation with the university's Administrative Board and the department chair before allowing your professor to give you an "unsatisfactory or failing grade" on the assignment.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Do you think it's a good idea to give students the option to confess that they committed an academically dishonest act in return for a lesser punishment? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think that students should be given the option to correct a plagiarized paper in return for a lower grade instead of getting a failing grade? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think students who use this "regret clause" will learn from their mistake and not commit academically dishonest acts again? Why or why not?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Can Plagiarism Be Caused by PTSD?

A newly-appointed U.S. Senator from Montana blamed his non-attribution of sources in his master's degree thesis on PTSD ("Walsh Says He Was Being Treated for PTSD When He Plagiarized Paper," Billings Gazette, July 23, 2014). One-fourth of John Walsh's paper for the U.S. Army War College appears to have been plagiarized. What is most disconcerting is that he used another source verbatim for a key part of the project.

In a New York Times article from July 24, 2014, the U.S. Army War College is ready to convene a review board next month to look into the allegation. The Times story notes that in the last fourteen years only six people have been stripped of their degrees at the college due to plagiarism.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Walsh says he "excelled on the battlefield" and that a "few mistakes in a term paper should not define my career." If one-fourth of his thesis was copied from another source as indicated in the story, do you think Walsh's statement is justified? Why or why not?
  2. Should individuals in the military be held to a higher standard of ethics than the general public? Why or why not?
  3. What do you think of his PTSD defense as the reason for committing plagiarism?
  4. Should Walsh lose his degree and his job at U.S. Senator for this breach of academic integrity? Why or why not?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Professor Moves to Dean's Post Despite Multiple Incidences of Plagiarism

Because inadvertent plagiarism is not included as a research misconduct infraction in the institution's policy, a Brown University English department faculty member began a new job as an associate dean after her "unintentional" plagiarism had already surfaced ("After Plagiarism Allegations, Prof. Was Named Dean," The Brown Daily Herald, April 24, 2014).

Vanessa Ryan used over two dozen copied passages from other authors in her 2012 book that is no longer in print from Johns Hopkins University Press. She has apologized publicly about her errors, but also located "unattributed material in her dissertation" from Yale. The committee looking into her plagiarism while on the payroll at Brown acknowledged that she did plagiarize the work of others, but that her "honest error" was not considered "misconduct."

Discussion Questions:
  1. Should an English professor know better than to make such obvious mistakes as copying others without giving them credit, especially in a book published by a well-known university press? If so, why do you think she committed such errors?
  2. Her new administrative job is a temporary one for eighteen months, but should she have been fired for such a blatant mistake? Since she also acknowledged errors of attribution in her Yale dissertation, why would Brown want to continue to employ her?
  3. She continues to work with students on research projects on a limited basis. If you were one of those students, would you want to ask if you could work with another research adviser that had a better academic reputation even if the completion of your work might be delayed by the change? 

Professor Focuses on Unintentional Plagiarism

At a recent Conference on College Composition and Communication, discussion centered on instructing students how to use source material correctly to avoid mistakes in attribution ("Beyond Plagiarism," Inside Higher Ed, March 21, 2014).

Professors in attendance talked about students who used an inappropriate source that really didn't prove a point, citing an abstract (summary) of a paper instead of the paper itself, and other errors that may be overlooked in traditional anti-plagiarism instruction. One professor mentioned tips about clearly marking where a source begins and noting where a student's ideas begin. But one panel of educators agreed that teaching citation strategies is not only a job for writing professors, but a responsibility for all professors on campus.

Discussion Questions:
  1. What do you check to determine if a web page or article is a reliable and pertinent source of information?
  2. Is it a challenge to take notes from sources so you know where an author's ideas end and your thoughts begin? Or do you have a proven technique for separating your ideas from others?
  3. Do you feel comfortable citing sources in different formats such as MLA, APA, or Chicago Style? Is in-text citation harder or easier than writing a bibliography/works cited/references page? Why or why not?
  4. Have you asked a professor, tutor, or librarian for help with citing sources? Did they provide useful instruction or cause you more confusion?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Air Force Test Cheating at Nuclear Missile Base

Discovery of test questions and answers being text messaged caused the firing of nine mid-level officers and lesser punishment for junior officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana ("U.S. Air Force Fires Nine Officers Following Nuclear Test Cheating Probe," Washington Post, March 27, 2014).

The individuals who were fired did not take part in the cheating, but fostered a climate where it was considered acceptable according to the Air Force. The cheating scandal erupted as a result of an "unreasonable drive for perfection rather than an ill-trained force," according to a professor at the Air Force Research Institute who documented the problem. The unethical behavior seemed to be a commonplace occurrence (based on the Air Force reporting) on competency exams among personnel who "saw perfect scores as their only chance for promotion and career advancement."

Discussion Questions:
  1. Apparently, cheating of this type was not found at other Air Force bases, but does this scandal make you wonder about the possibility of unethical behavior being condoned elsewhere in the Air Force?
  2. In the article, there is a comment from the Air Force that states, "the cheating should not call into question the readiness of the team at Malmstrom, which oversees intercontinental ballistic missiles." Does this statement make you wonder why would Air Force personnel be interested in cheating if they felt confident about their job skills?
  3. If you were working with someone you heard was cheating on these types of tests, would you feel confident that you could trust them to perform their job well?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Survey Finds on the Job Ethics Improving Possibly Due to a Slow Economy

Businesses seem to be promoting ethical behavior on the job, but less than robust economic conditions may provide a stronger incentive for good employee conduct, according to a recent survey ("Workplace Ethics Increasing, Perhaps Because of the Recession, but Misconduct on the Job Still High, Survey Finds," (Cleveland Plain Dealer), February 10, 2014).

The 19th National Business Ethics Survey from the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) using "6420 responses from employees in the for-profit sector" found that retaliation for reporting misconduct was still a concern even though it saw a slight decline. Yet, there was an increase in employee reporting of unethical behavior on the job. However, the ERC President mentioned that if a stronger economy returns, more employees may be tempted to engage in unauthorized practices to increase the bottom line for themselves and their employers.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Do people you know act ethically on the job and in their personal lives? Why or why not?
  2. Would you report misconduct that you observed in your workplace even if you might face retaliation?
  3. Have you ever worked for an unethical supervisor? If so, how did his or her behavior affect you?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Academic Scandal with Years of Grade Changes & No-Show Classes

Hit with an indictment for academic fraud, a former University of North Carolina (UNC) professor is under fire for leading a department with a history of forged faculty signatures, unwarranted grade changes, and overly lenient class structure ("A’s for Athletes, but Charges of Fraud at North Carolina," The New York Times, December 31, 2013).

Although Dr. Julius Nyang’oro left his position in 2012, he is accused of accepting $12,000 for a course he never taught. That course, AFAM 280 in the department of African and Afro-American studies, was filled with North Carolina football team members. A former governor of North Carolina led an investigation into the department, discovering "problems with dozens of courses" going back as far as 1997 including what appears to be over 500 "unauthorized grade changes."

Discussion Questions:
  1. Although these irregularities only involved one department at UNC, how do you think the reputation of the entire school will be affected?
  2. Would you accept a grade for a class that never actually met? Why or why not?
  3. Why would a once-respected educator at a noted university allow his department to become so corrupted?
  4. Why did this apparent lack of academic integrity persist for so many years?