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January 24, 2007 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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in the next row

Could it be that seventy percent of
undergraduate college students admit
to cheating and 50 percent have cheat-
ed on awritten assignment, as reported
by a 2005 study by Rutgers University
Prof. Don McCabe and the Center For
Academic Integrity?
Could it be that at the University
of Michigan, with its storied history
of progressivism, endless accolades
and claim to admit only the leaders
and best, that out of an undergraduate
population of 25,555, 12,778 students
have committed an act of serious pla-
According to a number of admin-
istrators, professors, lecturers and
students, 50 percent is probably not
representative of the number of stu-
dents who commit serious acts of pla-
giarism. At the University, they say,
the number is much lower.
"Most students act honorably and
I think it's a small number that want
to do things that are not appropriate,"
said Esrold Nurse, LSA's assistant dean
for student academic affairs.
History Prof. Victor Lieberman had
similar sentiments.
"It's not an issue that really has a
lot of currency, it's not a very com-
mon problem and it has not taken a
great deal of my attention," he said.
They may be wrong.
It's impossible to know the actual
number of students who have pla-
giarized, but it's likely more than
University professors would like
to believe.

Inan attemptto determine the extent
to which University students are plagia-
rizing in their written assignments, we
consulted the creator of the blog called
www.ahfb.blogspot.com. The blog's
founder, takes papers left behind on the
printers in the Angell Hall Computing
Site, also known as the Fishbowl, com-
ments on them and posts them to his
When a regular reader of the Fish-
bowl blog found that some information
in a paper posted on the site was taken
from wikipedia.org, it sparked our curi-
osity. We contacted the blog's founder
and asked him to look for more exam-
ples of plagiarism in the piles of papers
he collects.
Of the first five papers he examined,
two contained sections taken from web-
sites that were not cited.
In one case, the student's paper reads,
"Missouri is a state with a rich history,
strong traditions and a bright future.
From small communities to large metro-
politan areas, Missouri offers a breadth
of opportunities for new emerging com-
panies." The state of Missouri's tourism
website reads, "Missouri is a state with
a rich history, strong traditions and a
bright future. From small communities
to large metropolitan areas, Missouri
welcomes millions of visitors each year
to discover all of the features that make
our state extraordinary."
The second example he found was less
overt. For an English 225 class, a student
took information from a Wikipedia arti-
cle on the 1999 Columbine High School
shootings, rearranged and reworded it,
but failed to cite the source.
Two out of five is far from proof, so we
submitted 14 papers from the Fishbowl
to the website Turnltln.com, which
scanned them for plagiarism. At least
two contained some elements of plagia-
rism. Students took information from a
document, either by copying it directly
or paraphrasing it, and failed to properly
cite the material.
This samplingisn't a representative or
scientific survey, but it could be indica-
tive of a more significant problem pro-
fessors aren't noticing.
Part of the problem in determining
how often plagiarism occurs is that the
University has no uniform policy on
how suspected incidents are handled.
Such matters are left to each school or
college to decide. Some schools and
colleges also do not

dents innFishbowl printers, were
salvaged by a blogger.Some
contained suspicious similarities
to already published material.
How many more are out there?

- * , - ..

* *~5~a aaTa asa e
T " Pas
These papers, left behind by stu-

how to use sources or whether they
took a shortcut and took material that
they knew wasn't theirs," Curzan said.
"Thenthere'skind of this middleground
- if I've read something in five different
places, do I get to count it asa fact or do
I still need to cite it? I think those kinds
of issues we tend not to see as academic
Curzan said that for the cases that fall
into the middle category, most profes-
sors, at least in the English department,
will simply try to clear up any confusion
the student has about citation.
So would the paper we found that bor-
rowedliberallyinthe firsttwo sentences
fromthe Missouritourismwebsite be an
example of punishable academic dishon-
esty, or just confusion aboutcitation?
Curzan said that although the open-
ing sentence is clearly copied word-for-
word from the website, she identified
the example as falling into this category
of "middle ground." Only a sentence
and a half was plagiarized, she said, and
the information came from an acces-
sible tourism website, almost common
Curzan's analysis of the paper is in
line with how the case was actually han-
died. After being posted to the Fishbowl
website, the paper, written for a class
in the Business School, was brought to
the attention of Business School Profes-
sors Thomas Schreiber, chairman of the
school's Community Values Commit-
tee, and James Reece, a member of the
committee, which deals with issues of
academic misconduct at the Business
"It was our judgment that the informa-
tion on the Missouri tourism website con-
stituted common knowledge," Reece said.
However, Reece said he did give the
student a very stern warning about the
nature and consequences of academic
This incident suggests that plagia-
rism is not a black-and-white issue. One
reason why the number of documented
examples at the University remains
low is that many cases are probably not
determined to be plagiarism.
or are never found.
With no time or resourc-

es to look for plagiarism, no concrete
definition and no uniform guidelines
for reporting and recording confirmed
cases, finding a way to combat plagia- a
rism at the University is a daunting task.
Many faculty members have started
printing a plagiarism policy on their syl-
labi, but when asked about the causes of
plagiarism, they said it results largely
because students don't understand the
nuances - and sometimes the funda-
mentals - of proper citation.
"The very first class we talk quite a
bit about the need to cite sources and
MLA format," said Suzanne Hancock,
a lecturer who teaches English 125. "I
think all students understand the idea
of intellectual integrity, but the prob-
lem is more the nitty-gritty aspects, the
mechanics of using quotation marks and
Elizabeth Mann, the president of the
LSA Student Governinent Honor Coun-
cil which works to promote academic
integrity on campus, said the council is
spearheading a variety of efforts to teach
students about citation.
Recently, the council put up post-
ers in various study rooms on cam-
pus with information about citing
sources. Additionally, Mann said the
council has thought about adding a
presentation on citation and academic
integrity to freshman orientation, but
said it would be logistically difficult
to start.
Sulzdorf also advocates for a more
preventative approach to teaching aca-
demic integrity.
"Despite the existence of English 125,
there are real gaps in students' knowl-
edge," Sulzdorf said. "If the University is
actually serious. about stopping plagia-
rism, they need to get on board a lot ear-
lier than when their GSI is sitting there
with ared pen."
Preventative efforts like posters and
presentations might not be enough.
Some schools at the University have
taken a different approach to dealing
with plagiarism.
Anthony England,

require faculty members to report cases
of plagiarism.
Nurse explained that in LSA, faculty
members who suspect students of pla-
giarism have two options: Choose to
deal with the situations on their own or
bringthe incidents to the attention of the
dean, who then meets with the student
and may conduct an investigation.
Nurse said faculty members are
encouraged to report all incidents of pla-
giarism so a record can be kept, even if
the dean's office is not directly involved.
But he suggested many cases are prob-
ably not brought to the attention of his
In terms of reported cases of cheat-
ing in LSA, the majority of which Nurse
said are probably cases of plagiarism,
the numbers are increasing. In academic
year 2005-2006, the most recent year
for which data is available, there were
148 reported cases, the year before there
were 131, the year before that 122 and
the year before that 107.18,482 students
were enrolled in LSA for the Fall

2005 semester, consisting of about 72
percent of the University's undergradu-
ate population.
Nurse, and several faculty members
pointed out that cases reported to the
dean's office are usually the most egre-
gious, consisting of acts of plagiarism
that are so pervasive they are easy to
spot - usually more obvious than the
ones we discovered.
Given that we easily found some sig-
nificant examples of plagiarism, how is
it that only 148 students out of the more
than 18,000 in LSA were referred for
having committed an act of academic
Asked how they check for plagiarism,
many faculty members answered by
explaining that the most severe forms
are easily recognized.
Professors, lecturers and graduate
student instructors alike

pointed out that to spend time looking
for examples of plagiarism in every stu-
dent's paper would be impossible, and
plagiarism-checking sites like TurnitIn.
com haven't quite caught on.
"You just can't sit down with every
set of papers you have and Google lines
from them," GSI Heidi Suzdorf said. "I
think that the sort of inadvertent, bor-
derline cases are not even recognized
by graders. They're just kind of swept
under the rug."
In addition, different types of plagia-
rism are thought about differently.
Anne Curzan, director of undergrad-
uate and first and second year studies in
the English Department, said there are
basicallythree levels of plagiarism that a
faculty member encounters.
"In my experience it usually becomes
clear in a conversation with a student
whether they are confused about


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