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Honor code violations increase

Jenn Metz | Sunday, September 30, 2007

A total of 89 violations of Notre Dame’s honor code were reported and resolved during the 2006-2007 academic year, said Dennis Jacobs, the associate provost and faculty co-chair of the Notre Dame Code of Honor Committee.

Notre Dame students and faculty are expected to adhere to the simple code – “as a member of the Notre Dame community, I will not participate in or tolerate academic dishonesty” – that lays the foundation for the University’s high standards of academic integrity.

The number, which includes all cases resolved by June 7, is an aggregate approximation of the violations committed in the last academic year. Some additional cases may have occurred in the spring semester that were not fully resolved at the time of the year’s report – “but that’s a small number,” Jacobs said.

Two years ago, the number of violations resolved was 58. Jacobs gave two possible explanations for the increase in violations.

First, it could be because the “faculty understands the process better than they did,” he said. The process for reporting and resolving violations changed in 2005; before then, all cases went to a hearing.

“There has been an increase in the number of cases since we instituted the new report,” Jacobs said. “Faculty are more likely to pursue a case if they feel they have a mechanism that’s efficient and that leads to an appropriate resolution.”

The other possibility, he said, is that there is more cheating going on now than in the past.

“It could be a combination. It could be less cheating and more compliance. We just don’t know,” he said.

Jacobs said students accused of academic dishonesty sometimes claim ignorance, in cases of plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration on homework.

Jacobs said he is working with faculty to ensure guidelines for a specific class are laid out clearly for the students so the number of times ignorance is used as a defense will decrease. He encourages faculty to put their expectations in writing, either in the syllabus or on a hand-out sheet, so the students fully understand how the honor code applies to their class.

Upon entering the University, all students receive a booklet in their orientation materials informing them of the honor code. They must take an online quiz, which tests students on eight hypothetical situations of academic dishonesty, Jacobs said.

Senior Desiree Zamora, the student co-chair of the Notre Dame Honor Code Committee, gave a presentation to freshmen and parents during orientation this year.

“We emphasized a commitment to academic integrity,” Jacobs said. “Academic integrity is an important value for the University. … Our core quest as a University is the pursuit of truth, and so to misrepresent one’s thoughts or ideas or work flies in the face of that.”

Assistant Dean of First Year of Studies Kenneth DeBoer said becoming a member of the University community “is about academic integrity, about learning how to do work well as a University student. … We’re teaching students to be good students.”

He said the position of First Year of Studies is “always to support the student and help them learn as we do in all cases.”

“We turn first-year students into sophomores. … Part of the process is becoming comfortable with the honor code,” DeBoer said.

First Year of Studies released a statement that said they “cannot speculate on the numbers” of first-year students who commit honor code violations.

“If in fact the occurrence of honor code violations is higher among first year and sophomore students, we might attribute this to the overall adjustment that students make from high school to the University,” it said.

Becoming an academic citizen of Notre Dame, DeBoer said, is a learning process. He said First Year of Studies is “teaching students how to be good students,” and part of that is conveying information about the code.

“It’s not a dishonor code, not a cheating code – it’s the honor code,” he said.

The Code of Honor Committee’s membership is a balance of students and faculty, Jacobs said.

A dialogue about potential honor code violations begins between professor and student, he said. If the situation is deemed in violation of the honor code, two paths are available for resolution.

A student has the right to elect to have a hearing before an Honesty Committee. Academic departments or colleges organize these committees and are made up of faculty and students, Jacobs said. The majority of the committee members are students.

The second option is a discussion between professor and student about an appropriate penalty for the violation that conforms to certain principles that are listed on the Honor Code Web site.

“If someone chooses to commit an honor code violation in order to gain advantages, the penalty should leave them worse off than if they hadn’t chosen to cheat at all,” Jacobs said.

If an agreement is established, an honor code violation report is filled out and signed by both parties.

Upon completion, the report is sent to Jacobs’ office, where he reviews the agreement to ensure it is consistent with the honor code and signs it.

By signing the form, the student waives his or her rights to a hearing but has seven days after it is submitted to revoke the agreement, he said. In that case, the matter will be resolved in a hearing.

“We try to establish a process for resolving honor code cases that is fair and equitable,” Jacobs said.

Next week, Jacobs and Zamora will meet with student body vice president Maris Braun to discuss student government’s initiative to reduce the amount of cheating that takes place at the University.

“I’m a big believer in students stepping forward on this issue,” Jacobs said, “so I hope that Maris and other students can think about ways to have a dialogue around this topic and that in the end we all work together to promote academic integrity.”