Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Focus on Ethics Can Curb Cheating, Colleges Find

Behavior: Academic dishonesty is rampant, but students will respond to higher standards of integrity, a study shows.

By KENNETH R. WEISS, Times Education Writer

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

DAVIS, Calif.--Grappling for ways to halt the spread of plagiarism and other cheating in college, professors often get stuck on the idea that it's too late to change students' behavior by the time they reach college.

But a growing number of campuses, backed by new research, are out to prove otherwise.

Student behavior is affected by the communities we build, said Gary Pavela, the University of Maryland's director of judicial programs and student ethical conduct.

Students cheat in high school in part because the think everyone else does. But students can change their ways if colleges clearly demand honesty, engage students in ethical issues and put them in charge of enforcement, said Pavela and his colleagues at such schools as UC Davis and Kansas State University, which are in the vanguard of a new movement to change the academic culture.

A new large-scale study suggests they may be right.

Although a startling 68% of college students admitted in an anonymous survey last fall that they engaged in some form of serious cheating, self-reported cheating was 10 percentage points lower on campuses that simply make a big fuss about academic integrity. The rates dipped even lower at colleges with formal honor codes.

The survey results, which are to be released this week, are the first indication that anti-cheating campaigns are making inroads at the large public universities where many professors fear a spreading epidemic of academic dishonesty.

The results directly challenge the broad view that a kid's ethical views at age 17 or 18 are set by their parents for good or ill, Pavela said.

Administrators and student leaders have cribbed ideas from smaller colleges with traditional honor codes and modified them to work on large campuses.

At UC Davis, the topic of academic integrity is everywhere, brought up by the students themselves. As final exams approach each term, students give their peers free cards stamped, Honesty is the only policy, and free No. 2 pencils with the inscription: Fill in your own bubble or be in trouble.

Older students do skits to show incoming freshmen what can happen if they violate the code of academic conduct. Professors and their teaching assistants regularly turn in undergraduates for the smallest of infractions.

In case students somehow miss the point, every Wednesday the campus newspaper's judicial report reveals all the embarrassing details--except for names--of what one sophomore calls a parade of unbelievably stupid acts of plagiarism, improper collaboration and wandering eyes.

All this attention on cheating seems to make a difference.

I would never want to cheat here--it's just too scary, said Tina Valenzuela, a UC Davis senior who wants to go to veterinary school. Just the fact that if you get caught, you'd read about it in the paper.

At UC Davis, only 31% of students reported that they got the questions or answers from someone else who had already taken a test before they did--one of the most common forms of cheating.

By comparison, on campuses that place less emphasis on academic integrity or ignore the issue altogether, 54% of students reported getting questions or answers.

A skeptic might ask if students at schools with honor codes are simply less likely to admit--even anonymously--that they have violated the rules. Donald L. McCabe, the Rutgers University management professor who conducted the newest study, part of a decade of research on the subject of cheating, thinks not.

Lower cheating rates at honor code schools are validated by surveys of faculty and by students who have attended both kinds of institutions, McCabe said.

McCabe's latest survey, which last fall collected the responses of 2,100 students and 1,000 faculty members at 21 campuses across the country, showed that:
* Nationwide, most forms of cheating remain at or near record levels.
* Men admit to more cheating than women, fraternity and sorority members more than nonmembers; students with lower grade-point averages say they cheat more than those with high GPAs.
* Students pursuing degrees in journalism and communications, business and engineering reported cheating more than those in the sciences, social sciences or humanities.
* Only 9.7% of students reported plagiarizing a paper in any way using the Internet, suggesting that such cheating is not