Question of Integrity
New initiatives aim to protect academic integrity
at the University of Guelph
Just about every professor has a favourite story
to tell about a student who tried to pass off another's
work as his or her own. For drama professor Ann Wilson,
it's the "Love Story" episode, where a dating
couple wrote one essay together and each turned it in under
their own name.
It was when Wilson was teaching one section of a two-section
course at York University. "I happened to be in the
office of my colleague who was teaching the other section,
when I glanced down at a pile of essays on the desk and
noticed that the paper on top looked familiar."
It turned out to be the exact same essay another student
had submitted in Wilson's section of the course. "We
figured out the two students were going out. I guess they
decided they would write one essay and share it between
the two of them. Now that's love," she says with a
But Wilson and other professors at U of G and across Canada
agree that academic misconduct such as plagiarism is no
laughing matter. This month, 47 economic students at Simon
Fraser University were accused of cheating on an assignment.
Last year, more than 120 students at the University of Alberta
were charged with academic misconduct, with 45 of them being
suspended or expelled. The University of Toronto is currently
investigating 150 students for academic misconduct.
U of G administrators and faculty say it's difficult to
know how widespread it is at Guelph and how to determine
if students know what constitutes plagiarism - or, if they
know, whether they consider it academic misconduct. And
even if a professor is pretty sure a paper she or he is
grading includes plagiarized sections, how does one verify
it or even find the time to take such action?
These issues are just some of the topics Teaching Support
Services (TSS) and the Learning Commons, in conjunction
with a newly formed Academic Integrity Committee, hope to
tackle with a series of initiatives aimed at protecting
academic integrity at Guelph. They include:
- surveying professors, teaching assistants and students
this month to find out how widespread the problem is at
Guelph, how concerned people are, the level of understanding
and acceptance of policies and procedures, and suggestions
for dealing with issues;
- continuing to analyse literature that looks at academic
misconduct at other North American universities;
- pilot testing software that scans papers for plagiarism;
- making academic integrity the focus of the 15th annual
Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference this spring.
"I believe these initiatives will put Guelph at the
forefront of dealing with this issue," says TSS director
Prof. Julia Christensen Hughes, who, along with the Learning
Commons and Academic Integrity Committee, spent more than
a year reviewing the literature and exploring how academic
misconduct is dealt with at other North American universities,
at the request of the Vice-President (Academic)'s Council.
The committee released the findings of this research last
month. The report included some disheartening statistics,
such as: 84 per cent of university students in North America
engage in some form of academic dishonesty; Web sites offering
term papers receive as many as 80,000 hits a day; and students
are more likely to engage in such misconduct if they think
their peers are doing the same and getting away with it.
"The research also shows that 40 to 60 per cent of
faculty who have seen academic misconduct say they have
chosen to do nothing or little in response," says Christensen
Hughes. "That's why we want to engage our faculty in
the process to find out where they feel they need more support.
And that's why we want to involve our teaching assistants
and students as well, so we can understand what the issues
are from their perspective and what help we can provide.
The University has well-defined policies in this area, but
it seems they are not always followed. We need to understand
(Information about U of G's policies is available on the
University Web site at www.uoguelph.ca/GraduateStudies/calendar/archive/19982000/genreg/miscondu.html.)
Later this month, TSS will send out three different e-mail
surveys to faculty, teaching assistants and students, asking
them about their perceptions of academic integrity at Guelph.
The survey has been endorsed by both the U of G Faculty
Association and CUPE 3913, which represents teaching assistants.
Data will be sorted by college and will become part of a
larger study being conducted by Duke University's Center
for Academic Integrity in North Carolina.
"No one at Guelph will see any individual responses
- they will be sent directly to Duke for aggregation,"
says Christensen Hughes. "Confidentially is absolutely
From an institutional point of view, she says, "it's
critical that we understand this issue and develop plans
and strategies for dealing with it effectively."
Prof. Maureen Mancuso, associate vice-president (academic),
who has been working with TSS and the Learning Commons on
the initiatives, adds that the main reason for doing the
survey is to provide real data about attitudes at Guelph.
Previous reports about academic misconduct have varied considerably
from year to year.
"There is concern among both faculty and students
about maintaining academic integrity," she says. "Data
from other sources indicate there is an erosion of academic
integrity across North America and that student attitudes
about what is 'acceptable' behaviour are changing. We want
to collect information specific to Guelph, which can be
reviewed and understood in light of the data from other
Provost Alastair Summerlee says he's pleased that Mancuso,
TSS and the Learning Commons have launched these initiatives.
"It's very important that we support our faculty and
students in this area of concern," he says.
The survey results will be shared this May at TSS's Teaching
and Learning Innovations Conference, which is being co-hosted
by the Learning Commons and McLaughlin Library. At the conference,
faculty, students and teaching assistants will be able to
comment on the survey and make recommendations for enhancing
academic integrity. The event will also include workshops
and two keynote speakers: Don McCabe of Rutgers University,
who has done much of the existing research on academic misconduct
in North America, and Robert Harris, author of The Plagiarism
Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting and Dealing
In the meantime, TSS and the Learning Commons will continue
to provide other support programs and educational materials
aimed at maintaining academic integrity, including developing
a Web site and pilot testing the software program Turnitin,
a Web-based service that identifies essays that may have
been purchased through "paper mills" or sections
of papers that may have been plagiarized from the Internet.
"You submit a paper electronically, and it takes about
24 hours to get it back," says Pat Thompson, who is
overseeing use of the software for TSS. The papers come
back with questionable sections highlighted in colour and
a notation about the source of the information.
A second phase of the pilot test is scheduled for this
semester. For more information about the program, visit
the Web site www.turnitin.com
or call Thompson at Ext. 2965.
Having options and guidance about academic misconduct is
welcomed by professors such as Wilson. "I think students
plagiarize for many reasons," she says. "In some
cases, they do it out of desperation. Others plagiarize
because it's the easy thing to do. I also think some students
genuinely don't know what is acceptable and what is not."
For these reasons, she adds, professors have an obligation
to their students to make academic misconduct difficult.
"Part of the solution involves designing assignments
that are specific in addressing concerns particular to the
course and issues that have been raised in class."