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Columbia Spectator Staff

Reports of plagiarism are on the rise at Barnard, and administrators and faculty say it's unclear what is causing this uptick. The number of reported cases of academic dishonesty increased from 12 in the 2008-2009 academic year to 30 in the 2009-2010 academic year, according to Barnard's Dean of Studies Karen Blank. In 2007-2008, there were 15 cases. These are the cases that were sent to Dean's Discipline as well as the few cases that were reported to the dean by the instructor but handled by the instructor. Some faculty and administrators cite as contributing factors stress, improper time management, and lack of understanding of what constitutes cheating. The majority of Barnard cases are plagiarism, Blank said. The rest included charges such as cheating on an exam, inappropriate collaboration on an assignment, and illegal downloading. Stress and cheating Blank said that 11 of the 30 reported cases of academic misconduct last year were with first-years. She said that this may be due to "life getting in the way more with first-years, or stress among the first-years." Marina Cords, professor of ecology, evolution, and environmental biology, said she believes lack of time and heavy coursework to be the main motivations for students to cheat. Students generally cheat when they are desperate or have trouble understanding the material, Cords said. When time is the culprit, Cords said she believes students should approach their professor for an extension. Professors can also help those students who have problems understanding the material. "I wish the student would have come talk to me," said Cords, who recalls three major instances of plagiarism in her 19 years at the University. "There's such a tense atmosphere that I am not completely surprised it happens," said Nina Spierer, BC '12. "I tend to hold us to a higher caliber than others, but still ... there's the atmosphere that we need to be the best all the time and be doing a thousand different things. I wouldn't say our moral fiber is decaying." Changing methods of cheating With a world of information only a click away, some think the way students cheat might be changing. "In addition to the possibility of buying papers, the internet seems to have facilitated the process of appropriating by cut-and-paste," Cords said. "It used to be that plagiarism would be from books," said Blank, who has worked at Barnard for 17 years. But, now, she said, plagiarism comes mainly from websites. "The availability of information on the internet is a deciding factor," said Jeri Henry, the Senior Assistant Dean of Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for CC and SEAS. For some Barnard students, it's clear that the Internet plays a major role in most incidents of cheating. "It doesn't surprise me because the information flows so easily through technology," Erica Vann, BC '11, said. Discipline as a learning process "Each one of us is capable of doing stupid things. However, when we do something wrong, there are consequences," Blank said. At Barnard, as outlined in the Barnard Honor Code, an accused student is sanctioned based on a conversation with the dean of studies. Barnard's Honor Board, which includes eight students and three faculty members, hears appeals to the dean's decisions, although they can hear the case instead of the dean if requested. But Erin Sperry, BC '11 and the chair of the Honor Board, said the board only saw one case last year, and it was a holdover from the 2008-2009 academic year. Administrators emphasized that academic misconduct hearings are not just for sentencing. "We hope this process is one in which lessons are learned," Blank said, adding, "Lessons are learned and remembered, not dwelled upon." During her 17 years at Barnard, Blank said there has been only one instance of expulsion for academic dishonesty, and five or six instances of suspension. Barnard English professor Cary Plotkin, who tries to initially handle cases of plagiarism internally, only refers students to deans when they don't confess to plagiarism—otherwise he gives them an "F" for the work. Plotkin said in an email, "Barnard has a very humane and flexible system for handling such occurrences." Prevention and education Despite being part of the disciplinary process, Barnard's Honor Board is largely a mode for student outreach to prevent instances of academic dishonesty. "The Honor Board exists to uphold the honor code, really, and to promote awareness of the honor code throughout the Barnard community," Sperry said. The Honor Board often reaches out to first-years through flyers and newsletters, Sperry said. "We like to go to the English classes because all of the freshman have to take them and plagiarism is the biggest source of questionable cases," she said. "The Board sees one of its main responsibilities as reminding the college of the importance of academic integrity," Blank said. "The first approach must be moral and personal: if you make your way through life by cheating, you may succeed; but who are you?" Plotkin said. Still, to Cleopatra Mcgovern BC '12, the uptick in reports is surprising. "I don't think of it [Barnard] as a place where people cheat." But as a pre-med student, she understands the stress. "The ideology is that if my grades aren't good than I can't survive." Gina Hernandez, Amanda Mosner, and Amanda Evans contributed reporting. news@columbiaspectator.com

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