A Ball State student took the chance of being expelled when he or she posted on Facebook for someone to write a reaction paper. Saying the best bid would win, 12 students commented on the post.
Each bid could be classified as attempted plagiarism, Marilyn Buck, associate provost, said. While only one student wrote the paper for money, the other commenters attempted, which could still be considered academic dishonesty.
The paper for Ronald Truelove’s personality psychology class received an F letter grade, simply based on the quality of the paper and despite the student paying $30 for it. One teaching assistant for the class saw the post online and took screen shots to send to Truelove.
This case is unusual compared to the 305 plagiarisms during the past five years at Ball State, according to documents obtained through a public records request. While the majority of academic dishonesty cases pertained to plagiarism, 56 students have been caught copying and 28 students were caught submitting identical papers over the past five years.
With no students expelled in the past five years and only one suspended, Ball State administrators focus more on addressing and preventing plagiarism rather than catching people. In class soon after, the psychology instructor addressed the issue to the entire class of 167 students.
“We’ve got to get this out there,” Truelove said. “I’ve got to make this not just a punishment in secret… We’ve got to yell this from the rooftops and say, ‘Look what happened to these people. Is that worth it?’”
Four of the 12 students are facing punishments that have yet to be decided by Director of Student Rights Mike Gillilan. The other eight students have avoided punishments because the posts were too ambiguous and almost seemed like some of the students were joking, Truelove said.
Most cases of academic dishonesty that cannot be resolved on a faculty member and student level go through Buck’s office and then a board. This case is going through Student Rights, as well because most of the accused students were not in Truelove’s class. Buck said she has never seen a case like this.
During the 2011-12 academic year, five cases were seen by the board. So far this academic year, 10 cases have gone to the board. Buck said in the past five years, no students have been expelled for academic dishonesty, and only one student has been suspended.
All academic dishonesty cases, regardless if there is a hearing, is explained in a form and filed in Buck’s office. Buck said most cases of plagiarism are accidental and caused by a misunderstanding of how to cite information.
“I think sometimes when we do an absolute requirement of that source that we lose our compassion for people who make mistakes,” she said. “Let’s not punish people who made an honest mistake – key word there is honest – mistake and didn’t mean to.”
Before 2008, academic dishonesty cases were not recorded unless a hearing was needed. Buck said the issue came when students could cheat and get caught in multiple classes without repercussions since their previous offenses weren’t recorded.
Gillilan said he thinks it is important that academic dishonesty cases have always tried to be resolved before a board has to intervene, unlike other colleges such as Purdue University.
“I think that preserves an important part of the relationship between the student and the faculty member,” he said. “It gives the student the opportunity to talk to the faculty member about what happened, how they came to the situation that they did and allow the faculty member to respond.”
Many students who commit plagiarism will be forced to complete Multimedia Integrity Teaching Tool at the Learning Center. The program is interactive and teaches students what exactly plagiarism is. The program comes in either 36 lessons that takes about 6 to 8 hours to complete or 18 lessons. The faculty member recommends what version the student will take.
Professors have the option of using SafeAssign, a Blackboard program to run papers through to detect plagiarism. Truelove said he plans on creating a mandatory policy for his classes that students must run their papers through the software to make sure they are citing sources often enough.
“It won’t catch plagiarism per se, because if the student has cited well but just did too much, they may have 60 to 70 percent,” Buck said. “So if they put it into quotes or cited it. It may be poor writing, but it isn’t plagiarism.”
Truelove said he explained the case of plagiarism to his class to show students what can happen if they plagiarized. Gillilan and Buck said the way Ball State handles plagiarism is about preventing further offenses rather than catching people who already have committed the act.
“My colleagues said, ‘We can catch them with this,’” Truelove said. “And I said, ‘That’s not the purpose of this.’ What I’m going to do is have every student submit it through this in between me and them, and I’m going to explain at the beginning of class, ‘Here’s what you guys are doing,’ so that will stop them from doing it.”
Truelove said that as a psychology instructor, he tries to understand why students plagiarize. He said he asks his classes every semester how many of them have purchased a paper online and about half of the students in every class raise their hands.
“One student said that no student can do everything that’s required to take 18 credits and really write all of those papers for all of those classes,” he said. “And they were almost blaming the university and the professors for loading them up like that and making them cheat. That’s what they were telling me.”