When it comes to stories of cheating and plagiarism, Kristi Gourlay has heard them all. “The availability of the Internet, students’ facility with computers and other technology have made cheating easier, but it’s also made it easier to detect.” “Generally speaking, offenders tend to fall into three broad categories,” said Gourlay, manager of the Office of Academic Integrity at the Faculty of Arts and Science. “The ones who honestly didn’t know they were doing something wrong…the ones who made a bad choice because they were experiencing difficulties of some kind…and the ones who set out to cheat deliberately, calculating that they won’t get caught.”
One PhD student voluntarily confessed that his M.Sc. thesis contained fabricated data and sources, and had his master’s degree recalled. He received a six-month suspension, and faced a permanent notation on his academic record.
Another student paid someone to impersonate him and write his test. The student was suspended for five years and received a notation on his transcript for seven years.
In a love-gone-wrong story, two female students unknowingly dating the same male classmate were both talked into writing tests, papers, and exams under his name. When the two undergrads discovered the scam, they turned in their ex and attended his hearing as witnesses.
“In the end he faced [84 charges] of academic misconduct and was expelled,” recalled professor Edith Hillan, the U of T’s vice-provost of Faculty and Academic Life. “It was one of the more egregious examples of academic misconduct we’ve seen.”
U of T takes academic integrity very seriously. “Academic integrity matters…because we want to maintain the very highest standards in terms of our teaching and research,” said Hillan. “It also matters from a student perspective because students want to know they are on a level playing field.”
Political science professor Stephen Clarkson notes that plagiarism was not always as strictly enforced as it is now. “The university…used to be very lax about plagiarism; it has now tightened and toughened up considerably, but the cheating problem remains very considerable.”
“Cheating because you think you can get away with it is a risky strategy,” said history professor Sean Hawkins. “Even if most people could get away with it, not all do, and the consequences are not pleasant.”
Plagiarism is not only unpleasant for students, but also for faculty. “All cases are horrible. The reasons for this are many, but paramount among these is the feeling of a violation of trust, which is to my mind the basis of our relationship with our students, and our students with us,” said Hawkins.
“With each instance, it makes me a progressively more suspicious reader. It makes me change assignments to try to avoid extending too much trust. It makes me wonder whether a wonderful sentence was written by the student or came from somewhere else.
“It stinks. It poisons. It sucks.”
Disclaimer: quotes by Kristi Gourlay originally appeared in a news.utoronto.ca article in September 2008.