Local News

Cheating Up At UNC, Duke

Posted May 8, 2003

— When Amy Williams showed up for her organic chemistry exam last week, she had to show a photo identification and search for an assigned seat.

But the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sophomore didn't mind the airport-like security thanks to an increase in cheating.

"I think it's good," Williams said. "People are under such stress and strain. They know they need to do well, and they will go to extremes."

Reports of cheating have jumped recently at both Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Academic misconduct cases have doubled in five years at Duke, where several seniors might not graduate this weekend because of violations.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, cheating and plagiarism cases are up 60 percent since 2000.

Jonathan Slain, UNC-CH's student attorney general, thinks something is missing on campus.

"When this university was founded a couple of hundred years ago, you could walk across McCorkle Place and smell the honor," he said. "I think we've gotten away from some of the ideals and values."

Both schools have cracked down with tougher honor codes and more education about academic integrity. Professors routinely run student papers through Internet search engines, looking for plagiarism.

Some professors even ban book bags from exam rooms and ask students to turn baseball caps backward - in case notes are scribbled on the underside of the bill.

They're not the actions of paranoid faculty members. A 1999 national survey of college students by Donald McCabe of Rutgers University found that about one-third admitted to serious test cheating and half said they cheated on written assignments at least once.

Internet plagiarism is up, too, with 41 percent of students in 2001 saying they copied material and presented it as their own work.

In the last year, a dozen University of Maryland students were accused of using cell phone text messages to cheat during an accounting exam. At the University of Virginia, 45 students in one physics class were expelled in a cheating scandal.

Both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill have been overhauling their honor codes since 2000, when the campuses had their own crises. In Chapel Hill, a computer science professor reported 24 students for "unauthorized collaboration."

At Duke, a survey revealed that half of the undergraduates said they had collaborated; nearly 40 percent admitted plagiarism or falsifying lab data.

School officials said they hope to restore academic integrity as a core value on campus. Freshmen will go through new orientation programs focused solely on the honor system, and reminders about academic honesty will appear in campus newspapers.

"We're looking to create a culture of honor," said Judith Wegner, a UNC-CH law professor who led the committee that revised the honor code.

Duke's new "community standard" extends the regulations to students' behavior at all times. Starting in the fall, students will be compelled to report cheating if they see it or risk violating the policy. Students call it the "rat clause."

Sandeep Kishore, a rising senior who is chairman of Duke's Honor Council, has heard his classmates grumble about the "rat clause." But he thinks professors will stop monitoring exams if students show they can police themselves.

Kishore said students, professors and the institution must share responsibility if the new methods are to work.

"You want to promote a system of trust," he said.

"We realize Duke is training the next physicians, the next businessmen, the next lawyers," he said. "We really need to give an ethical backing to the substantial education we're delivering."


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