SFU cracks down on academic dishonesty

A recent CBC survey has shown that SFU punishes over ten times the number of cheaters as UBC.

Rob Gordon, criminology professor at SFU, explained that the survey results, based on the 2011/2012 school year, measure the level of faculty reporting, not the actual occurrence of academic dishonesty. In total, over 500 SFU students were disciplined for cheating during that period.

“Our faculty members are much more active and aggressive with respect to academic integrity issues than our colleagues at UBC,” says Gordon. He adds that what was reported by the 42 post-secondary institutions surveyed across Canada doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, but reporting behaviour — something that SFU has been actively working to increase.

Since 2009, SFU has been keeping a record of all reported cases of academic dishonesty, enabling faculty to check a student’s history when determining a suitable punishment. SFU is the only Canadian university with an FD (failure due to academic dishonesty) grade, which Gordon says follows students throughout their professional lives and is reserved for severe cases, such as repeat cheaters.

A growing inter-faculty network, made up of academic integrity advisers and a university-wide academic integrity committee, is in place to educate students on the new policy and encourage staff participation. Gordon sees SFU’s high reporting statistics as an indication of how seriously the university considers issues of academic dishonesty.

“I don’t think any faculty member really wants to be a policeman around this stuff,” Gordon admitted. “They would rather students came here to study, to acquire knowledge, and all those other good things — but there are a proportion who come just to try to get a degree.”

Despite the fact that students face punishment for academic dishonesty, Gordon says that student interest is in favour of the university’s increasingly aggressive stance on cheating. SFU’s academic integrity policy was updated in 2009 in response to student concerns about degree devaluation.

Gordon claims that the university’s active approach to academic dishonesty and high reporting behaviour will keep a degree from SFU in good standing with prospective employers or graduate schools. He hopes that increased awareness and communication will deter students from risking their academic careers.

And when cheating does happen, Gordon said, “It’s actually easier to uncover than people might think.”

The Internet has proven to be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to countering academic dishonesty. While there are countless websites offering custom essays, written to order (and ready in only three hours if you’re willing to pay over $150, according to one website), anti-plagiarism search engines enable instructors to efficiently review suspected cases of cheating.

Plagiarism and cheating on exams were the two most reported infractions at SFU. The university is currently combatting essay writing companies, most of  which are unaffiliated with SFU and can’t be stopped by the university directly. While SFU continues to enforce its academic dishonesty policies, Gordon says government prohibitions are necessary to stop these companies from operating.

SFU’s policies are designed to reduce academic dishonesty to a minimum, though Gordon says he isn’t naïve enough to believe it can ever be completely eliminated.

If students are unsure about the scope of academic dishonesty, the library offers an online quiz that outlines unacceptable behaviour. Gordon adds, “I’m happy to say that I took it and I got a hundred percent. And I didn’t cheat.”