Honor survey reveals flaws

Duke may have an honor code, but the results of a recent academic integrity survey cast doubt on the code's validity and effectiveness.

According to preliminary results released yesterday, 45 percent of students surveyed have participated in some form of academic dishonesty, most often under the category of "unauthorized collaboration."

Thirty-eight and a half percent admitted to "copying a few sentences without footnoting them in a paper," and 37 percent say that they have falsified lab or research data at least once.

Although academic dishonesty seems prevalent at the University, 66 percent of students surveyed said the chances of a Duke student being caught at this behavior are either "low" or "very low."

"My opinion is that there is not an honor code; it's just a statement on the wall," said Steven Baldwin, a professor of chemistry and chair of the Arts and Sciences Council.

Preliminary data from a faculty survey also revealed general apathy to enforcing the code. More notably, the vast majority of professors say their understanding of the policies is "low" or "very low."

Matthew Baugh, chair of the Honor Council, was not shocked by the overall data. "I think there is an understanding that students cheat," the Trinity junior said.

In general, these results do not bode well for Duke's reputation as an honor code school. As one student wrote in the free-response section of the survey: "Some schools pride themselves on offering guidance for young people in becoming honest, hard-working, moral individuals. This school is not one of them."

To many interested in promoting academic integrity, the issue of fraudulent data is a particularly concerning one-with 15 percent more Duke students claiming to have done it than at any other school surveyed. Baldwin found this number alarming.

"I think that's remarkably high, and I suspect it's in the labs," he said. He noted that labs tend to be very similar year after year, and "by that, the departments are kind of asking for it."

Students are nearly evenly split on such issues as such as the effectiveness of cheating policies, the fairness of the judicial process and whether the responsibility for monitoring should lie with students. In what some have dubbed "the two Dukes," the student body is exceedingly polarized on issues of honor.

"These sharp divisions suggest that there is a critical mass of students who would like to see Duke become a stronger honor code school-with unproctored exams, for instance-but also a critical mass who would not be in favor of this kind of change," Kenan Institute for Ethics director Elizabeth Kiss wrote in an e-mail.

The survey results highlight the difficulty of changing Duke's culture.

Kiss pointed out that although one-third of students said they would turn in a classmate for cheating, only 1 out of the 64 people who had witnessed academic dishonesty had actually done so.

The survey of 242 random students-a third from each class, sophomore through senior-was part of a national project to assess academic integrity in higher education.

Duke was one of 12 schools that is participating in the full pilot project, and one of 20 that was surveyed. Comparisons between schools were not readily available because schools are responsible for releasing their own results.

Along with the student data, very preliminary results from the faculty responses have been released. Two hundred regular-rank faculty were surveyed a few weeks ago, and while more responses are expected, early data show a significant problem with the faculty's approach to preventing cheating.

Only 54 percent of faculty surveyed say that they change their exams regularly, compared with 72 percent at private schools with an honor code, 82 percent at public schools with one, and 79 percent of faculty at schools without an honor code.

"I find that pretty amazing," said Baldwin, who added that many students have access to old exams. "And I think that's a reasonable way to study. I spend hours making a sophomore-level orgo exam for that reason."

In fact, in faculty efforts to curtail cheating, Duke ranked lower than the schools in every other category.

For example, only 15 percent of University professors reported that they hand out different versions of the same exam, while 42 percent do at other honor code schools and 49 percent of professors did so at schools with no honor code at all.

In another interesting result, 78 percent of students surveyed rated the faculty's understanding of Duke's policies concerning student cheating as "high" or "very high," while 72 percent of faculty rated their understanding of the policies as "low" or "very low."

Baldwin added that he doubts there is anyone-faculty or student-who understands all of the policies under the Honor Code, especially in ambiguous areas like handing in the same assignment to two different classes.

"We need to sit down and figure out where to go with this, to see where Duke is, where it wants to go...," said Baldwin. "It's time."


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