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Academic integrity tops A&S agenda

The Arts and Sciences Council devoted its final meeting of the year to academic integrity, as issues of policy formulation, education and punishment were all discussed in equal measure.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe took the first steps toward revising the long-debated dean's excuse policy for short-term illnesses, creating a committee to propose a new protocol.

Significantly, Chafe's charge works off the premise that the student - not a health care worker or dean - is the only person who can determine whether he or she is too ill to complete an assignment or test.

"We're basically talking about trying to generate a new approach of trust," Chafe said.

The move comes after Director of Student Health Dr. Bill Christmas announced last fall that health care workers would no longer issue medical excuses to students, calling the system a "charade" that conflicts with the University's honor code and places unnecessary burdens on students and Student Health. Furthermore, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a newly implemented law necessitating additional paperwork for patients, makes the existing dean's excuse policy even more untenable.

Debate on the proposal centered around what the role of the dean's office should be. Some said the deans need to remain informed about absences to detect problematic patterns. In response, one dean noted that instructors are usually best able to detect such patterns.

In the end, the faculty voted 18 to one in favor of creating the committee.

Following the vote, Dean of Judicial Affairs Kacie Wallace offered an update of academic judicial statistics and analyzed several quantitative and qualitative trends.

The number of cases continued to rise this year, as 44 cases were adjudicated, up from 36 four years ago.

Of this number, all referrals were from faculty - none from students - a ratio that Wallace hopes will even out. "Students are really looking to the faculty to bring these cases forward," she said. "Our hope is that the Community Standard [to be implemented this fall] will change that."

Wallace also noted that most cases of academic dishonesty now involve plagiarism, not cheating. A 70 to 30 ratio exists this year in favor of plagiarism, compared to an even split last year.

Judicial Affairs also appears to be weighing the severity of the crime more deliberately than in years past, Wallace said, as shown by the increased use of the one-term suspension as punishment. The two-term suspension, a more severe option, was used only a third of the time this year, compared to a rate approaching 100 percent two years ago.

Completing the academic integrity trifecta, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Judith Ruderman spoke about the new Community Standard and efforts to educate faculty and others about its implications.

She said members of the Academic Integrity Council have given brief presentations to approximately 40 departments, information has been published in print and on a new website and President Nan Keohane agreed to make academic integrity one of the foci of her address to incoming students next fall, among other educational measures.

In subsequent discussion, Professor of History John Richards wondered aloud whether a direct correlation existed between academic integrity and the intellectual vitality sought by many at the University.

Ruderman responded favorably to this idea. "All I can say is 'Amen, brother.' I hope you are right."

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