How to quash cheating on campus

More Canadian schools should consider honour codes


exam cheatingStudents cheat. A lot.

Ask any English professor. Or look into research on the subject. Or keep an eye on the news for the latest cheating scandal.

If you have indeed been keeping up on the cheating news, you might have noticed that Harvard University is adopting an honour code.

Such codes are relatively common in the U.S. Here is Stanford’s for example. It’s time we started thinking about making them common in Canada, too.

When people discuss how to reduce plagiarism, one common suggestion is to increase education on how to cite sources properly. But such advice, though useful in a limited way, misses the larger point. First, citation is not that hard—it’s the easiest part of writing an essay—and generally well covered in university classes where research is required. Second, talking to students reveals that plagiarism is rarely an honest mistake. Rather, the student has decided that they will likely do badly if they don’t cheat and might do very well if they do cheat. That might come as a result of a cold calculation or in a fit of panic, but it amounts to the same thing: they are knowingly breaking the rules and hoping they don’t get caught. “We just had to get it done,” students told reporters in a recent CBC investigation.

This is why an honour code promises more than citation education. We will reduce plagiarism when more students to feel that cheating is not just a violation of the rules, but that it is beneath their dignity.

But wait, don’t universities already have plagiarism policies? They do, but a policy is not the same as a pledge of honour. Policies remain quietly stored in the academic calendar where students may not even know they exist, let alone read them. Conversely, an honour pledge is given to students to read and sign when they first enrol at the university. Everyone, at the very least, knows about it, and everyone knows that everyone knows. This is part of creating what is increasingly being referred to as a “culture of integrity.” More specifically, the codes provide what some are calling “moral reminders.” As one widely cited study showed, students are more likely to act honourably when they have been reminded about the school’s honour code, even if the code doesn’t exist.

I myself have used this principle in my own courses for years. My students have to submit their papers with a brief “statement of originality,” assuring me that they have cited all sources fully and correctly. Plagiarism declined substantially after I introduced it.

Still, an institution-wide honour code would make a much greater impact than particular course policies.

What should such a code look like? So far as I know the only university in Canada that already has one is Quest University, a private institution in British Columbia. Quest’s code is not, in my view, perfect, but would be a good basis (properly credited of course) on which to model other similar policies. Much of Quest’s honour code—and I focus here only on the academic integrity portions—repeats the sort of thing that one finds in the standard policies. Which is fine because, as I say, at least students will have to look at it once.

But Quest goes a step further and enjoins its students not just to avoid cheating themselves, but also to discourage academic dishonesty in others if they witness it. Prudently, they do not ask that students turn one another in. Still, if your roommate asks you for a copy of your term paper that he can hand in to his professor, it’s up to you to refuse the request and tell your buddy to do the work himself. If he doesn’t, then it’s on his conscience.

That, precisely is what these codes can do: foster a strong sense of conscience. What better education could we hope to provide?



How to quash cheating on campus

  1. As a student I can’t help but laught that you think this will work. The fact that cheating is on the uproar is more of a reflection on the state of education than the students to me. That’s what happens when you prioritize memorization and grades over the actual learning experience. Good job society. You f*cked this one up too. An engineering degree is known as the cheaters degree yet they sign a document stating that the work is uniquely their own. It’s time for a MASSIVE up haul to our education system. Similar to an evolution, much like what we need in our current political system.

    • Or just bring back old controls. For my big final papers I had to show up to a panel of profs, and defend my paper interactively to even be allowed a grade/pass. You we told right up front you had to defend your papers to show authenticity, learning and understanding, and they grilled you good.

      Ferrets out the cheaters fast, as if someone else wrote your paper, profs would tear you apart and fail your paper.

      Academic laziness is what it happens. Profs are not vetting the people they graduate. Need to bring back the old processes. Heck, we even had to talk and field questions from our peers.

      Pretty easy to spot plagiarism if you take the tried and true steps. While plagiarism did exist the first year, they all failed and not seen again. Even had one prof ride me for a bit testing my personal knowledge, and once satisfied moved on. I am not aware of any who plagiarized in my graduating class. But that was in the 1970s where students could whine, protest or BS for a grade.

  2. When I graduated in the 70s we had to attribute credits to our sources or we would fail. Any one teaching and grading papers knows no papers are based solely on original ideas, it just doesn’t happen. Even Einstein, as brilliant as he was used works of others to build on.

    I am surprised that showing credits as showing you researched it, was ever lost as part of the grading process. I even had to show up in person to a panel to defend my paper to show I knew the material.

    Just old methods coming back to prevent academic frauds, and cheating is fraud. And if unchecked, the university/college can get a bad reputation of graduating idiots and affects others later….

  3. Mr. Pettigrew, when you wrote this article for Maclean’s, were you also forced to submit a “statement of originality” to lay claim to your authorship? If not, should we assume that you plagiarized it until you are able to prove otherwise? I am not comfortable with a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality, and if I were a student I would be quite offended at being asked to submit a statement of originality for all of my work.

    I would also point out that students are not the only ones who copy. Many professors routinely distribute course material that has been copied word for word from other sources while entirely failing to cite those sources; to name one example, this could take the form of slides from another professor’s course. Not every professor is guilty of this, but certainly it happens so frequently and so matter-of-factly that it sets a very poor example. If you want to change the culture, start with the professors.

  4. Todd even you as a prof don’t understand what it is like to be a student in this day and age. The state of education is a joke, its not about what you learn its about a percentage handed to you at the end of the year. What you learn yes is important but really what your mark is is all that matters. You are outdated and ignorant. May be time to hang up the type writer grandpa

Sign in to comment.