Once again the Student Government Association’s new task force is working to institute an honor code at TCU, this time a pilot program targeted for next semester.SGA President Trevor Heaney said the council has never given up on the idea of an honor code but has been re-evaluating past efforts.
Heaney said the task force was created to research individual TCU honor codes it could expand on to ensure that the honor code will be school-wide.
“SGA is looking at colleges and departments (on campus) that have honor codes or that are willing to make it cohesive on both ends,” said Heaney, who appointed the task force.
Ambika Sharma, chair of the task force, said the purpose of the honor code is to define cheating and outline the consequences of academic misconduct. SGA plans to have a pilot program implemented by next semester.
SGA had a task force three years ago called the Integrity Council, which presented a proposal to the Faculty Senate. However, the proposal was not accepted because, in Sharma’s opinion, it was too vague.
Peggy Watson, director of the Honors Program, said the Faculty Senate tabled the proposed honor code because it needed more work.
“(The honor code) is not just something you sign stating you won’t cheat,” she said. “It will have to be complex because the consequences for cheating are extremely serious.”
The task force is researching honor codes at other universities and comparing pros and cons, said Sharma, SGA deputy chief of staff. The council is also consulting with faculty members, deans and departments to generate support in implementing a new honor code, she said.
Watson said the task force needs to build a strong case.
“I tried to play devil’s advocate, not because I wouldn’t support the honor code, but (the task force) needs to know why people would oppose it so they can defend it,” she said.
Not the first time
Sharma said she thinks the previous honor code didn’t succeed because the student who tried to implement it graduated shortly after it was proposed, and the project did not generate enough support.
“In order for any honor code to work, there has to be a culture change,” she said.
Provost Nowell Donovan said students have discussed honor codes before.
“What happens is, particular students get enthused by the idea, and then they leave without ever having really gotten through it,” he said.
Ralph Carter, political science department chair, said some faculty members would like to see TCU implement an honor declaration for students to sign stating they will not cheat or tolerate those who do.
Academic dishonesty defined
Academic misconduct includes unauthorized collaboration with others, fabrication or falsification of information, multiple submissions of the same work, helping others cheat or even falsely accusing others of cheating, according to the TCU Student Handbook.
But faculty members said the most prevalent form of academic misconduct is plagiarism now that students have access to many electronic data sources such as Google.
“It’s like an explosion, not just of knowledge, but an explosion of accessibility to knowledge,” Donovan said.
But software packages such as Turnitin.com allow professors to identify plagiarism by locating the purchased papers online, said Susan Adams, dean of Campus Life.
Still, Donovan and Carter said that nationally, over the course of their college career more than 70 percent of students have admitted to cheating.
“I have no reason to think TCU students are different than the national average,” Carter said. “I say that because I have caught students cheating.”
If faculty members suspect a student of cheating, they can confront the student and enforce any actions outlined in their syllabuses such as giving the student a zero on the assignment, Adams said. The student also may be put on probation, suspended or expelled, according to the TCU Student Handbook.
But students who are caught cheating have the right to appeal if they believe they have been unfairly judged, said David Whillock, Academic Appeals Committee chair. And the majority of appeals are within pre-professional programs such as pre-law and professional programs such as education, said Whillock, associate dean of the College of Communication.
The student first appeals to the appropriate department chair, and if the student wishes to appeal the department chair’s decision, he or she can appeal to an academic dean, according to the TCU Handbook for Faculty and Staff.
Whillock said students who want to appeal the academic dean’s ruling request a hearing with the Academic Appeals Committee, which consists of faculty, staff and three undergraduate students. If the committee has a quorum, it meets for a hearing with the student and faculty member, he said.
“I don’t blame students if the appeal will affect their future plans,” he said. “It’s their right to try every avenue possible.”
However, Whillock said he became chair of the Academic Appeals Committee in 2003 and did not hear any appeals the first few years. Last year, the appeals committee heard four cases, he said.
But Whillock doesn’t think more students are cheating than in past years. The appeals are like a pendulum and come in waves, he said.
A student can also appeal the Academic Appeals Committee’s verdict by taking the case to the provost and then the chancellor, Donovan said.
Donovan has had four formal appeals this year, which were not related to teaching, and only one or two cases that came through Whillock the last couple of years, he said. However, Donovan said he sometimes hears informal appeals outside of Whillock’s process.
Adams said that while records of academic misconduct are kept in students’ personal files, TCU does not keep a record of the total number of cases.
“If a student cheats writing a paper, gets the F or the zero and doesn’t appeal it, that data has probably not been captured anywhere because there has not been an appeal,” she said.
Nevertheless, some faculty members keep their own statistics.
Donovan said methods of cheating such as looking at someone’s paper or writing the answers on the bill of a cap still exist.
Donovan said he once had a graduate student who counted baseball caps on exam days compared to the number of caps worn other days. During the course of two semesters, the graduate student found that while 10 percent of the students wore caps normally, 30 percent wore caps on exam days, he said.
Now, Donovan said he tells his geology students to turn their caps around backward.
Donovan said he also creates several versions of each exam and prints the tests on different colors of paper to prevent cheating.
“I mix the papers so everyone thinks, ‘Oh, I’ve got a yellow exam. That means all the questions are the same,'” he said. “But no, they are not.”
David Grant, religion department chair, said he discovered 25 years ago that by leaving the classroom during an exam, he created an opportunity for students to cheat. Now, he sets up testing environments to discourage the possibility of cheating by prohibiting cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices during exam time, he said.
Laura Hardin is the vice president of the Honors Cabinet, the governing body of TCU’s Honors Program, and said she thinks few students can say they’ve never cheated. But students who cheat in college should realize how much they are putting on the line said Hardin, a junior sociology major.
“You don’t want to lose the integrity you have,” she said, “because it’s much easier to lose it than to build it up again.”
Carter said many students don’t recognize the severity of their consequences.
“Students who cheat risk their entire academic career over a few points in a course,” he said. “If they had applied the same amount of effort to studying or doing their assignments on time, they wouldn’t need to cheat.”
Effects of academic dishonesty
Carter also said academic dishonesty cheapens the TCU diploma for students who actually earn it.
“It demeans every other student at TCU who has the exact same diploma that says Texas Christian University on it,” he said. “It’s like a counterfeit diploma.”
Grant said cheating also demeans the academic system.
“A university is built on intellectual integrity, and there’s almost a covenant between the professors and the students to assume a level of trust that the work is the student’s own work,” Grant said. “(Cheating) is a strike at the heart of what the whole academic enterprise is about.”
Donovan called cheating an ultimate betrayal.
“It’s a betrayal of your relationship with your teacher, betrayal of your relationship with those who have loved you in the past,” he said. “And a big betrayal of your relationship with your fellow students. You want to beat them, and you don’t really care how you do it.
“The best defense against cheating is to create ethical people who do that trick of looking in the mirror and are pleased with what they see both inside and outside. If we can’t do that, we’re failing. I don’t just mean TCU is failing; we’re all failing.