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Undergraduates violated plagiarism rules more than graduate students in 2019

Hatchet File Photo
Christy Anthony, the director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities

About one-fourth more undergraduates than graduate students violated plagiarism rules last calendar year, officials said.

The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities hearing board found 34 undergraduates and 27 graduate students to be in violation of academic integrity guidelines, University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said. Academic integrity experts said graduate students are more likely to make accidental citation mistakes, while undergraduates are more inclined to directly copy information from other sources.

Nosal declined to say how SRR handles plagiarism cases and why plagiarism cases could be more prevalent among undergraduates.

Students, faculty members, librarians and administrators can bring plagiarism charges to the Academic Integrity Council, according to the Code of Academic Integrity. A hearing panel within the council adjudicates cases based on available evidence and recommends sanctions depending on whether the accused individual is in violation, according to the code.

Peter Lake, the director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said graduate-level classes generally have smaller student-to-professor ratios than undergraduate courses, which could result in a slight discrepancy in the number of plagiarism violation cases. He said the increased scrutiny on graduate students’ assignments could deter them from plagiarizing.

“When you get to graduate level, you tend to start reducing student-teacher ratios to the point where it’s a lot harder to get away with something,” Lake said. “More importantly, it’s harder to hide incompetency that’s lurking behind cheating.”

Lake said most student plagiarism cases he has handled result from unintentional mistakes like forgetting to cite a quote, and “deliberately” attempting to cheat is relatively rare.

He said passing off someone else’s work as one’s own is academic “suicide” and limits future academic and career prospects, especially for graduate students who hope to work in academia.

Lake added that health or family crises and overloading academic credits could prevent students from taking sufficient time to properly cite materials.

“It’s common for people to have plagiarism violations that are not intentional but show lack of due diligence and respect for academic material,” he said.

Roger Wang, the assistant dean of students at Humboldt State University in California, said many graduate students nationwide must achieve a 3.0 GPA within their program to maintain their academic standing. He said students might plagiarize materials to meet higher academic standards.

Wang said undergraduates – who generally need to maintain a 2.0 GPA to maintain good academic standing – might be less inclined to plagiarize specifically to boost their academic performance because of the lower performance requirement.

GW considers undergraduate students with a 2.0 cumulative GPA or higher and graduate students with at least a 3.0 GPA to be in good academic standing. Officials put undergraduates who fall below the 2.0 GPA threshold under academic probation, and graduate students cannot receive a degree with a GPA of less than 3.0.

“That could be an added pressure for graduate students to make sure that they’re meeting those requirements,” Wang said.

Wang said he has noticed in his experience handling academic integrity cases that graduate students who commit plagiarism violations typically make smaller mistakes like forgetting to cite a quote. He said undergraduates are more likely to copy “wholesale” paragraphs without citing sources or purchase essays to pass off as their own more often than graduates.

Wang added that most undergraduates and graduate students found guilty of plagiarizing academic materials tend to do so when facing a time “pinch” and subsequently don’t spend sufficient time working on an assignment.

“The important part to understand is that for the majority of academic honesty cases, it’s not somebody who’s trying to game the system or has mal-intent – it’s usually someone who’s stressed,” he said.

Jeffery Stefancic, the associate dean of students at Purdue University, said both undergraduates and graduate students face pressures like time constraints that might prompt them to plagiarize. But he said graduate students who plagiarize may face more consequences for not adhering to academic integrity standards.

Graduate students at Purdue who violate plagiarism guidelines usually receive a failing grade in the course, he said. Stefancic said officials typically put first-time violators on “probationary status,” while repeat offenders face removal from the institution.

“I don’t think graduate students are necessarily more inclined to engage in this behavior more than undergrads, but I do believe that they do feel a greater sense of pressure to meet deadlines and expectations from faculty than undergrads, which may lead them to engage in this behavior,” Stefancic said in an email.

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