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Academic Misconduct Policy Reviewed

By Eric Geller

Changes to the way that Kenyon handles academic misconduct may be in the works as the College attempts to address long wait times and inefficiencies in the system. Jan Thomas, an associate provost and sociology professor, said the discussion originated in the Academic Affairs Committee and the Committee for Academic Standards (CAS) before moving to the faculty at a meeting on Saturday, Jan. 28.

The current process for handling academic infractions begins with a faculty member who observes what he or she considers to be an academic integrity violation. That faculty member takes the issue to the chair of his or her department, who decides whether or not to bring the situation to the attention of the Academic Integrity Board (AIB).

In the event that the department chair decides to proceed, the AIB chairman then gathers various materials, including a statement from the reporting faculty member, a statement from the department chair, and any evidence the faculty member has collected.

In plagiarism cases, Thomas said, these materials often include the student-submitted writing assignment and the source of the plagiarized text.

The AIB then investigates the matter and determines whether or not to hold a hearing. The preparation for such a hearing can take weeks as everyone involved must coordinate their schedules.

As associate provost, Thomas is responsible for reviewing the statement that the AIB chairman writes following the hearing. The statement summarizes the proceedings, outlines the AIBs determinations, and recommends a penalty. In order to ensure that the punishment is consistent with similar offenses in the past, Thomas reviews records from previous years.

Im the check and balance to make sure that we dont have an AIB who is really putting unfairpunishments, either too light or too heavy, but that their punishments are consistent with whats been done before, Thomas said.

The problem, according to Thomas, is that all of those steps take time, and everybodys busy. Additionally, many academic integrity violations occur during finals week. Last semester, there were five academic infractions, four of which occurred in the week before break. Students who are accused at the end of the fall semester find themselves waiting several weeks, if not months, for a resolution to their case.

Dean of Students Hank Toutain said the delay is one of the more problematic aspects of the current process. When you have a lag time of a month or two months between an alleged infraction and a decision, I think you have to take a hard look at how you do things, Toutain said. Thats just too long a period of time for people to not know what their status is.

In the last five years, the number of reported academic infractions has remained relatively stable. 18 students were charged with academic integrity violations in the 2011-2012 school year, 19 in 2010-2011, 13 in 2009-2010, seven in 2008-2009, and 15 in 2007-2008. Of the 16 cases in 2011-2012, 10 of them involved plagiarism.

Thomas, who became an associate provost in July 2012, said that conversations about streamlining the academic infraction review process have been taking place for several years.

We are looking at some models that might fast track some of these cases, Thomas said. Particularly cases of first offense, [or] cases where there is clear evidence, typically like a plagiarism case where theres really clear evidence. A lot of students admit fault, they confess. So when we have that situation, those are the cases [where] were talking about, Is there a way to fast-track this? And were experimenting with some models like that.

Their proposed solution is the formation of a mini-committee composed of Thomas, Professor of Philosophy Yang Xiao, Dean of Academic Advising Jane Martindell and a student representative from AIB. If theres some criteria that have been met for these cases, if students choose to go through a fast-track process rather than full hearing, that would be an option, Thomas said.

Discussions within the Committee on Academic Standards, AIB and other faculty groups come as members of Student Council are discussing implementing an Honor Code on campus. Faith McDuffie, President of Student Council, stressed that this conversation is simply about gauging interest levels and exploring options. We are really just at the beginning stages to see if this is something the student body might want to do, she said.

If Student Council members express an interest in moving forward with an Honor Code, there are numerous models that could serve as the basis for Kenyons approach.

At Colorado College, where Thomas taught last year when she was on sabbatical, Thomas said students write and sign a one-sentence statement that they hand in with every assignment they submit. At orientation, students also sign a longer statement promising to uphold the Honor Code.

Dean Toutain said that discussions about a specific type of Honor Code should occur only after a discussion about the root causes of academic and social integrity violations.

I think what would be healthy would be to start the discussion not so much with the Honor Code, but the reason the idea came up in the first place, Toutain said. Whether its people not being civil or people stealing things [or] people vandalizing stuff, can we talk about that and how we respond to that? And what would be a good response to that if we want to change the situation on campus?

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