Section: archive

College considers three-tiered system to police plagiarism

By Graham Reid

The Committee on Academic Standards has approved future changes to the Academic Infractions Board’s (AIB) policy that would create “more appropriate standards,” according to Vice President for Academic Affairs Kaylyn Talkington ’14.

Last year, the AIB heard 15 student cases and reached guilty verdicts in 14 of those cases. Though many Kenyon students will avoid any contact with the AIB in their four years, the board and its policy can have a major impact on affected students’ lives.

Rather than what Talkington called an “umbrella punishment,” the changes would categorize infractions within a three-tiered system. First-tier issues, the most minor, would be handled by the relevant faculty member and department chair, rather than the AIB, except in cases in which a student requests an AIB hearing. The second tier consists of “inappropriate collaboration on assignments, ナ extended, or more like egregious, use of someone else’s material without citation,” Talkington said. She added that these cases would go through the AIB and offenders would face harsher penalties, including conditional enrollment.

The most extreme cases of academic dishonesty, third-tier cases, include “purchasing of a paper, [or] inappropriate use of materials during an exam.” Such an infraction could result in dismissal from the College.

Another punitive change deals with what Talkington calls the College’s “representatives to the public.” Students who commit a serious infraction while holding a “leadership position, whether it’s through student government, Greek life or athletics will have to have those privileges revoked,” Talkington said.

“The biggest changes that we’re looking at is moving a particular type of offense, tier-one offenses, to the department level,” Associate Provost Jan Thomas, who helped draft the legislative changes, said. “We have a sense that faculty are already doing this on their own.”

While unintentional first-tier offenders will still receive a zero on the assignment, Thomas stressed the main purpose of the new system is to “not just punish [students], but to really educate them about what they did wrong.”

Talkington concurred, and said, “We don’t want to be scaring people; that’s not what this is about. This is about helping people who make mistakes to learn from them.”

First-tier infractions will not require the whole “Board [to meet] together to have a conversation,” Thomas said. This year, to speed up the hearing process, AIB members will schedule time for meetings, even before any cases have come up. Last year, the AIB considered a “Fast Track” system designed to streamline the hearing process.

“The Fast Track hearings helped, but we still didn’t feel like it was the right answer,” Thomas said regarding the AIB’s attempts to expedite the process. “These issues have been percolating for a long time from different sources.”

In addition to speeding up proceedings, the new policies will provide “more consistency from year to year” so that as the composition of the Board changes, its members can still work from more specific regulations, Thomas said.

The Academic Affairs Committee began looking at changes to AIB policy two years ago, under then-Associate Provost Ric Sheffield’s direction. Last year, Thomas decided “it was just time to try and fix it.”

This past summer, Thomas reviewed policies of Kenyon’s peer institutions to find “ideas and put them together in a way we thought would work for Kenyon.”

Along with changes to punitive policy, preventive measures are also on the table.

Thomas cited “a growing concern [among the faculty] that students are not being prepared for” writing appropriate citations. To combat this, the changes will include “something like a workshop or module for first years once they get here to kind of give them an idea of what academic integrity entail[s].”

Emphasizing the same point, Thomas said “education is a big part of this and our idea is to have freshmen be required to do this tutorial before they can register for spring classes. In the past,” she added, “I think we’ve been willing to assume that most students have the background that they need. Now, however, it’s becoming more obvious that all students don’t have that [before they arrive] and we probably should not assume that they do.”

Thomas expects students to react favorably to the AIB changes. She said. “We think students will generally appreciate it if things can move faster.” Thomas also anticipates support for the aspects of the changes that add harsher punishments for more serious offenses, noting that “students on AIB are very offended at the kinds of things that their peers do.”

“I think if we could pilot it in the spring, then get everything in place for next year, that would be great,” Thomas said. Ultimately, though, after having passed through the Committee on Academic Standards, the policies live or die by the faculty’s approval. Next up, this month’s department chairs’ meeting will discuss the proposed changes.

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