Plagiarism-detector overshadows Honor Code changes

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Author: Ed Cohen

From now on students accused of cheating can be assured of being judged mostly by other students, not professors.

At the same time, professors have a powerful new tool in determining whether student papers are original and not simply downloaded from the Internet.

A revised Academic Code of Honor was unveiled fall semester, the result of more than a year’s worth of study and deliberations by a committee of faculty and students. The committee’s chairs described the changes as the most significant since honor code’s inception in 1989.

The new code, published in the student handbook du Lac, calls for students to take more responsibility for reporting cheating, evaluating charges of academic dishonesty, and meting out punishments appropriate to offenses. For instance, students must now be in the majority on all college or departmental Honesty Committees, the bodies that judge possible violations of the code. In the past it was only recommended that a student majority exist.

Another change calls for records of all code hearings to be kept in a central office instead of spread among the colleges. It’s hoped that this will allow the University Code of Honor Committee, made up of six students and six faculty, to keep better watch on procedures and penalties of the Honesty Committees and improve fairness and consistency.

When the code revisions were announced, however, they generated far less attention from students than a related development: At the end of a campus-wide e-mail summarizing the changes, the co-chairs of the Code of Honor Committee — Associate Provost and Vice President John Jenkins, CSC, and senior Maura Kelly, Student Honor Code Officer — mentioned that Notre Dame had acquired a license to use an Internet-based plagiarism-detection service, Turnitin.com. Among other services, Turnitin.com allows faculty to submit any work they suspect is not original and receive back a report indicating any document on the Internet or in the company’s database that appears to have been used in its composition.

In an editorial, The Observer worried that the service would be used to filter all student work and said the agreement represented a violation of trust between professors and students.

The Code of Honor Committee later strongly recommended that a student’s work be submitted to Turnitin.com only if the instructor believes there are reasonable grounds for suspecting academic dishonesty. The committee also strongly encouraged faculty to inform students at the start of the semester about how they intend to use Turnitin.com.


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