The cheat police

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Author: Madeline Buckley ’11

For many in the Notre Dame community and wider public, investigations this past fall of alleged academic honor code violations concerning five Notre Dame football players spurred the question: Just how does Notre Dame handle accusations of cheating?

The University abides by its own honor code, which last received major revisions in 2011. Departmental honesty committees composed of professors and students investigate claims brought forward by faculty members and students.

“At some point in the University’s history, it was decided that the educational mission and the focus on educating and shaping the whole person merited the creation of an honor code to help further promote a culture of honesty,” says Hugh Page Jr., vice president and associate provost for undergraduate affairs, and the University Code of Honor Committee co-chair.

Page says he can’t reveal how many allegations come before the committees each year or what types of cheating are involved. But the honor code lays out stringent rules about behaviors such as plagiarism, properly citing sources and receiving unauthorized aid on a test or quiz.

Anywhere from one- to two-thirds of college students nationally have admitted in surveys to some form of academic misconduct, says Susan Blum, a Notre Dame anthropology professor and author of My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture.

When an accusation is made at Notre Dame, here’s what happens:

First, a faculty member in the honesty committee for the department or college in which the alleged cheating happened examines the accusation to determine if it has merit to proceed to a full investigation. The student in question is notified.

If the allegation is found to have merit, the committee holds a confidential hearing. The professor or student who made the accusation can present documentation or witnesses to support the claim. The accused student is not entitled to legal representation but can bring their own documents and witnesses, and can question the accuser and the accuser’s witnesses.

The committee then deliberates and votes on whether to sanction the student. Punishments range from a zero on the paper or test in question to failure of the class to a suspension or dismissal, depending on the severity of the matter.

Though the hearings are held on a departmental or college level, members of the central Code of Honor Committee may advise during investigations. The time required for an honesty case to be resolved depends on several factors, from the complexity of the case and the evidence involved to the time of year when it occurs, Page explains. “It is important that the process be fair and thorough, and the time to achieve this result can and does vary.”

The results are confidential, as the public and media learned after the October hearings of the football players popularly known as the “Frozen Five.”

Blum says students and faculty often don’t see eye to eye on unacceptable academic behavior, like sharing work with a friend or copying from the Internet without citation. In her experience, “Students tend to think that is very ordinary behavior.”

Colleges and universities can take two approaches to handling cheating problems, Blum notes. “One is to be more strict and threatening about punishment,” she says. “And the other is to train students even more about what academic integrity is, so they have no excuse for not knowing.”

Page, also dean of the First Year of Studies, says freshmen students’ orientation process involves a thoughtful conversation about principles governing honesty on campus.

Notre Dame’s Undergraduate Academic Code of Honor can be viewed at honorcode.nd.edu.


Madeline Buckley is a reporter for the South Bend Tribune.


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