X marks the cheaters: Faculty Senate passes grade policy for cheating

12:58:36 PM CDT - Monday, May 09, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

In the near future, WSU students who cheat can be given an XF grade under a new policy recently passed by the Faculty Senate.

The policy originated with the Student Government Association, which in fall 2003 started discussing a policy that would allow faculty to give a grade indicating the student had failed the course because of academic dishonesty, according to SGA president Drew Sell.

"It gives a spark of academic integrity and forces students to realize we take a hard stance on cheating," said Sell.

It is unclear when the new policy will take effect because it needs to go through some administrative processing to get into the university's policies and procedures.

Under the current grading policy, students who cheat are given an F. With the new XF grade, not only will the X indicate cheating but the student's transcript will carry the notation "failure due to academic dishonesty."

Students who believe the XF grade was improperly assigned or who want to have the X expunged, can appeal to the Student Court of Academic Appeals.

If a student deemed academically dishonest withdraws from the class, the transcript will still be marked by an X, in this case an XW.

Student will be allowed to petition only once during their academic career for the removal of the XF or XW grade. Habitual cheaters who exhaust the appeals process face dismissal from the university.

A number of senators were pleased that it was students who initiated the policy.

"This is an honorable act for the students to bring this to us," said Joyce Cavarozzi, who chairs the faculty academic affairs committee, during one of the policy's earlier readings in the senate.

Hussein Hamdeh, a senator from the physics department, thinks the issue of academic integrity should go beyond a student's report card and should also include educating faculty about ethical behavior so they can model such behavior to students.

"To a faculty member, the equivalence of a grade comes in the form of tenure, promotion, salary adjustment and special rewards, which are based on teaching, research and service," he said in an e-mail to some senators and administrators.

Some professors may feel pressure to "publish or perish," which has led to documented cases of academic dishonesty, Hamdeh noted.

"Considering what our students did, shouldn't we, as their mentors, develop procedures to police ourselves?" he asked in the e-mail.

"The integrity and the reputation of a university is in the hands of its faculty," said Hamdeh, noting that some professional organizations such as the American Physical Society are taking a hard stance on cheating.

In recent months, the Chronicle of Higher Education has written several articles about faculty in the United States and Britain involved with academic dishonesty, including a former WSU history professor who was denied tenure.

According to the articles, Benson Tong was undergoing tenure review at WSU when an Ohio State University faculty member, whose work he had plagiarized, notified WSU officials about the plagiarism finding made by the American Historical Association.

While Tong was denied tenure, apparently the reason didn't follow him to his next job at Gallaudet University. Tong eventually lost his job there after the Chronicle contacted university officials while doing the article.

WSU does have a policy on misconduct in research to deal with unethical behavior and some departments also have policies, according to John Hutchinson, vice president for academic affairs and research.

Ethical issues "from time to time" are mentioned in workshops conducted by external grant-writing experts brought in by WSU's Office of Research Administration, according to associate vice president for research Skip Loper. Also an ORA staff member regularly sends faculty information about and examples of ethical misconduct received from the National Institutes of Health, he said.

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