FAYETTEVILLE -- Students who have others do their course work for them will be suspended for a semester as part of a policy change at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
The same penalty applies to students found to be providing work to others, as UA responds to what the director of the school's academic integrity office described as a major concern in higher education.
"It's a monster, just because you have the private industry essentially being willing to do online classes for people, write papers in two to three days or less than 24 hours," Chris Bryson, executive director of UA's Academic Initiatives and Integrity Office, told faculty members last month.
The policy change comes with the formal addition of a new violation: "Buying, selling, obtaining or providing academic work to be used for the purpose of contract cheating, or participating in such behavior."
The policy defines "contract cheating" as "a form of academic dishonesty where students get academic work completed on their behalf, which they then submit for academic credit [and/or advantage] as if they had created it themselves."
Other universities that responded to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said their policies do not use the same term but prohibit similar activity.
Bryson said the problem extends beyond commercial websites.
"More commonly than actually hiring out -- at least, anecdotally, what we know -- is that they're actually just paying their friends to do their work or have their mom or their dad or their aunt write their paper," Bryson said.
Few cases have been identified as potential examples of "contract cheating" at UA, however.
Last year, someone advertised on campus and Facebook an offer to write papers for students, according to materials presented by Bryson to faculty that identified the person as a student.
However, UA spokesman Mark Rushing said in an email it turned out the person "was not a student at the time." Rushing said that "was the only case that we are aware of" from 2017-18 to fit the "contract cheating" label.
Bryson referred questions from the Democrat-Gazette to Rushing.
Statistics for the time period of May 2017 to May 2018 show 455 cases of alleged academic dishonesty at UA. The university has a formal process for reporting and adjudicating such cases. For the same time period, 310 cases resulted in a finding that a student was responsible for some form of academic dishonesty.
The total was less than the previous year, when there were 658 total cases and 504 resulted in students being found responsible. In 2015-16, there were 540 total cases and 432 responsible outcomes, while the totals for 2014-15 were 458 total cases and 355 responsible outcomes.
"The spike in '15-16 and '16-17 could easily be explained by a couple of classes," with 192 cases in 2016-17 from two courses, Bryson told faculty.
UA enrolled 27,778 students this past fall, up less than 1 percent from fall 2017.
The university's faculty senate voted Wednesday to add "contract cheating" to the university's list of academic integrity violations.
UA uses a sanctioning rubric to determine punishments, and the new "contract cheating" violation results in 1.5 "sanction points," an amount resulting in a semester suspension -- even if it's a student's first offense -- along with a failing course grade.
Before the revision, the policy already prohibited "submitting as one's own any work prepared totally or in large measure by another." Students found responsible received one "sanction point" and a failing course grade. "Sanction points" add up over a student's academic career, with three points resulting in expulsion.
Bryson told faculty that adding a "contract cheating" violation would "be something that we tell our students is something that we're aware of and is important."
Rushing said there is a "significant amount of outreach" to first-year students, both in courses and through other presentations, to get across the message that hiring others to do coursework is cheating.
"Beyond that, the policy is another proactive step to help communicate that this type of activity is not allowed," Rushing said. "The university will post the policy online, notify academic departments, and work on a larger programmatic communication plan leading up to the Fall 2019 semester."
New cases will now follow the revised policy, Kathleen Lehman, chair of the UA faculty senate, said in an email, with in-progress cases to follow the previous version of the policy.
David Rettinger, president of the International Center for Academic Integrity, said work completed last year by Australian researchers suggests more students are having third-parties do their schoolwork. But he added that "it's hard to know for sure, because we haven't been tracking it."
By explicitly referring to "contract cheating" and discussing it with students, Rettinger said, "I think Arkansas is at the cutting edge" of U.S. universities.
Rettinger, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia who also directs the school's academic integrity program, said institutions "must teach our students why this is wrong."
"If they value their education, and we can explain to them why a particular assignment furthers their education, they're more likely to attempt the assignment honestly," Rettinger said.
Texas A&M University policy refers to a prohibition on "using the services of commercial term paper companies," in addition to "acquiring answers" from "any unauthorized source."
Timothy Powers, director of the Aggie Honor System Office, said the school's definition of cheating "is broad enough" to include "contract cheating."
Spokesman for other schools, including the University of Oklahoma and the University of Central Arkansas, also said their policies, while not using the term "contract cheating," prohibit the activity.
On the UA campus, Matthew Berry, a senior studying human development and family sciences, described cheating during quizzes.
"It's a huge auditorium. There's one professor. I hear people whispering answers," said Berry, 21.
He said he doesn't cheat and doesn't like it when others do. A semester-long penalty makes sense for those hiring others to do their work, he said.
Courtney Lashar, a 23-year-old senior studying graphic design, said a semester suspension for having someone else do course work "seems really harsh to me," though a failing course grade is appropriate.
"I've never done that," Lashar said.
But she said she knows someone at another university who has written papers for others.
"They'll pay her money to do it, and it's just because they're lazy and they don't want to do it. And she's poor and will take their money," Lashar said.
Metro on 04/12/2019
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