Plagiarism tops list of most frequent Honor Council cases

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October 25, 2011

12:35 AM

Nine of the 13 cases brought before the College of William and Mary Honor Council in the past two semesters have involved plagiarism, which is perhaps indicative of a growing trend in how students deal with the stress of their academic coursework. Of those nine cases, eight of the defendants were found guilty.

The Honor Code of the College, revealed in 1736, has been recognized as a cornerstone of the school’s reputation. The Honor Council’s last 13 cases have demonstrated the Honor Code in action.

“Many cases boil down to poor decision-making due to self-imposed pressures or a lack of keeping academics in perspective,” Associate Dean of Students David Gilbert said. “I always advise students to start on assignments early and to reflect on the importance of integrity and fair play now, while there is relatively less pressure. Doing so may assist students when they inevitably encounter a time when they have difficulty getting it all done to the level to which they are accustomed.”

Four of the plagiarism cases resulted in suspension from the College and five in probation. Eight of the students received Fs in the courses in question. Many of the students were required to meet with the Dean of Students and to seek counseling.

According to Chief Justice of the Honor Council Zara Fina Stasi ’12, the majority of plagiarism cases involve stressed students, unrealistic expectations and poor time management.

“As all college students can attest to, people get busy and have to do things at the last minute,” Stasi said. “I think a lot of the plagiarism cases we see are due to a lack of balance in someone’s schedule, a lack of preparedness for a class and last-minute bad mistakes.”

Students appear to be supportive of the Council’s efforts. Many seem to understand that they have a responsibility to be mindful of both the Honor Code and the Council, and that both relate to their academic experiences.

“I believe wholeheartedly that within a society, the more information people possess about the judicial system, the more fair it will be . . . so that [the Honor Council] is not some impartial body which has no connection to the students,” Peter Menelley ’15 said.

One of the council’s most common pieces of advice to students tackles the problem of miscommunication between professors and their students, which is purported to be the one of the greatest contributing factors in cases of cheating.

“Something I see a lot of as chairwoman is miscommunication between professors and students about expectations,” Stasi said. “If you have questions about what a professor expects . . . you should just ask those up front.”

Honor Council members and advisors noted the importance of responsible scholarship in maintaining the College’s reputation.

“Honor is taken seriously here, and a review of the results [of the case digest] will support that serious consequences result from violations,” Gilbert said. “It is also important for students to see that the system is serving to provide a level playing field where all are ideally judged on the merits of their work and no one is receiving credit for work that is not their own.”

The latest Honor Council Case Digest, as well as past digests and further information on the Honor Code and Council, can be found on the College’s website. Students are also encouraged to contact the Dean of Students office or an Honor Council member directly with any concerns.

The Honor Code is currently under review by the Honor Counil Review Committee, which is expected to submit revisions this semester.

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