Chico State

What happened to anti-cheating committee?

With considerable fanfare four years ago, Chico State President Paul Zingg launched a committee dedicated to fighting a perceived cheating crisis on campus. Since then the committee has accomplished little and today is all but dead. What happened?

A year earlier, in 2003, a group of concerned students—insisting that widespread cheating on written research assignments via the Internet and on classroom tests threatened the value of their Chico State degrees—brought the issue to the Academic Senate. In response, the senate forged an academic-honesty policy and placed it under the umbrella of a new committee, the Council for Promoting Academic Integrity, which Zingg empowered through an executive memorandum in June 2004.

Instead of granting broad powers to the committee, however, the senate gave it limited duties and goals: assist in the development of promotional programs and presentations to students and faculty about the university’s “academic integrity” policies and principles; provide written and verbal reports to both the Academic Senate and the Associated Students Government Affairs Committee at the end of each academic year; and act as a recommending group to forward issues and concerns to the appropriate (unnamed) bodies.

At the same time Zingg made clear in launching the policy that three of its key intents were to create guidelines for reporting misconduct, affirm due process, and protect academic freedom. Thus any observer would note a disconnect between the goals of the anti-cheating policy and the functions of the anti-cheating committee.

Indeed, the committee later broadened its scope to create a Web site to report cheating and plagiarism. In its final period of activity (autumn 2006), the committee did create an informational Web site but did nothing online for faculty to report cases of cheating and plagiarism.

Eric Gampel, a philosophy professor and a member of the committee during its last days, noted the lack of faculty interest. He added that some faculty choose to police cheating, while others choose not to do so.

“There are potential hassles and [liability] risks that justify simply looking the other way,” he explained. He pointed out there appears to be diminishing interest nationwide in academic honesty.

Andy Flescher, a religious-studies professor and one of the authors of the original policy, said that policing and prosecuting cheating and plagiarism add to the workload of professors in an era when they receive minimal pay but must struggle with overcrowded classes.

Indeed, during the document-approval process, the senate removed a clause saying that faculty members should be held responsible for prosecuting cheating, Flescher said. The penalty for not doing so would be a reprimand.

If the central administration had taken academic integrity seriously, he added, it would have made sure there was some means in place for systematically reporting and prosecuting every instance of dishonesty.

Gampel wrote a final report for the senate dated April 27, 2007, in which he said committee efforts “never really got off the ground in the fall [of 2006]. No faculty members were willing and able to serve as chair … so Jason Fitzer [A.S. director of student affairs, an ex-officio member of the committee] took on the role.” The report notes the problem of meeting-time conflicts and the inability of the group to establish funding through grants.

Contacted for comment, Fitzer, now a senior about to graduate, said he had trouble finding students to serve and that out of six defined student positions on the committee, only one was filled and its occupant active. He added that the issue of academic honesty was important to the students who forced it to the forefront, but those students are now gone.

“I think it’s fair to say there is a comfort level at present with academic honesty [at Chico State],” Fitzer said.

Asked if he thinks students trying to balance part-time jobs and heavy class loads cheat to save time, Fitzer said he lacked information on such a connection and thus had no opinion.

“The committee was never institutionalized,” Gampel said in summary. “It had no continuity, no secretarial or office support, and no home.”

Procedurally, the senate could attempt to revive the committee but would appear to have little reason to do so.