No need to cheat

The penalties can be tough when you break the rules or the law

It was past midnight during spring semester finals, and Jeff Murphy had a philosophy paper due the next day at 9 a.m. Squeezed between pressures from an end-of-the-semester dogpile of homework, research papers and his 30-hour-per-week job, he was at his edge.

“I was chain-smoking and living off Red Bull and Snickers,” Murphy said. “My brain was about to pop, and I just couldn’t write a decent paper by the next morning.” So, the 21-year-old junior turned to the modern-day student’s tool to get some “help” for his philosophy paper—the Internet.

Murphy downloaded several essays and Web sites on Hobbes, cut and pasted select passages onto Microsoft Word, changed a few words and sewed it all together using his own transitions.

It’s a simple technique, familiar to most college students.

But Murphy was caught.

“I received a nice little letter through the mail from my professor saying she’d recognized parts of my essay from the Internet,” Murphy said. “I thought I was so screwed, that I’d be expelled.”

Although Murphy, whose name was changed to protect his privacy, was not expelled, he did fail the course and has an ‘F’ floating around in his record. The consequences for plagiarism, however, could have been much more severe had the professor chosen to take Murphy’s case to the university’s judicial board: a plagiarism notation on his transcript, suspension or, in the worst case, expulsion from the university.

Academic dishonesty is but one violation under the University of Nevada, Reno’s five-section Student Judicial Code of Conduct and Policies. Hazing, drug and alcohol violations, sexual harassment and any criminal conduct on the campus premises are all listed as no-no’s and are dealt with by UNR student judicial affairs.

Sally Morgan, director of student judicial affairs, deals with complaints filed with Student Judicial Services. She is the first step in resolving complaints filed against students and faculty and decides how to settle cases if, and before, they go to a hearing board. Her judgments are based on several factors such as premeditation, circumstances and impact of the offense on the community.

“We deal with things on a case-by-case basis,” Morgan said. “It depends on the severity of the student’s case for how we resolve misconducts.”

Offenses that bleed into the criminal realm are dealt with the same way as academic matters. Unlike plagiarism, which purely concerns the student’s academic career, crimes such as sexual assault and theft overlap with criminal behavior and subject the offender to both university and city sanctions.

“It’s a double jeopardy,” Morgan said. “But college students act as both citizens of Washoe County and of the university.”

While student codes do augment local, state and national law, the university’s judicial system operates independently from the city’s. But that isn’t to say that the university is cushioned from the outside world.

Say last night’s date accuses a man of rape. Morgan would first investigate the case to determine whether a hearing for the student should be held, sometimes bringing in city police to work with campus police to determine how much of a menace a student poses to society.

“In more serious cases, like felonies, we would ask the District Attorney if there’s enough evidence to take the suspect through the court process,” Morgan said. “If there is, student judicial affairs runs a hearing for the student and determines whether he is responsible for the alleged violation.”

If the student is found responsible, judicial services makes recommendations on appropriate sanctions, which vary from dismissal of the charge altogether, imposing a lesser sanction on the student, suspension or expulsion.

“We have no recipe on how to resolve issues,” Morgan said.

Drug and alcohol violations are no different, but students living in dormitories are under special scrutiny.

“One guy living in Juniper Hall ate so many (psychedelic) mushrooms that he went to the front desk in the middle of his trip and asked them to call the hospital,” an anonymous student said. “The college kicked him out of the dorms, and he has to go to drug-awareness programs over the summer. He might just drop out of school altogether.”

Although the fungus eater was not expelled, he now has a record with the judicial office. The violation will not appear on his transcript—unless he is caught twice or suspended.

“If it’s something serious, like repeated behavior, we’ll look to take judicial action to suspend the student,” Morgan said.

Ex-criminals seeking higher education can also take heart.

“We have no policy that says you can’t register if you’ve served time,” Morgan said. “But the state does have its own requirements for ex-felons to register, and they have confidentiality with both the Reno Police Department and UNRPD.”

Because the university’s system of justice essentially emulates that of the state’s, students do have the right to appeal the university’s actions against them, and plenty of students railing against the system have fought for justice.

“We use the same logic used in criminal and civil cases,” Morgan said. “Every student has a right to due process.”