Academic dishonesty among college students is a problem that has continued to plague universities across the country for years. At Georgetown University, The Honor Council attempts to crack down on violators, but academic dishonesty persists. According to the Georgetown Honor Council, academic dishonesty ‘evidences lack of academic integrity or trustworthiness, or unfairly impinges upon the intellectual rights and privileges of others’ (Honor System Statistics, 2014). As many students take part in this behavior without punishment, what will stop them from acting unethically when it comes to advancing their careers after graduation? I will argue that Georgetown University faculty can further reduce the amount of academic dishonesty among students by modifying their current measures.
According to the newest data provided by Georgetown University, violation of the Honor System is a real problem among students. In the 2012-2013 academic year, 84 individual students were reported of academic dishonesty and almost 70% of these students received sanctions for their actions (Honor System Statistics, 2014). Although this statistic may not seem overwhelmingly large, it still shows that there is an evident cheating problem, and these instances only account for students who got caught.
The cheating problem isn’t unique to Georgetown, however. According to a study by Dr. Donald McCabe, an author who has conducted extensive research on college cheating, about 68% of undergraduates admit to cheating (McCabe, 2017). To make matters worse, there is some evidence to show that the new generation of Millennials are even more likely to cheat. A recent study on Millennial undergraduates reveals that ‘academically-entitled students are indeed more likely than others to engage in such dishonest practices as cheating in college’ (Stiles, 2017, p.
829). This is possibly due to the high expectations in place for members of this generation, which causes them to attempt to enhance their GPAs and justify inexcusable behavior. Understanding the root causes of cheating may help to find ways of stopping these types of actions.
Although acts such as committing plagiarism and cheating during an exam may be easy to spot, there are many prohibited acts of conduct that aren’t so easily enforced. To further illustrate this, I found that about 80% of the accusations in 2012-2013 were either plagiarism or cheating related (Honor System Statistics, 2014). Therefore, it seems that the ‘behind the scenes’ forms of academic dishonesty continue to go unnoticed. In the study on Millennials previously mentioned, the highest category of academic dishonesty found was through term papers or homework and lab assignments (Stiles, 2017). From personal experience, I believe that one way to effectively reduce the amount of academic dishonesty regarding homework and other assignments is to make them worth a minimal amount of points or no points at all. Students often cheat because there are high risks at stake, so making assignments worth a small portion of the overall grade in a class may reduce cheating. In fact, in one of my classes here at Georgetown, a professor gave us the homework solutions along with the assigned homework every week so that we could check our work. Now, I am sure there were students that didn’t bother trying the homework themselves, but this was likely later reflective of their performance on exams. With no incentive to cheat, students in my class were forced to do their homework to prepare for the tests, and no student could gain leverage over another because the answers were available for everyone.
In this technological age, it is important to note that Georgetown may also be prone to e-cheating, which is ‘academic dishonesty that utilizes some type of technology to electronically copy or use material from an unauthorized source or a source that was not cited’ (Bain, 2015, p. 93). Many Georgetown professors are on top of this issue, using various systems such as Turnitin that automatically scan assignments and check for plagiarism. Banning electronic devices during exams and other in-class procedures are easy to abide by, and are therefore executed by professors currently. However, one aspect that many professors often overlook is the design of their assignments (Bain, 2015). Assigning the same case study or problem set that is used by professors from various universities can only lead to cases of academic dishonesty. Instead, Georgetown faculty should be advised to design their own assignments based on their own knowledge of the material. By creating unique assignments, students will be less likely to find the mass amount of duplications from other institutions online and will be forced to complete their own work. This helps solve the problem of not being able to monitor instances of academic dishonesty surrounding homework outside the classroom. Additionally, designing assignments with clear criteria may make students less inclined to look to other online resources for support (Bain, 2015). As a student myself, I have experienced the struggle of not knowing what is required of an assignment and turning to the Internet or my peers for help. Cooperation in this manner is allowed for some courses, as it was for my assignment, but many professors expect students to complete somewhat vague assignment themselves.
Another change that may not seem entirely influential is the motion of creating an environment that encourages integrity. A small blurb in a large syllabus about the Honor Code guidelines may be overlooked by many Georgetown students. Perhaps requiring professors to address this section directly and nullify any confusion would be beneficial to the class and help to avoid any future academic dishonesty incidents. Students are clearly aware of the major violations such as plagiarism and cheating on exams, but other violations may seem acceptable to students such as cooperation on homework (Minarcik, 2015). It is worthy to look at an institution that has succeeded in creating this type of environment: Davidson College in North Carolina. New students at Davidson enter a history of morality and trust when they finish orientation, as each class has an Honor Code Signing Ceremony to commemorate the values in which the school represents (Syme, 2018). In place since the school was established in 1837, the Honor Code at Davidson creates a culture that holds students to the highest standard by giving them all the responsibility and placing trust on one another (Syme, 2018). Davidson professor Gil Holland offered his take on their policy saying that ‘giving open-book, open-notebook tests in class and as take-homes, and providing study questions in advance all go hand-in-hand with the Honor Code. In my judgment, the quality of thinking in an atmosphere of trust changes into a better, more joyful kind of learning’ (Syme, 2018). Davidson even mentions the Honor Code in the application process, so high school students are aware of the culture that is expected when they arrive on campus (Syme, 2018). I would expect that Georgetown will never be able to create the environment present at an institution like Davidson because of the rich history of their Honor Code. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned of this type of culture created. Georgetown has its own set of Jesuit values and traditions that it encompasses, but perhaps academic honesty can be further emphasized to achieve the type of culture at an institution such as Davidson. Consistently mentioning the Honor Code and making students aware of what it entails could lead to a more trustworthy student population at Georgetown.
While cheating may occur at Georgetown, there may be other factors that can’t be controlled by faculty in the process. For example, one study on the topic showed that prior cheating is one likely reason for cheating in college (Cronan, 2015). Because many kids get away with cheating in high school, these students are likely to continue this behavior in college. Georgetown selects its students from a highly competitive applicant pool, but it is difficult nonetheless to know whether a prospective student is likely to engage in academic dishonesty. A question arises that can’t be answered through a college application. Which students deserve to be at Georgetown and which students may have cheated their way to Georgetown? It is possible that emphasizing the strictness and importance of the Honor Code in the Georgetown application would sway some applicants away that would exhibit academic dishonesty in the future. Otherwise, it is up to the faculty and other students to welcome new students into an environment fostered on honesty and personal responsibility.
Georgetown University is a globally recognized institution that develops the leaders and innovators of the future. With this distinction comes a great responsibility of not only preparing students to think critically, but also ethically, when they travel past the gates of Georgetown. Employers all over the world are looking for talented individuals that they can trust on a daily basis. Simple adjustments by Georgetown faculty, such as putting more thought into the design of assignments as well as decreasing the magnitude of tasks given to students, will help prevent unethical behavior and develop a trustworthy student population. Ideally, students will then foster a learning environment of mutual trust with their professors and their peers. New core values of trust and integrity will align seamlessly with current Georgetown values of Academic Excellence and Faith and Justice. While the decision to choose to act ethically ultimately lies with the student, Georgetown faculty can help to mitigate academic dishonesty with these few key changes to their policies.