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Widespread cheating alleged in UAlbany class

Friday, April 26, 2013
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— University at Albany officials are investigating allegations of plagiarism and cheating on campus in response to a report that students have paid others to do their work in a computer science class.

The Albany Student Press reported hundreds of students in Peter Ross’ Computer Applications in Business course could have cheated, citing anonymous sources.

The paper reported that a student is charging people $10 for normal homework assignments and $40 for major “capstone” projects. After the student solicits business through Facebook, clients provide login information and hand over the money. The student then does the assignment for them, the paper reported.

The student has denied the allegations, saying he merely tutors students, who then complete their own work.

Ross could not be reached Friday, but told the ASP that he has tried to combat cheating by implementing a software program in which students log in to the class website to submit assignments. He said he also uses two software programs to identify duplicated work.

UAlbany spokesman Karl Luntta said the student newspaper’s report helped bring the allegations to light, but would not say if the probe had started before the article was published. Luntta couldn’t speak to this specific case, but said punishment for violations of the Code of Conduct can range from a warning to suspension.

“The university takes any violation of its student code of conduct very seriously, and that includes academic dishonesty and fraud, and [is] conducting a thorough investigation,” Luntta said. “If warranted, cases such as these are referred to the university’s Office of Conflict Resolution.”

College campuses have been grappling with cheating for decades. There is ample temptation to cheat, as research papers are available through websites and social media. Typing “Papers for sale” into Google yields more than 6 million results.

Union College is in the first year of a new policy that revived the student honor code. Robert Baker, a professor of philosophy and director of Ethics Across the Curriculum, said he was astounded by the scope of the allegations at UAlbany and said he hadn’t seen anything on that scale as an educator.

“It’s really sad and tragic for everybody in education,” he said.

Cheating means students devalue their education, he said.

“They don’t see education as a way of learning a set of knowledge and skills, but a set of hoops that someone has to jump through to get a degree,” he explained.

Union began crafted its ethics policy about seven years ago, after two engineering students were suspected of cheating by collaborating on problems. Their graduation was delayed and, as punishment, they had to propose a plan to prevent other students from cheating. They proposed that students be accountable to their own peers, who would have understood they did not intend to cheat and would have given them a different penalty, according to Baker.

Union College spent the next five years developing the honor code, which was implemented last fall. Baker said it is too early to gauge its effectiveness. The college plans to survey students in the fall to see if their attitudes about cheating have changed.

The last survey found one in 10 students gave answers indicating they were susceptible to cheating. They weren’t admitting that they cheated, but were giving answers that indicated they had the propensity to cheat.

The honor code has been well-accepted by the faculty and students, with some minor hiccups. For example, students are unaware they are cheating if they use material in a paper without properly citing the source.

Baker believes it is a good system.

“It teaches you that academic integrity is a matter of being honest with yourself, with your peers and with your teachers,” he said.

Baker said he does not think cheating is widespread at Union.

“The number of cases that we deal with is on the magnitude of 10 or 15 a term. It’s not going to be comparable to a large university,” he said.

 
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