Academic cheating makes for a rough ride

Wendy Endress, dean of students and associate vice provost of student affairs, said cheating on academics is likely to be more common than the documented numbers reflect.

Over the 2001-2002 academic year, there were 25 reported cases at Portland State University, but there is no way of knowing the real number of cases.

“Faculty can choose to deal with a case on their own, without reporting it, which means we would never hear about it,” Endress said.

Academic dishonesty is defined in the student Code of Conduct as any of the following, but not limited to: plagiarism, the buying and selling of assignments, performing academic assignments for other persons, unauthorized receipt of academic information, and falsification of research data. Plagiarism is defined as taking and passing off another’s thoughts or writings as one’s own.

So far this academic year, there have been less than 10 cases, according to Michele Toppe, assistant dean of students.

Students tend to get caught most for plagiarism, said Endress.

“From what I’ve seen, students get caught for plagiarism by savvy faculty who double check the references,” Endress said.

Some students are accused of plagiarism when they are not aware they are guilty, mostly because they are unaware of how to cite their work properly. Severe cases of plagiarism include taking copies of academic papers off Web sites or buying them from term-paper factories.

Cheating is also detected by observant professors who catch students with “cheat sheets” on exam days or by professors who notice suspicious patterns when they grade the students’ tests.

Professor Feder, who teaches administration of justice classes, informed her class before midterms this quarter that each student needs to bring in a blank scantron, which she will collect and redistribute at random. The reason for this is that one year she had a student who had recorded cryptic notes on the scantron to be used during the exam.

Each of those who get reported to the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) will go through the same judicial process. A letter is sent out requesting the student report to the OSA, at which time the student either confesses or denies the charges.

Whether they admit it or not, a student can choose to have the case heard by the judicial officer, which is either Endress or Toppe, or the student conduct committee. A disciplinary decision is then made.

The worst-case scenario is expulsion from school without the chance to ever return to Portland State. The lightest penalty is documentation and a verbal reprimand.

There are no specific, set sanctions on how to punish for cheating, so it is on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule, most students end up on probation for a set amount of time.

Endress said the factors considered when deciding how to handle the situations are: how severe the academic dishonesty was, what the student’s motivations for cheating were and whether or not they demonstrate that they have learned from the experience.

Some of the excuses made to the OSA in the past have been that the student either didn’t know what plagiarism was or that the student was so stressed out that they felt there were no other options.

“I don’t think those are particularly good excuses, but I think they are real,” Endress said.

Students can appeal the charges to the vice provost of student affairs. If they request that an appeal be heard, they must indicate that the process had not been followed or that the decision was capricious or arbitrary.

The vice provost will then convene a committee to hear the appeal, and a recommendation is then made of how to handle it.

Although reports of academic dishonesty end up on a conduct record, those records do not automatically accompany transcripts. However, some graduate schools will request to see if a student has an academic conduct record before admitting them to their program.

The only grades that can be affected by cheating are those that directly apply to the respective assignment, so therefore a student cannot be automatically be given a failing grade. Instead, their overall grade can potentially be affected by receiving a zero for that assignment.

Financial aid is not affected by incidents of academic dishonesty.

The student Code of Conduct can be viewed on the Internet by going to, then entering “student code of conduct” in the search window, and clicking on the first available link.