On par with a growing phenomenon in academic dishonesty, Stanford student cheating spiked sharply during the winter quarter, catching the university's revamped Judicial Affairs Office by surprise.
Reported cheating cases this winter quarter have more than doubled since last year, according to recent statistics compiled by the university's Judicial Affairs Office. In winter 2002 there were only 17 cases of cheating reported, compared to 37 this year.
This sudden rise accompanies a three-year trend in increased reports of honor code violations. Honor code violations include a wide range of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, dual submissions of a paper, collaboration on class work or tests, and copying off of another student's test during an examination.
Some Stanford officials attribute the increase to an overhaul of the reporting process established by the Judicial Affairs Office in 1998, which made it easier for students to report academic dishonestly. Others believe the increase in violations are a reflection of a national trend toward academic dishonesty.
"In general terms the overriding issue we're facing appears to be a broad decline in the culture of academic integrity," said George Wilson, Judicial Affairs Program coordinator.
"It may very well be a combination of the two," said Laurette Beeson, judicial advisor.
Donald McCabe, a Rutgers professor and founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, has been conducting surveys on student cheating among college students for more than 10 years.
He attributed this rise in cheating to the state of ethics in mainstream society. When students compare cheating to what's going on in the rest of society, "it doesn't seem like a big deal."
That's part of the reason why more students are admitting to doing it.
"I'm convinced that the increase is not as large as the numbers suggest" because students are much more accepting of cheating and willing to admit to doing it on an anonymous survey than they were in the 1960s.
Nonetheless, he confirms there has been a definite steady rise in cheating since surveys in 1963 were conducted at the college level.
Stanford's Judicial Affairs committee is hoping to clear up some of the mystery surrounding cheating by conducting its own student survey. The committee hopes to run the drafted survey this spring quarter if it receives funding and approval.
While such a survey could not prove exactly what the increase in honor code violations is caused by, it may shed light on the situation.
Since a major overhaul of the judicial system in 1998 and the ongoing educational outreach that resulted, reported cases of violations have increased steadily -- by more than 60 percent.
Under the new system, attorneys have been removed from the process and students, staff and faculty have been assembled as a jury. Each case goes to trial with a set of jurors chosen to form a Judicial Panel.
In the past, students accused of honor code violations consulted with a judicial officer, who counseled students on their rights, investigated their case and then rendered a verdict. This person also served as judiciary advisor to the students, making it difficult to be a safe person for students to talk to, as any questions the students asked in their attempt to understand the judiciary process could be used against them.
Under the new system, the positions have been separated, removing that potential conflict of interest and giving students the freedom to ask their judiciary advisor any questions they need to ask to understand their rights and the process they are about to begin.
The university said the result has been more trust in the system.
"It would be a case of people using the system, trusting the system, reporting cases," Beeson said.
Miriam Boon can be e-mailed by firstname.lastname@example.org