System's credibility may be put on trial this fall
black and white and read all over?
fall, it will be Monday editions of the Cavalier
Daily. Thats because Monday issues traditionally include
the honor black box, which discloses in simple declarative
sentences the fate of those accused of committing honor offenses.
With the plagiarism cases from physics
professor Louis Bloomfields How Things Work
course having drawn international attention since the news broke
in May, members of the University community will be carefully
monitoring the outcomes of what will likely be an unprecedented
number of weekend honor trials this fall.
Honor Committee hopes to clear all 130 cases arising from the
popular physics course by the end of the fall semester, said Thomas
Hall, the committee chair. Through Aug. 1, 36 cases had been investigated,
with 25 dropped before trial, most commonly because those accused
were found to be unknowing source papers for the accused
remaining 11 cases were sent to trial. Only one has been conducted,
resulting in a guilty verdict, according to statistics released
by the Honor Committee.
charges were filed late in the spring semester after Bloomfield
was informed by a student of possible cheating in his popular
How Things Work class. He created a computer program
that would allow him to check thousands of term papers submitted
for the course against each other for similarities, flagging papers
which had identical strings of words. Charges were eventually
filed against 130 current and former students.
half are authors of papers thought to have been source
papers, Hall said. They are likely to be cleared in pre-trial
investigations unless there is some reason to believe they knowingly
aided the plagiarism, which is an honor offense, he said.
of mid-August, Hall was awaiting word on how many of the accused
would return to the University for the academic year. Committee
members have been working all summer and are prepared to try as
many as three or four cases each weekend, Hall said. Bloomfield
said he will make himself available to testify in every trial.
The outcomes of the trials, as reported in the Cavalier Dailys
black boxes, could have a major effect on future faculty support
for the Honor System.
the past, some faculty members have expressed frustration with
the system, citing cases in which student juries have returned
not guilty verdicts when the professors believed the
evidence against the accused was compelling. Should a large number
of the How Things Work trials end similarly
given what has been reported in the media obviously,
there would be a lot of concern at that point, said biology
professor Robert Grainger, chair of the Faculty Senate.
nonetheless stressed that faculty do not want to prejudice the
process. Faculty approve of acting by procedure, because
thats what they do with their scholarship, he said.
But if that [not guilty verdicts] does happen,
certainly a lot more cynics might emerge.
Dudley, a law professor
who has advised the Honor
Committee in the past, agreed that faculty will be watching
the outcomes closely. I think there is considerable feeling
among the faculty that the Honor System is not, and is not likely
to become, an adequate academic disciplinary system, he
said. If there are a lot of not guilties in
this, it may reinforce and spread that feeling.
some effects are being seen. At a school where many professors
have in the past allowed students to take exams without a proctor
being present, copies of Bloomfields plagiarism-detection
program which he has posted on the Internet for free downloading
by professors worldwide have apparently been in great demand
on Grounds this summer, Hall said.
one of the Honor Systems most stalwart defenders has admitted
that he is troubled by the cases.
me, the most sobering thing is not that so many cheated,
said economics professor Kenneth W. Elzinga, but that with
that much cheating going on, nobody initiated a case until
Bloomfield ran his computer program and filed the charges himself.
reluctance to invoke the Honor System is nothing new, Dudley said.
The myth is that this really goes back to the late 60s
and early 70s, when by kicking someone out of school you
were essentially sending them to Nam, he said.
think there is no question that a reluctance to use the system
exists at every stage, he added.
an Honor Committee study conducted during the last academic year
found that almost 51 percent of nearly 1,600 students surveyed
felt very positive or somewhat positive about the systems
effectiveness, and 56 percent felt similarly about the system
as a whole. Responding to a question phrased hypothetically, only
15 percent said they would not initiate an honor case if they
witnessed a clear honor violation.
when those who said they believed they had witnessed an actual
violation were asked if they initiated an honor case, 95.4 percent
said no. The top four reasons: I did not think the offense
was serious enough to warrant an initiation (56 percent);
I did not want to be responsible for dismissing another
student (44 percent); I didnt want to get involved
(35 percent); and the person involved was a friend
acknowledged that the How Things Work verdicts will
be under close scrutiny, but cautioned that the process must play
itself out fairly.
think its important that these verdicts be consistent with
the objective facts of the cases, Hall said. We dont
have a stake in the outcome. We want the process to be very consistent
and very fair.
hope we can prove that we have the capacity to handle a large
number of cases in a fair and efficient way. I hope it restores
some of the trust that weve lost with some of the faculty.