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2011 Winter Issue 6 (February 18, 2011)

Do we cheat at Carleton?

February 18, 2011
By Devin Daugherty

In 1937, the then-editor of the Carletonian wrote an opinion piece on the prevalence of cheating at Carleton. This ignited a response from the college and prompted an investigation of the nature of academic dishonesty, hoping to come across a solution. The result was to abolish the old system of dealing with academic dishonesty and to make several adjustments, including the introduction of pass/fail options. The main conclusion that came out of this exploration was the decision that there needed to be a centralized way of dealing with cheating. Students were not content that teachers were able to deal with academic infractions in any way they wanted. Thus, Carleton’s current system was born.

Carleton students have all heard of the Academic Review Committee, and are all aware that cheating occurs to some extent. We know Carleton doesn’t have an honor code, and we know we’re not supposed to cheat. However, it’s not something we talk about with one another or with faculty. Professors may remind us during the first day of classes, but by and large it is assumed we will monitor ourselves.

One of the main problems with this is that it’s often not clear what is actually considered “cheating.” Students have been accused of cheating because they don’t understand how to cite sources, rendering their work plagiarism. Carleton is a very intellectually supportive community, and working in groups is required for nearly every class. This can easily lead to what could be determined “copying” or not doing one’s own work.

The only way the centralized system established in 1937 will work is if these things are made obvious. There needs to be clarity and cohesion between professors across campus. Students should be able to sit down to write a paper knowing exactly how to cite sources and who they can ask to edit for them. At Williams College, where there is a rigid honor code, there is zero confusion about what counts as cheating. There is no such thing as accidental plagiarism. Carleton doesn’t necessarily need to go down the path of the honor code, but in fairness to both students and faculty, we need to clear some things up.

For more on the academic honesty policy, please see related articles: Are we cheaters, Big Picture: a letter from CEDI and Why this matters: the questions we need to ask.  For the next few weeks, we will be exploring academic dishonesty at Carleton. The purpose of this feature is to engage the community in a dialogue about the issue and allow people to voice their opinions. We welcome submissions of any kind on the subject, and we challenge the Carleton community to push ourselves to talk. Feel free to contact daugherd or kinseya with any questions or submissions.

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