All bark, no bite

Seven Foudation Year Programme (FYP) students were found guilty of plagiarising essays this past December.

Seven Foudation Year Programme (FYP) students were found guilty of plagiarising essays this past December.
And one former professor isn’t surprised.
“I really do think King’s has a serious problem that is neither being acknowledged nor addressed,” said Daryn Lehoux, a former professor in King’s History of Science and Technology (HOST) programme from 2000 to 2005. He currently teaches at Queen’s University in Ontario.
“I’ve taught at four universities and have never spent more time before plagiarism hearings than I did [at King’s].”
Lehoux said that he dealt with an average of six to 10 cases per year between 2000 and 2005.
Any institutional problems may be a result of the punishment policy, which he believes should be addressed. “I had more cases of plagiarism in any given year than I have had in total since 2005,” he said.
The penalties for the students found guilty in December ranged from “a zero on their essay to a reduction in letter grades”, according to Stephen Kimber, the school’s academic integrity officer. Program administrators had already agreed before the hearings that students would not be expelled.
However, the FYP handbook distributed to all students clearly states that “all plagiarized essays will be failed and plagiarism may constitute grounds for expulsion.”
Kimber said that the current plagiarism entry in the FYP handbook is slightly outdated for the process of evaluation at King’s.
Kimber has suggested that the program change its handbook. He believes that there are grey areas of plagiarism and the handbook does not reflect that.
“There’s a difference between sloppiness and deliberate plagiarizing, between failing to sufficiently rewrite or properly cite a sentence or a paragraph and deliberately copying and claiming as your own an entire essay,” he said. “The Dal disciplinary process, which we’re now operating under, provides for a range of potential penalties to reflect the reality that not all offences are equal.”
The recent cases were evaluated based on this understanding. Each student met with Kimber and their tutor to talk relatively informally about the essay in question.
“My role is try to determine whether the allegation was founded,” said Kimber. “I reach a conclusion whether the academic offence occurred and, if it did, recommend an appropriate penalty.”
Ultimately, he says that no student was found to have plagiarised an entire essay and, in fact, half of the 14 students were deemed innocent and suffered no punishment.
Although then-FYP Director Peggy Heller has publicly defended King’s approach to plagiarism, others believe harsher punishment is in order in such cases.
Lehoux said that while it was both King’s and Dalhousie students who plagiarized papers in his time in HOST programme, he believes that the biggest problems were the “simple recycling of FYP essays” and “flat out denial.”
“I saw several cases where… borrowing a friend’s essay from an earlier year… [and then] changing introductions and conclusions was obviously done,” he said. “Though without copies of the earlier year’s essays on file, it was impossible to prove.”
Kimber is adamant, though, that the academic integrity process at King’s should be a learning process for the students. He also said that a database is now in place to watch for serial offenders.
“What we’re trying to do with this process is educate first-time offenders through a relatively informal process to make sure they don’t commit any more offences, and making sure that serial offenders are more severely dealt with.”

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