The 2015-2016 Judicial Board Report to the Community revealed 22 Academic Honor Code violations—a notable increase from previous years—and included the largest number of related cases in over 17 years. Eleven students were accused of academic dishonesty in the same course over two semesters and across multiple sections of the class. 

According to a student involved in the cases, the course that brought forward the violations was Introduction to Computer Science. Last year, sections of the course were taught by Professor of Computer Science Eric Chown, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sean Barker, Visiting Associate Professor of Computer Science Clare Bates Congdon and Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science Allen Harper. The Dean’s Office declined to comment on which professor served as the complainant and which department brought the charges forward.

All 11 students in the related computer science cases were charged with “giving, receiving or using unauthorized assistance on quizzes, tests, written assignments, examinations or laboratory assignments.” Some of the students were also charged with “submission of work not a student’s own original effort.” The cases did not all involve the same assignment. According to Associate Dean for Upperclass Students and Judicial Board Advisor Lesley Levy, five students were accused of giving unauthorized assistance and five were accused of receiving unauthorized assistance. Additionally, one student was charged with both. 

All but one of the students charged were eventually found responsible. Sanctions from the Judicial Board (J-Board) included combinations of judicial reprimands, community service, reduction of course grades and one and two semester suspensions. Longer suspensions were suggested in cases involving dishonesty or deception in the J-Board process.

Five students involved in the related cases appealed their sanctions with the Student Appeals and Grievances Committee. All appeals were denied. Additionally, one student’s sanctions were changed from a one-year suspension to indefinite suspension without guarantee of readmission after that student was found to have purposely falsified information to the J-Board and the Student Appeals and Grievances Committee.

Assignments are often checked by a software program called MOSS (Measure of Software Similarity). It flags submissions if they appear similar to other entries in the system, and is routinely used in the computer science department, but its results are not treated as absolutes.

“You would never have a process where you would simply rely on a degree of similarity output that would say, ‘Oh there’s an 82 percent or a 96 percent or a 25 percent degree of similarity here,’” Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster said. “You have a process that allows you to carefully examine that, that’s before it would even come to us. The first thing you would hope would happen with [MOSS] or any number of these other products is that a faculty member will put his or her eyes on these work products to then say, ‘OK, what’s the degree of similarity here. Is it appropriate or not?’”

The College does not mandate the use of MOSS or other plagiarism-detection software, instead leaving the decision to use such methods up to individual departments and faculty members. 

The computer science department generally considers verbal collaboration acceptable, but does not allow written or electronic work to be shared. 

In its annual report, the J-Board also listed two allegations of social code violations, both stemming from a verbal and physical altercation. Both students were found responsible and were issued judicial reprimands. 

Additionally, the Sexual Misconduct Board noted five instances of sexual misconduct violations reported to Title IX Coordinator Benje Douglas. In three of these cases, the complainant chose to move forward with an informal resolution. In one, the respondent resigned from the college during the investigation process. In another, the investigator found insufficient evidence to find the respondent responsible for the charges. 

J-Board hearings regarding academic violations are heard by a committee of three students and two professors. Cases involving social code violations are heard by five students.

“The board is meant to be a committee of peers of not only students but also of, in academic cases, the professors who bring the cases before the board,” said Judicial Board Chair Mike Pun. “[In] social cases, there isn’t really a professor involved and the students’ perspective is really valued a lot more. The professors don’t know what it’s like to be a student … whereas for an academic case we really want students to be able to serve as peers for the respondent and the possible witnesses involved, but we also want professors to be able to serve as peers to other professors.”

Foster said he is not concerned that the increase in academic honor violations this year represents a larger trend.

“I will be surprised if based on what happens this past year we see some new normal with an increase in the number of cases. I think this will probably lead people to be much more mindful of the work that they’re submitting,” he said. 

Editor's note, Friday, October 14, 11:05 am: This article has been updated to correct a misstatement about the original sanction given to the student involved in the computer science case who appealed their suspension and subsequently had their suspension increased. The original sanction was a one year , not one semester.