Academic dishonesty cases rise as J-board follows tough new rules
Academic dishonesty. This catch phrase has demanded a lot
of attention from the Bowdoin community in recent years. According to
the Annual Reports to the Community from the 1998-99, 1999-00, and 2000-01
academic years, the Judicial Board heard 3, 14, and 13 academic cases,
respectively. Although these statistics suggest a rise in academic dishonesty
in the last three years, there is more to be considered than meets the
In the September 25, 1998 issue of the Orient, an article
entitled "Judicial Board decisions come under fire" brought
up issues including "leniency, consistency, and standards,"
with Mathematics Professor Bill Barker expressing serious concerns about
the "effectiveness of the J-Board," claiming, along with many
other faculty, that the sanctions were too light to stamp out or even
discourage academic dishonesty.
In the last three years, Barker has noticed a striking transformation
in the way the J-Board operates. Philosophy professor Dennis Corish has
been serving on the Board for about six years, and has also witnessed
"The Board has been working under a tougher set of
rules than it used to. At one time the Board was thought by many of the
faculty to be too lenient. That, I think, is not the perception now,"
Dean Bradley agrees, and noted that "having an established
honor code matters. There has been an increased awareness of the centrality
of academic dishonesty at Bowdoin on the part of students and faculty.
That's why sanctions are tough-this is a central rule."
In fact, the function of the Honor Code as a vital aspect
of the college community is not an idea limited to Bowdoin. In three national
surveys conducted by Don McCabe, the founder and first president of the
Center of Academic Integrity, academic honor codes "effectively reduced
cheating" on college campuses. The surveys, conducted in 1990, 1995,
and 1999 including over 12,000 students at 48 colleges, showed that serious
test cheating was one third to one half lower at colleges with honor codes
than those without honor codes. Similar results were obtained regarding
serious cheating on written assignments. (The survey results are posted
on the Duke University Kenan Institute for Ethics website.)*
Clearly, honor codes are effective in reducing academic
dishonesty, but there are still students consistently exhibiting academic
dishonesty. Barker feels the true disservice is to the students who choose
not to cheat.
"When I bring a charge, I'm thinking that I'm doing
it for the students. They are the ones who've been offended. It's helping
to protect honest students from those who are not," Barker said.
Fortunately, amongst most faculty, the occasional dishonest
student has not compromised the intrinsic trust between the student and
However, when the question of academic dishonesty does arise,
it often proves to be a time-consuming process. Therefore, there are numerous
reasons why professors hesitate in bringing cases forward. Barker points
out that "a lot of faculty can't stomach the idea of suspension,"
and that others "just don't care that much, and don't want to deal
with it." In past years, these factors, paired with a weak judicial
system, created an atmosphere of leniency, as illustrated by the few number
of academic cases (3) heard by the Board during the 1998-99 academic year.
So, the question stands: Has the number of reported cases
risen as a result of an increase in academic dishonesty or simply a boost
in the confidence professors have in the renovated system? Tara Talbot,
Chair of the Judicial Board, gives a simple explanation:
"I believe that there has been an increase in reported
cases, not necessarily actual occurrences. I think that this is a result
of a fair, thoughtful, and consistent Judicial Board process that has
only existed at Bowdoin for three years. As professors gain more trust
for the judicial process, they are more likely to take cases to the Board
instead of dealing with them privately. Thus, in a strangely ironic way,
I see the increase in reported academic dishonesty cases as a positive
thing," Talbot said.
In fact, it does appear that at least some faculty members
have developed a higher trust in the workings of the Board.
"There is a growing confidence and support for the
academic Honor Code at Bowdoin. The J-Board has done a very good job of
explaining types of cases to the community and, to a degree, educating
students and faculty. This demystifies what goes on in the J-Board and
that builds confidence," Dean Bradley said.
Asian Studies professor Henry Laurence is a strong advocate
of the revamped J-Board and confirms that confidence among many professors
is on the rise.
Talbot strongly discourages professors from handling possible
violations on their own, because this method does not provide Bowdoin
students with an "equal playing field." Film Studies professor
Tricia Welsch took this fact into consideration and chose to take her
case to the Board.
"My experience with the J-Board was very positive.
Everybody was treated very fairly and with respect. It was a wrenching
experience, but as bad experiences go, it was a good one," Welsch
In connection with the Board's more careful and unyielding
attitude towards academic dishonesty, trust in the system has resulted
in more cases being reported. There is a general consensus among those
interviewed, that academic dishonesty itself is not on the rise. Laurence,
having taken five cases to the Board for review, noted a difference in
the type of dishonesty occurring in the past compared with what he sees
"I doubt very much that there's been a rise [in academic
dishonesty], because the cases I got when I first came to Bowdoin were
very crude kind of plagiarism. I don't see the blatant kind [of dishonesty]
anymore, and I suspect it has to do with the J-Board's new function on
campus," Laurence said.
When Laurence arrived five years ago, he observed that there
were "definitely groups of people on campus for whom cheating was
a way of life. In certain sections of the community including a few fraternities
and some sports teams, it appeared that there was a culture of dishonesty."
Laurence acknowledges that he is unsure whether this is happening now,
but attributes the more blatant cheating of past years to this "culture
However, regardless of the type of environment created by
outside factors, it still remains the students' responsibility to be honest
The issue of academic honesty and integrity is being brought
to the forefront by faculty and students alike and is demanding the attention
of every member of the Bowdoin community.
"It seems to me that there is a growing consensus on
this campus of who we are and who we want to become in terms of standards.
Values have been set and the community is working together through the
Board and other institutions to see them through," Hilburn said.
Adjusting and modifying traditions is never easy, as Mangawang
and members of the Board can verify. Yet a gradual evolution with the
support of the entire community has allowed the positive changes to take
"I believe that the Board must be sure that their 'housekeeping is sacred and honorable' and that at every turn their findings uphold our community standards," Mangawang said. "In doing so, I believe that the J-Board maintains a distinct capacity to 'raise and inspire' the community towards preserving Bowdoin as a place of the utmost honesty and respect."
* All statistics from Don McCabe's survey were taken from www.academicintegrity.org/cai_research.asp