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Cheating policy change draws fire from SUNY Potsdam faculty

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POTSDAM — An attempt to close a loophole in the way cheating and plagiarism are treated on SUNY Potsdam’s campus has met resistance from faculty.

The SUNY Potsdam Faculty Senate is considering a proposal from the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards that would require instructors to file a reporting form for every instance of academic dishonesty, which the school defines as cheating, plagiarism, fabrication or multiple submissions of course work.

“Student conduct wants a reporting form that everybody fills out, so we can catch these students that fall into a pattern of dishonesty,” said Jan Trybula, assistant professor of biology and senate chairman.

Existing policy leaves it up to the individual instructor to determine whether to report academic dishonesty. Instances of chronic cheating or plagiarism could fall through the cracks if instructors did not report, Mr. Trybula said.

“It is optional for an instructor to take an issue and present it to the office,” he said. “The issue doesn’t necessarily have to leave the instructor-student area, but if several instructors run into a problem and handle it without reporting it, no one ever knows the student is a serial offender who has a problem.”

The proposed policy changes were the work of Annette L. Robbins, director of student conduct and community standards.

“I don’t feel we have any shortcomings in our current policy,” she said. “By revamping the process, we can ensure that faculty and students get due process.”

Ms. Robbins said she compared SUNY Potsdam’s policy with rules at other SUNY institutions at Plattsburgh, Oswego, Geneseo and Canton before deciding to propose the changes.

Because the policies affected academic affairs, they have to be approved by the senate, Mr. Trybula said.

“To most people this seems like a good thing. It seems like a laudable idea,” Mr. Trybula said. “The problem comes when it goes further and student affairs decides to step in.”

The proposed changes were passed by the senate’s Academic Policies, Standards and Advising Committee, but rejected by a full vote of the senate. Some faculty members were concerned about losing power to determine outcomes within their own classrooms.

“Instructors were not happy about that. They don’t want student affairs to override an agreement between faculty and students,” Mr. Trybula said.

Others objected to being used as an enforcement mechanism for the school’s administration.

“It was basically up to them to be policing. They didn’t like the idea that it would be mandatory reporting,” Mr. Trybula said.

The Office of Student Conduct attempted to introduce the policies again, this time through the senate’s Student Affairs Committee, but Mr. Trybula aborted that attempt because it was in the wrong committee, waiting to be revised and reconsidered.

“At the moment, it is sitting in oblivion,” he said. “A lot of faculty think looking at the idea is important.”

Mr. Trybula said that the school wasn’t experiencing significant new problems with academic dishonesty and that it was customary to review the policy occasionally.

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