Changes Discussed Regarding Student Academic Misconduct

By Brooke Schultz and Molly Igoe
Editor-in-Chief and News Editor

Washington College is revising its withdraw policy in response to plagiarism and academic misconduct more generally.

A loophole in the system allows for students to withdraw from a course before receiving a failing grade if they are suspected of a Honor Code violation.

The Committee of Academic Standing and Advising — composed of three faculty members, the associate provost, the vice president for Student Affairs, the registrar, and a student member — was asked to reconsider the withdraw policy by Faculty Council last spring, said Dr. Tia Murphy, chair of the   committee and assistant professor of psychology. She did not comment specifically about the proposal, as it is still under deliberation within the committee.

The proposal was first discussed during the previous faculty meeting on Oct. 10.

According to Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, vice president of Student Affairs, this new policy would give faculty the ability to place a hold with the registrar that prevents a student from withdrawing if they have committed an academic violation.

“This allows time for the faculty member and the student to discuss what occurred and allows the faculty member to apply their own class policy around the misconduct,” Dr. Feyerherm said. “The faculty member could subsequently lift the hold or it could stay on.”

She said that there have been several times over the last few years where a student has withdrawn from a course after committing an academic violation.

“I wouldn’t say this is a result of academic misconduct being a larger problem as much as it was faculty concern that students who did so were avoiding the consequences of academic misconduct and that it removed the ability for the faculty member to hold the student accountable,” she said.

“Even though in most of these cases the student was still held accountable through the Honor Board, they were still able to bypass the academic consequences,” she said.

Dr. Murphy said that the committee solicited feedback from faculty members and have further discussed the issues raised.

“A lot of people were uncomfortable with the word ‘suspects,’ calling the student a suspect because there hadn’t been due process,” said Dr. Clayton Black, chair of the Faculty Council.

They hope to present the proposal at the next faculty meeting on Monday, Nov. 6.

“In my time at WC I’ve heard of numerous cases of plagiarism and have even experienced plagiarism from my own students… each case of plagiarism that I have personally experienced is extremely upsetting and disconcerting,” Dr. Murphy said.

At this time, there is no timeline for implementation of the new policy, once approved, Dr. Feyerherm said.

“The recommendation is that if/when it does that faculty members are very clear to their students upfront about the policy—on the syllabus—and that faculty members also be clear about their own policy around academic misconduct in the class, i.e. if a student plagiarizes a paper, do they fail the paper, the entire class, or something else?” she said.  “These are details that would be left up to the faculty member.”

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