Honor Council works to protect academic integrity at UM

School of Communication
University of Miami

Most students at the University of Miami stick to time tested, traditional methods such as making note cards, rereading course material or creating chapter outlines to prepare for final exams.

But what about those who fail to do so and ultimately choose to cheat instead?

That is for the students of the University of Miami Undergraduate Honor Council to decide.

The UM adjudication process. Source: UM Honor Council.

With recent cheating scandals at both the University of Florida, where Heisman candidate Cam Newton reportedly faced suspension for involvement in three separate cheating cases, and the University of Central Florida, where an astounding 200 out of 600 students enrolled in an upper-level School of Business course procured copies of the midterm exam from the textbook’s publisher, the hardworking members of the Undergraduate Honor Council strive to encourage students at the University of Miami to remain honest.

According to the published Undergraduate Honor Code, the University of Miami Undergraduate Honor Council works “to protect the academic integrity of the University, encourage ethical behavior among students, and foster an atmosphere of fair competition.”

Members of the Undergraduate Honor Council also hear cases concerning cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty as professors present their complaints to the Dean of Students’ Office over the course of each semester.

In the years since the Undergraduate Honor Council’s creation in 1986, a total of 319 cases have been adjudicated, in which 510 undergraduate students were involved. Sanctions vary from expulsion to reprimand, with a number of cases being dismissed for verdicts of “not responsible” or for other various reasons. Although the Undergraduate Honor Council does not expel students that regularly, they definitely take cheating and other examples of academic misconduct as serious offenses.

UM Honor Council cases. Source: UM Honor Council.

Since 1986, 134 students have been put on Final Disciplinary Probation and 103 have been suspended, according the Undergraduate Honor Council’s classroom presentation and slideshow.

Renata Baptista is a junior majoring in studio art and sociology. This is her second year on the Undergraduate Honor Council, where she serves a committee chair. Although the University of Miami has not been recently scrutinized for cheating scandals such as the University of Florida or the University of Central Florida, Baptista believes academic misconduct at the University of Miami it is still a serious issue.

“There’s no doubt in my mind there’s a cheating problem on campus,” Baptista said. “It’s not just something I’ve seen as an Honor Council member but something I’ve also experienced as a regular student.”

Josh Tambor is a sophomore majoring in Economics in the School of Business. He agrees with Baptista, explaining that although he has never personally witnessed any episodes of cheating, he knows it exists as a problem on campus.

“I’ve heard people discussing it,” Tambor said.

Dayle Wilson is the assistant Dean of Students and works directly with the Undergraduate Honor Council. According to Wilson, most incidents of cheating are more closely associated with competition rather than with malice.

“It’s usually on a test, in the sciences or math, they figure it’s a little easier,” Wilson said. “They think they won’t get caught and that’s the part I never quite get.”

Robin Bachin is an associate professor of History and the director of the American Studies program at the University of Miami. Bachin agrees with Wilson’s assertion.

“I think there is a great deal of pressure to get good grades and to try to get into medical or law school,” Bachin said. “A lot of students at UM are career focused and it can cloud their judgment.”

Ren Werbin works in the Dean of Students’ Office as the graduate assistant to the Undergraduate Honor Council. Although Werbin agrees with Wilson and Bachin, citing pre-medical, business and political science students as the most frequent offenders of academic misconduct, she offers an additional explanation as to other sources of the cheating problem at both the University of Miami and at other college campuses nationwide: parents.

“I feel like if parents instill what is ethically right and wrong and to not take the easy way out their children will be less likely to cheat,” Werbin said.

Werbin also explained parents who complete their children’s assignments throughout high school (in order, presumably, to assist them with entry into competitive universities) actually place their children at a distinct disadvantage.

“If they’re used to someone helping them then they’re not going to be able to do it by themselves,” Werbin said.

Baptista believes that the attitude on campus also contributes to the prevalence of cheating at the University of Miami.

“Even walking around I overhear people discussing their dishonorable academic behavior in regular conversation,” Baptista said. “They don’t even try to obscure it.”

Adam Kayne is a junior majoring in accounting. Although he admits he does not see many incidents of cheating within his major, he acknowledges its prevalence in lower level classes, particularly with multiple choice exams.

“People are lazy,” Kayne said.

Werbin agrees. She feels that laziness often puts students in comprising academic positions. Oftentimes, Werbin says, students are unwilling to speak with professors, even if they feel themselves starting to fall behind.

“There is a stigma associated with speaking to professors and students need to work to connect with them regardless of the class size,” Werbin said.

Members of the University of Miami Undergraduate Honor Council also remind students to take better advantage of helpful academic resources on campus, such as the writing center, for example.

Although Bachin reminds her students to visit the writing center before they complete any written assignments such as papers, she admits they often fail to do so.

“The writing center is an incredible resource on campus,” Bachin said. “They are available but too often [students] get rushed and don’t take full advantage.”

And yet, with features like copy/paste and  Web sites such as http://echeat.com,  which provides students with free essays, term papers and book reports, the end of the cheating epidemic on college campuses is no where is sight.

Although Wilson categorizes cheating alongside issues such as underage drinking and other prevalent, unsolvable problems on college campuses nationwide, she has a great deal of admiration for the members of the Undergraduate Honor Council.

“They have made a concerted effort to preserve the academic integrity of the University,” Wilson said. “They’re living within the community and they’re setting the standard and I think it is important.”

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