Fourty-seven cases were brought to the Honor Board this academic school year, data provided by Honor Board Co-Chair and senior Ojashwi Sapkota. Three of the cases are still ongoing, while seven were dropped. In the remaining 37 cases, 31 resulted in guilty verdicts and four in not guilty decisions. Two cases had no decision.
Incoming co-chair and junior Deborah Ortiz stated more violations tend to come in during midterms or finals periods, attributing this to work piling up for students. She also acknowledged the fall as the term when many cases involving freshmen come in.
“It’s a completely different environment, the college environment, and some of them may not be familiar with what is expected from Knox in terms of academic integrity,” Ortiz said.
The accusations included 20 instances of unauthorized collaboration, 17 instances of plagiarism and eight instances of cheating.
“Obviously no student is just brought to the board because they forgot one quotation mark,” Sapkota said. “It’s usually where there are chunks of paragraphs that are like directly lifted from another source without any methods of proper citation.”
Fifteen cases were resolved through the informal process, in which a student on their first offense pleads guilty and agrees to a penalty in discussion with their professor and an Honor Board co-chair.
In the formal process, of which there were 22 cases, a student comes before the Honor Board for a hearing in which a minimum of six members deliberate a verdict and a penalty if found guilty. The formal process is usually entered when a student wishes to plead not guilty, or is past their first offense.
Honor Board’s other incoming co-chair and junior Riley Nelson explained that penalties for violations can range from a warning and failure of an exam or course, to suspension or expulsion in the most extreme cases.
“We’re not even allowed to expel anyone on their first offense. I don’t think we’ve suspended anyone on their first attempt ever,” Nelson said. “We don’t even like to fail people in the course on their first attempt unless it’s really egregious.”
The board also has the ability to mandate a student to have a meeting with the reference librarian to be educated on proper citation, explained by board members as part of how the board attempts to be rehabilitative.
Nelson described the board as tending to be sympathetic to the students who come before it, trying to balance having students’ best interests in mind with protecting Knox’s academic integrity.
“It’s pretty rare that somebody is clearly trying to deceive us actively. A lot of times people are just scared and we can tell when people are scared,” Nelson said. “We tend toward giving them the benefit of the doubt … in terms of how harsh we go on a penalty.”
Sapkota stated that while in plagiarism cases students will acknowledge having made sloppy errors, in unauthorized collaboration cases students are more likely to outright deny an accusation. This requires a more analytical approach, in which a students’ test results are examined to consider how probable it is that cheating from another student’s answers occured.
Sapkota acknowledged the uncomfortable scenarios that sometimes emerge from the position she holds on the Honor Board.
“… it’s also difficult when I’m just in the Gizmo studying and I see other people who were brought to the board or like I’m walking by and there are people who will glare at you … it is difficult at times,” Sapkota said.
Ortiz did not describe the process of having to make rulings about other students as uncomfortable, noting that cases ultimately come down to the evidence present, and feeling there was sufficient room to avoid a sense of conflict.
“You also have the possibility to recuse from cases if you know the students involved or if you are in a class with the professor who submitted the report É so if one of my really good friends gets an honor board report then I’m probably going to step out,” she said.
At their recent May 9 meeting, Student Senate approved a series of proposed changes to the Honor Code. Sapkota described these revisions as largely being to update wording that was too vague or outdated, reflecting norms that were already in place but not codified.
Among the updated rules are there being no requirement for ASC and Student Senate to be present during Honor Board selection process, an updated procedure on how a member would be removed from Honor Board and anonymity for students who report others’ honor code violations.
A notable update to the code added language in the confidentiality clause making it subject to FERPA.
“Saying they’re subject to FERPA is a way of spelling out for professors that they’re legally bound to keep them confidential. They already were legally bound, but some professors did not I think fully understand the ramifications of that,” he said.
Honor Board had proposed a substantial change to the appeal process that limited the amount of time an appeal can take. He described appeals that have taken months to go through. However, Nelson said the change was not approved by the administration.
“I think it’s important, even for the students themselves … if somebody doesn’t know whether or not they’re going to fail a course, how do they know what to sign up for for the next term?” Nelson said. “That appeal should happen, it should be expedient and there’s been times it hasn’t been.”
Nelson explained that the timing was seen as not ideal for major changes due to the coming exit of Dean Provost Kai Campbell, whose successor is not yet in place to give input on such changes. In his position as co-chair, Nelson intends to bring the issue back up next year.
Ortiz described Honor Board as still in brainstorming stages for how to progress next year, but she did point to better informing students about Honor Code as a goal.
“We definitely want to raise awareness about the Honor Code, because we have the feeling students only hear about it during orientation … so we are trying to find ways to raise awareness throughout the year,” she said.