Print Edition: January 23, 2013
Incidences of plagiarism in Canadian universities are on the rise.
According to a CTV news survey, 55 per cent of both instructors and librarians say that first-year students are “less prepared” for university then only three years ago. It’s easy to speculate why this is; perhaps it’s the unlimited access to online material, the inability of high schools to prepare coddled students for university or the apathy of many students who would not be going back to school if not for their parents.
Whatever the cause, it’s a matter that has come to the attention of UFV policy makers. UFV has responded to the influx of unprepared and oblivious students with a new “academic misconduct” policy. However, the policy—an unwieldy and obtuse thing—is not as student-friendly as one would hope.
With UFV’s old plagiarism policy (policy 310.1), if an instructor had evidence of a student plagiarising, the process was simple. The instructor could speak with the student, assign a zero if necessary and file a report in the Student Conduct Registry. If another incident were to occur, the student would be forced to withdraw, and another report filed. A repeat offence could result in “suspension” from UFV. This method relied not on a specific series of steps outlined in a policy, but on the instructor’s own judgment.
This method of addressing plagiarism has been replaced by Policy 70, a much more diluted and removed series of actions. Simply put, the misconduct must be reported to the “relevant head of the school,” who will from then on be “responsible for the pursuance”
of an investigation-appropriate penalty. The student will be notified, but the instructor will not be in control of the proceedings; the student must deal directly with the head of department. The investigation may include any form of “reasonable legal method,” including “circulation to other instructors in related courses,” interviewing the student and requesting that the student hand in “proof of composition” to investigators.
Picture your first-year self—that unmindful, unaware person you were when you first started here—being investigated via policy 70. Do you know what you did wrong? Is the instructor able to simply point out your wrongdoing and have you carry on, lesson learned? Or are you stuck in limbo, waiting for this great procession of an investigation to be carried out and verdict to be read?
This policy appears to contradict everything that makes UFV a great school; small class sizes allow for a cultivation of the student instructor relationship, making the classroom experience all the more personal and the learning experience that much more rewarding. So now, what could have been a simple learning experience for a naive student is taken out of the hands of the instructor and placed in the lap of a department head who, most likely, couldn’t care less. The purpose of the new policy is unclear; perhaps it protects the instructor from accusations from upset students or their parents. Maybe we’ll never know.
Policy 70 demonstrates UFV’s willingness to edge towards the cold bureaucracy of much larger institutions.