College Report: First-years learn academic honesty
The University of Chicago Press usually takes
at least a year to publish a book. But when political-science professor
Charles Lipson approached editor Linda Halvorson last winter about
a tome on the do’s and don’ts of plagiarism, the Press
decided on a six-month publishing process, in time to distribute
to this fall’s incoming students during Orientation Week.
Lipson’s book, Doing Honest Work in
College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve
Real Academic Success, aims to be the first comprehensive guide
on how not to cheat—on purpose or inadvertently—on papers,
exams, study groups, and labs. He offers advice on taking notes,
paraphrasing, and, especially, using Web sources.
“The Internet has changed everything,”
Lipson says. While books—physical items bound between two
covers—are “obviously someone’s work,” he
says, “when you see something on screen it seems yours for
the taking.” The Internet also has made cheating easier. In
the past, “you had to go to considerable trouble to turn in
a paper not your own. You had to make an effort,” he says.
“Now you’re two clicks and a credit-card number away,
or you can find an article published online and copy a few sentences.”
For the book Lipson did some of his own Web research.
He thought up a faux paper comparing Holden Caulfield with Hamlet.
“I was pretty proud of my invented comparison.” But
when he typed “Caulfield” and “Hamlet” into
Google, he says, “up came all these offers to sell me a paper
on the topic.” He noted the irony of Holden, who hated “phonies”
above all else, being the subject of stolen ideas.
Other colleges have published handbooks on citing
sources; for four or five years the University has given undergraduates
the Dartmouth-published Sources: Their Use and Acknowledgement.
That 38-page booklet, says College Dean John Boyer, AM’69,
PhD’75, is “very useful but very basic.” Lipson’s
208-pager, meanwhile, expands the field, covering both citing sources
and academic honesty.
In the book’s first half he outlines three
core principles for integrity: (1) “When you say you did the
work yourself, you actually did it.” (2) “When you rely
on someone else’s work, you cite it. When you use their words,
you quote them openly and accurately, and you cite them, too.”
(3) “When you present research materials, you present them
fairly and truthfully. That’s true whether the research involves
data, documents, or the writings of other scholars.”
In the guide’s second half he goes through
specific citations for all types of sources in all manner of styles.
The Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association,
for example, would cite Seinfeld’s “The Soup
Nazi” episode differently. Lipson also details legal, psychological,
biological, chemical, physical, mathematical, and computer citations.
While writing Doing Honest Work he conferred
with professors in other divisions, seeking best practices for science
lab work and group math problems, for instance. “What surprised
me was how often I heard the same thing from an advanced-math teacher
and a first-year Latin teacher,” he says. “Mistakes
are important for diagnosing where a problem is.” That dreaded
direction “show your work,” he notes, really helps teachers
see where students need assistance.
“Problem sets can be really annoying, and
you see copying all the time,” notes third-year John Paul
Jewell. “It’s too easy to borrow a neighbor’s
homework. ... Having that kind of information in a book will at
least improve understanding.”
As far as Lipson and the Press know, there’s
no similar reference as comprehensive as his. “That’s
what made me want to do this,” he says, rather than a sense
that students were plagiarizing like mad. In class (he specializes
in international politics) he sees the occasional cheater: “a
student rushing, trying to cut a corner, will plagiarize.”
But more often, he says, students ask him how to cite sources—“anxious
students who want to do things right but aren’t sure how.”
Boyer has no reason to believe plagiarism has
increased since he became dean in 1992, but, he admits, “sadly
there are some cases every year, whether they involve ignorance
or willfulness.” Lipson’s book, he notes, “sets
a public standard” for academic integrity. The parts about
how to take notes and how to study for exams, he adds, “were
Doing Honest Work should be in stores
nationwide by October 15, but the Press sent the College 1,300 copies
in time for the September 18–26 Orientation Week. “We
felt it was so important and so timely,” says Ellen Gibson,
U of C Press marketing manager. Boyer agrees: “We feel it’s
a sufficiently important issue that we wanted students to have it
from Day 1.”
The book’s audience isn’t limited
to undergraduates. “I’m subject to these rules myself,”
says Lipson, who’s also preparing a guide on how to write
a BA thesis. “These are rules that apply to everyone, from
President Randel and Provost Saller to a first-year student.”
Lipson and the Press hope other schools
will find the book useful too. In January Gibson plans a marketing
push beyond the University, to get other schools to adopt Doing
Honest Work in their classrooms.—A.M.B.