Next fall, Bates students will return to campus to a familiar world—same old friends, professors, and activities. But one thing will be brand new—Bates’ academic misconduct policy. The new policy, adopted on March 4 but set to take effect over the summer, fixes a host of technical, pedagogical, and philosophical problems with the current policy. On the technical side, a major flaw in the current policy is that the citation guide included in the plagiarism section is technically part of the actual plagiarism legislation, which was originally drafted—and has gone unchanged—since 1987. In fact, According to Assistant Dean of Students Carl Steidel, the current student conduct and safety booklet students receive containing information about plagiarism and a guide for citations is the verbatim piece of legislation drafted and passed over twenty-five years ago. But as coordinator of the Peer Writing Project Joanne Cole noted, “you can’t have [citation guides] locked down in a document,” because citation criteria change so often. She added that it is much wiser to “put the policy in one place and leave the details of appropriate citation in another” so that the Bates citation guide can change with the major style guides without having to amend the plagiarism policy itself each time.
Faculty and staff also wanted to change the current plagiarism policy’s “guilty until proven innocent” presumption. Whereas the current policy views the “absence of any obvious attempt on the student’s part to acknowledge the original source…as prima facie evidence of such an intent to deceive,” the new policy will not immediately presume guilt, according to professor of Anthropology and a member of the Academic Integrity Working Group, Elizabeth Eames. Instead, it will more carefully consider the context of the incident, examining the actual alleged piece of plagiarism for evidence of intent. The new policy will also take into account a student’s age and experience. As Dean Steidel noted, consequences for “a first-year student…may be very different from a senior who’s had time to learn what the expectations are here. The outcomes might be different because of the context involved.” As Joanne Cole sees it, this approach is an important part of making this policy an educative rather than strictly punitive policy. Bates “is an educational community,” she emphasized, that wants “to take into account that not everything has been learned yet.”
But Cole, Steidel, and Eames all stressed that the point of the new policy is not to teach students how not to plagiarize, but rather to teach students why proper citation and academic honesty—not cheating, plagiarizing, or doing anything to gain an “unearned” academic advantage—is integral to a vibrant scholarly community. As Cole noted, the Educational Policy Committee wanted the new policy to “articulate our values as a community of scholars [and] to positively express why academic integrity matters…in terms of learning, being responsible, acknowledging [intellectual] debts, and adding to the conversation of scholarship.”
That positive change, Dean Steidel pointed out, is evident in a comparison between the preambles of the current and new academic integrity policies. The old preamble sternly warns students that “academic dishonesty, in whatever form, diminishes the integrity of education at the College. Such conduct is a serious offense, subject to stern disciplinary action.” By contrast, the new policy’s preamble stresses the importance of academic integrity in a community of scholars. The new preamble reads: “Bates College is an academic community deeply engaged in inquiry and intellectual exchange and committed to core principles of academic freedom, academic integrity, and rigorous, creative thought. We recognize that intellectual and artistic exchange depend on a mutual respect for independent inquiry, reflection, and expression. Faculty, staff, and students alike are therefore dedicated to fostering an environment that upholds the highest standards of fairness, integrity, and respect in all their academic endeavors.”
Moving forward, Cole says she and the writing center will “continue to facilitate outreach to everyone” on campus about the importance of academic integrity. Already, according to Professor Eames, the Writing Center has worked through FYSs to educate first years about this subject. Bates students, faculty, and staff can expect outreach of this sort in the year to come. “This [new policy] is a start rather than a finish in a much longer conversation about the importance of academic integrity at large and here in the Bates community,” according to Cole.