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The Daily Tar Heel

Honor system activity varies widely by academic department, report finds


A new report has found sizable disparities between the number of cases reported to the honor system by UNC’s academic departments.

Since the University launched an effort to reform the honor system in the fall, the issue of faculty disapproval of the system has loomed large.

At an October meeting of the Faculty Council, several professors cited departments’ chronic disengagement with the honor system.

The report, which was compiled by the student attorney general’s staff, broke down the 53 cases of academic misconduct reported between April 4 and November 21 by department.

According to the data, the biology department reported up to eight cases, while many others reported zero.

University policy mandates that all cases of academic misconduct be reported to the honor system. Academic misconduct is defined as either plagiarism or cheating on assignments, including exams.

“With some departments, you have to question what their departmental philosophy is in regard to the honor system,” said Jon McCay, the undergraduate student attorney general.

But lack of reporting isn’t the only cause of the differences, faculty members said.

History professor Jay Smith said the level of reporting lies within the culture of each department.

“You have to look very carefully at each department to get a sense of why they practice a certain way,” he said.

“With history, the Honor Code is an issue that is almost never discussed in department meetings.”

Chemistry assistant professor Todd Austell said his department’s numbers should be low because science courses don’t typically require papers, ruling out most forms of plagiarism.

But biology lecturer Gidi Shemer said the number remains large because biology is one of the largest departments at the University.

Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said it is difficult to pinpoint problematic departments based on the report.

“We get into a bit of a danger zone when we try to paint a department with a broad brush,” Sauls said.

“It would be low to say that because a particular academic department is not on this list, they don’t engage with the honor system.”

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