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Lit Hum cheating sparks fresh scrutiny

University officials are looking into a number of academic dishonesty cases involving Lit Hum students, according to an email sent to Columbia College first-years yesterday.

Literature Humanities chair and philosophy professor Christia Mercer wrote that several Lit Hum students were recently caught cheating on midterm exams.

“One student was writing and letting another student copy,” Mercer told Spectator.

Students who have been caught cheating or plagiarizing papers, in accordance with academic policy, have failed the course. Judicial Affairs is currently processing some of these recent cases, according to Mercer.

“I don’t know if students are cheating more, I have no idea, but we are catching more cases of plagiarism,” Mercer said.

This increase has prompted additional scrutiny of the cheating and plagiarism policies in place around the Core course. Mercer and other deans, including Columbia College Dean Michele Moody-Adams, plan to meet and formulate a clearer policy for defining academic dishonesty to students.

“Lit Hum will be different next year,” Mercer said.

Some possible changes include a website to better explain plagiarism and a form being sent to professors outlining how to find plagiarizers, especially those taking advantage of technology like smartphones. Mercer said that younger Lit Hum professors are often more in tune with new technologies—meaning they’re more likely to catch students going to the bathroom and using their phones to Google passages in quote identification portions of exams.

Current anti-plagiarism policies include an Academic Honesty Form that students are required to sign at the beginning of each Lit Hum semester, which Mercer called “obviously insufficient.”
Lit Hum professor Kirsten Lodge said in an email that she currently tries to prevent academic dishonesty by discussing paper topics face-to-face.

“I have suspected plagiarism a few times over the past five years or so, but I have never proven it,” she said—adding that the problem has spread wide enough to reach even the Lit Hum instructors themselves.

“It is interesting, that I, an instructor of Lit Hum, have received a couple of emails advertising Lit Hum papers for sale!” Lodge said.

In the email sent to first-years, Mercer said students who engage in academic dishonesty “taint the intellectual environment for all of us.”

But among some students, there was an awareness that cheating is widespread and attitudes are ambivalent. Sara Lavenhar, CC ’14, explained that she thinks other students see a difference between cheating in Lit Hum and in a class for their major.

“There’s a lot of pressure, people are taking a lot of hard classes, and since Lit Hum is a required course, a lot of people probably feel that it’s something they can blow off a little bit,” she said, adding that this may be an especially common sentiment among non-humanities majors.

Lavenhar agreed that cheating shouldn’t be tolerated at Columbia.

“If you have to cheat while you’re here, you probably cheated a little bit to get here, which is unreasonable and you don’t belong at this school,” she said.

Malida Tadesse, CC ’14 said she thought students who resort to cheating are just feeling the pressure.

“There’s a pretty high standard in Lit Hum, just the fact that the course is really old, and so you feel this pressure to write a paper that’s going to reach that threshold,” Tadesse said.

One problem Mercer wants to tackle is the reluctance of faculty to talk about academic dishonesty.

“Talking about cheating really makes people uncomfortable,” Mercer said. “I think it’s easy for faculty not to be attentive because they want to trust in their students.”

Columbia College has historically been tight-lipped about its plagiarism numbers, declining to release statistics on academic dishonesty. Last semester, Barnard noted that the number of reported cases of academic dishonesty rose to 30 in the 2009-2010 academic year from 12 in 2008-2009. Eleven of the 30 reported cases last year involved first-year students.

Although Mercer’s email caught the attention of many first-year students, Jon Hoffman, CC ’14 said he’s unsure how it will effect the problem.

“People have always cheated and will continue to cheat, so I don’t know how much it’s really going to do,” Hoffman said.

Melanie Broder contributed reporting.


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Anonymous posted on

“If you have to cheat while you’re here, you probably cheated a little bit to get here, which is unreasonable and you don’t belong at this school,” she said.

Oh yeah, and this Sara girl is totally a saint.