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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Cheating in Chemistry Leads to Academic Judiciary

    An old adage reads: cheaters never win. But in schools across the nation, students are putting that proverb to the test, and maybe even getting away with it.

    According to statistics provided by Stony Brook’s Academic Judiciary Council, the chemistry and biology departments have seen the most academic dishonesty accusations, at 15 and 34 respectively. As a whole, the university saw 286 academic dishonesty accusations between fall 2009 and fall 2010.

    The Academic Judiciary Council, or AJC, was established to enforce policies and punishments for all forms of academic dishonesty ranging from cheating on exams, plagiarizing information, and fabricating excuses for missing assignments or tests.

    “It’s not that difficult to get away with,” said Frank Fanizza, an undergraduate chemistry teaching assistant. “I say don’t put 600 kids in a classroom, but that’s probably not possible on this campus with the amount of classrooms.”

    Academia throughout the SUNY system is looking to trim the fiscal fat as mandated budget cuts put pressure on universities to spend less and less. At Stony Brook University, cuts have resulted in fewer class sections and in some instances, large class sizes. It is common practice for the university’s introductory science lectures, such as chemistry or biology, to seat 500 or more students.

    Credit: Stony Brook University Academic Judiciary

    For the spring 2010 semester, the AJC reported receiving only 15 accusations of academic dishonesty from the chemistry department. Several students, including sophomore Chaucey Hoffman, say that the number is incorrect.

    According to Hoffman, chemistry professor David Hanson set up a test for students to weed out academic dishonesty by assigning nearly identical versions of a quiz for his morning and afternoon class sections. The afternoon quiz contained the same questions as the morning quiz, but corresponding answers were scrambled.

    “It was a fiasco,” said Hoffman, who was enrolled in the notorious afternoon section of Chemistry 132, an introductory course comprised mostly of freshman students. “Everyone who picked the same letter as the correct answer for the morning class was reported to the academic judiciary.”

    Luckily for Hoffman, she did not choose the booby-trapped answer.

    “A lot of people just guessed,” said Ida Li, another chemistry teaching assistant. “I think the professor overreacted.”

    Academic Judiciary Coordinator Diane West and Academic Integrity Officer Wanda Moore were sought for comments on the issue, but did not respond to any inquiries.

    The AJC website reads that any member of the academic community may bring forward an accusation of academic dishonesty and must do so in writing within a two-week time period of the alleged offense. The accused student will then receive an email giving him or her a chance to appeal the accusation in front of a panel of university employees.

    In most cases, students found guilty receive “Q” grade for the course, which is equivalent to an “F.” In some situations, the student will not fail the course, but must complete a 10-week, non-credit academic integrity course. Multiple guilty offenses result in university suspension or permanent expulsion from the university.

    With such grievous consequences involved with classroom dishonesty, it’s hard to imagine why a student would ever want to cheat.

    “I think people are more desperate during their freshman year,” said Li. “As a pre-med student, you have to do really well. You’re forced to take classes like psychology, biology and chemistry all at the same time and it can be really cutthroat.”

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