Posted by: Louis Lavelle on July 18, 2011
A tell-all blog post by a New York University professor claims that more than 20 business students at the elite private university plagiarized portions of the work they submitted for one of his classes. Criticism by students in their evaluation of the professor resulted in a financial penalty for him, he says.
Panagiotis Ipeirotis, a computer science professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, discovered the plagiarism in his fall undergraduate class using Turnitin, a service that compares student writing against a huge database of published and unpublished sources. In all, 22 of the 108 students in the class admitted using their classmates’ answers, or unattributed internet sources such as journals, on assignments, he wrote. Most of the assignments included at least 20 percent plagiarized material, and in some cases far more. All received negative grades for the plagiarized assignments. Two of the students ultimately left the class.
One student emailed Ipeirotis a creative explanation involving a vacation, his best friend’s grandmother, and a huge miscommunication to clarify why his paper was 97 percent similar to a paper submitted for the same class in 2009. After learning that the paper had been processed by Turnitin, the student turned in a new assignment. The second paper was 57 percent copied from the 2009 assignment. After a three-hour discussion with Ipeirotis, the student did not return to class.
In a spreadsheet project—a modified version of one previously used in 2006—students turned in assignments that bore the names of their classmates, or the names of past Ph.D. students who prepared the solution key in 2006. As the result of that assignment, another repeat cheater did not return to class.
Ipeirotis was stunned at the extent of the cheating.
"I was surprised by the number," he said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. "I was locating the occasional case in my prior years, but such a percentage was a big surprise."
After announcing his intention to report the cheating to the dean unless students turned themselves in, Ipeirotis said, class became contentious and awkward, and his teaching evaluations suffered. His typical evaluation in this class, 6.0 to 6.5 out of 7.0, fell to 5.3. In his blog post, Ipeirotis wrote that Associate Dean Susan Greenbaum and the department chair "'expressed their appreciation' for...chasing such cases." But his "yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my 'teaching evaluations took a hit this year,'" he wrote.
In an interview, Greenbaum told Bloomberg Businessweek that she could not comment about Ipeirotis' evaluation or pay, or what happened to the students. But she noted that Stern freshmen are given exercises in avoiding plagiarism and reminded of their responsibilities throughout their time at the school. "I want to reinforce that we care very deeply about this issue," she says. "Holding students to this standard is hard work."
Ipeirotis wrote that the experience absolutely wasn't worth it.
"I doubt that I will be checking again for cheaters.," he wrote. "I am not a policeman fighting crime. My role is to educate and teach, not to enforce honest behavior. This is a university, not a kindergarten."
Next year, he said he would place more of an emphasis on using assignments that make it more difficult to cheat: original research and in-class presentations making use of public data, for example. He said he thought these types of assignments would focus his students' competitive energy constructively.
Stern's Code of Ethical Conduct prohibits "plagiarism, misrepresentation, and falsification of data." Punishment is on a case-by-case basis, but can include a note on the students' transcript that explicitly states that they cheated, which some employers and graduate schools treat as an automatic disqualification. But harsh punishment can be a mixed blessing. Ipeirotis said a fear of such sanctions means some professors might not fully enforce the policy.
Unless business schools change the structure of assignments or evaluations, Ipeirotis' experience won't be the last one.
"I think students respond to incentives," he said. "They feel if they can cheat and get away with it, and probability of getting caught is low, they'll do it."
--Kiah Lau Haslett