Wichita State may slap new F on cheaters

A sort of academic scarlet letter – the XF grade – may soon adorn the transcripts of Wichita State University students caught plagiarizing or cheating.

The Student Government Association began pushing for the grade last year. The proposal has gained steam with additional support from the university’s Faculty Senate.

It wasn’t the sort of request that faculty expected to come from students.

“There was a sense of justice in the students,” said theater professor Joyce Cavarozzi. “They really felt that an F that might come about because of lack of attention or not doing work was very different than an F for academic dishonesty.”

Student senator Sarah McAndrew, 21, understands their surprise, but she points out that students who don’t cheat are critical of those who do.

“It does sound a little bit odd from a faculty member’s perspective that students would come forward and say, ‘Hey, if I screw up, punish me even more,’ ” she said. “But it’s something that if you don’t cheat, you don’t have to worry about. It brings more prestige to your degree and levels the playing field.”

The XF grade has been used at Kansas State University since 2000, and first emerged in the early 1990s at the University of Maryland.

Most colleges that use it also allow students to reform and get the mark removed.

At Wichita State, faculty and students are finalizing the proposal, which must be approved by the president. They may offer an ethics seminar that students could attend to remove an X from their transcript – but not from their permanent file on campus.

For students to remove the X from their grade at Kansas State, they must take a semester-long academic integrity course. The F is permanent. Each academic dishonesty case is posted online at www.ksu.edu/honor.

Since the grade was created, 46 of the 168 students who received it have opted not to take the course, said Helene Marcoux, associate director of Kansas State’s honor system.

As part of the class, students write essays on ethics and, eventually, on why they chose to cheat.

“I know there are faculty who say, ‘Why are you giving them a second chance?’ ” she said. “It’s not about policing and punishing. It’s about educating.

“They’re still growing in how they make decisions. College is a training ground for your profession.”

Faculty at Wichita State handle academic dishonesty any number of ways, from flunking students on the assignment to expelling them from the university.

Faculty Senate president Will Klunder, a history professor, said he supports the XF grade and doesn’t want students “tarred” for life.

“It’s an excellent idea because it calls attention to a real problem,” he said. “Sometimes if this happens early in the semester, the students can just drop the course and nothing shows up on the transcript. That’s why this makes sense from our perspective.”

Philosophy professor Dan Russell is more critical of the proposal. He has caught many a plagiarizing student by simply inserting essay passages in the Web search engine Google. And he argues that at Wichita State, where the average age is almost 30, students are hardly innocent kids.

“There’s an argument that a lot of these kids don’t know any better – but we’re not really talking about kids,” he said. “This course is going to be a farce. It’s going to be a course made up with the worst students on campus.

“Who’s going to be the poor instructor who’s going to teach the thing?”

However, student senator Jen Unruh, 23, said it’s clear the university’s academic dishonesty policy needs to be changed. She said her degree is devalued if students are allowed to get away with cheating without being confronted by faculty.

“This is a better option than just ruling with an iron fist,” she said. “This is an opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes instead of being punished for the rest of their lives.”