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Student misconduct cases show steady increase

STANFORD -- Fifty-three students were disciplined last year for violating the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard, an increase of14 over 1993-94, according to figures released Tuesday, Feb. 6, by Judicial Affairs Officer Sally Cole.

Sixty cases were heard in 1994-95; 53 led to disciplinary action ranging from delays in degree conferral to suspensions, mandatory community service and financial penalties. Charges were dropped in four cases, and action is still pending on three cases.

The 53 violations that led to penalties in 1994-95 are more than double the 1990-91 figures, when 22 violations led to penalties. The number of violations that led to penalties was 25 in 1991-92; 32 in 1992-93; and 39 in 1993-94.

Mary Edmonds, vice provost and dean of student affairs, said the increase should not be cause for alarm. Out of a total student population of about 14,000, Edmonds said, the percentage of students who commit offenses continues to be "very low."

The 1994-95 figures more than double the number of violations that led to penalties reported in 1990-91. In that year, 22 violations were reported. Since then, the number has increased steadily, with 25 cases in 1991-92; 32 in 1992-93; 39 in 1993-94; and 53 last year.

Cole was hesitant to draw any conclusions about the increase, saying it could mean "a change in people's willingness to report problems or some other factor of which we are unaware."

A sharp increase in student misconduct statistics may occur if there is a group event in which numerous students are charged with misconduct, she said, but that explanation doesn't apply to last year's jump or to the steady increase that has occurred over the past five years.

"Usually, group misconduct falls under the Fundamental Standard, where we haven't seen significant changes over the years," Cole said.

Under the Honor Code, which dates from 1921, students collectively accept responsibility for their academic honesty, and faculty do not take extraordinary measures to detect student dishonesty. Violations of the Honor Code include submitting the work of another student, alterations to graded work, plagiarism or giving and receiving unpermitted aid.

The Fundamental Standard is a two-sentence code of conduct stated by the university's first president, David Starr Jordan, in 1896. Students are expected to show "respect for order, morality, personal honor, and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens." Violations that fall under the Fundamental Standard include altering transcripts, forgery, theft, unauthorized entry into locked university buildings, telephone authorization code abuse and electronic mail misconduct.

The 1994-95 cases that led to penalties included 43 involving violations of the Honor Code and 10 involving violations of the Fundamental Standard. According to recent statistics, Honor Code violations have increased, while Fundamental Standard violations have remained constant, averaging about 10 per year.

Increase in Honor Code violations

Edmonds said several factors may contribute to the upswing in Honor Code violations. Many students unwittingly violate the code because they are unable to distinguish the boundary between permitted and unpermitted collaboration or consultation, Edmonds said.

New computer technologies also have blurred the lines of acceptable student behavior. "We are seeing new types of computer fraud and computer cheating and we don't really have a handle on that yet. . . . Because of the fast-changing nature of these technologies, we need to constantly update students on what is expected," Edmonds said. Because "acceptable behavior" varies from course to course and across disciplines, Edmonds encourages faculty to outline what types of collaboration are permitted.

Stress also may increase the temptation for students. "We know that students are much more stressed about grades," Edmonds said. "They are anxious about whether they are going to get a job and so this brings more pressure to get the best possible grades."

She noted that alcohol is a common denominator in many of the cases involving the Fundamental Standard. In her recent State of Student Affairs address, Edmonds announced her intention to form a new task force charged with studying "campus culture around alcohol." The group's findings are expected to address this underlying issue, she said.

More student input needed

In recent months, Edmonds and President Gerhard Casper have highlighted the need to undertake a review of the legislative and judicial charter. At the Faculty Senate meeting Jan. 25, Casper said he believes that students deserve a process that is less bureaucratic and one in which fellow students are involved regularly in adjudication.

Cole said such a process would increase student awareness about the Honor Code and Fundamental Standard and serve as a deterrent to misconduct.

"The feeling is widespread that student behavior issues and codes of conduct will have a lot higher visibility if the process of handling problems involves students and faculty in addition to administrators," Cole said.

Under the current charter, which was initially created in 1968, responsibility for the disciplinary process is spread across three groups: the Student Conduct Legislative Council; the Stanford Judicial Council; and the Committee of 15, a body authorized to amend the charter.

If a student is alleged to have committed a violation of the Fundamental Standard or the Honor Code, he or she meets with a judicial affairs officer who will describe the judicial process. If there are contested issues of fact, they are resolved at a hearing before a hearing officer, an attorney not associated with the university. The Stanford Judicial Council, made up of four students and four faculty, determines whether the facts, as found by the hearing officer, constitute a violation of university regulations and, if so, recommends to the provost or vice provost and dean of students affairs an appropriate penalty.

While this process includes a significant amount of student and faculty input, the charter also lists an alternative judicial procedure for students who choose not to contest the charges.

In the alternative route - selected by more than 90 percent of students charged with misconduct violations - a student may opt to have his or her case heard entirely by the dean of students.

"The great majority of students just go to the dean because it's easier than getting everybody together to deal with the issue," Edmonds said. "We want to make the process
user-friendly and we want to speed it up."

Various charges

The 1994-95 Honor Code offenses involved 34 undergraduates and nine graduate students; they comprised 28 men and 15 women. The most frequent charges involved submitting the work of another student, unpermitted collaboration, and giving or receiving unpermitted aid. Other common charges included alterations to graded work and plagiarism. One student was penalized for copying during an examination. The most common penalties included mandatory community work, a $100 financial penalty, a grade of no credit, a one-quarter suspension and a two-quarter delay in degree conferral.

Nine of the Honor Code cases arose in computer science courses. The chemistry