Cal State Fullerton News and Information
  CSUF Home   |   About CSUF   |   Academics   |   Administration   |   Students   |   Future Students   |   Alumni   |   Visitors
  News:   Home  |   Archive  |   Calendar & Events   |   Arts  |   Athletics  |   Photo Gallery   |
Educating Students About Doing the Right Thing
Sandra Rhoten
Sandra Rhoten, associate dean of students for judicial affairs, shares information during an August student orientation with business administration major Michael McFawn and communications major Margaret Medill.
Associate dean of students for judicial affairs teaches students the importance of intellectual property in written assignments.

November 10, 2005
By Pamela McLaren

Today’s university students face a dizzying world of information that is in print, online or on the air. But along with the wide variety of facts, figures and other data comes a responsibility to view all sources as intellectual property that must be attributed when it is used in term papers, reports and other written assignments.

It is this concept that some students don’t understand or realize that they may have violated. Nearly 71 percent of the students that Sandra Rhoten, associate dean of students for judicial affairs, sees in her office are there because of plagiarism, many because “they don’t understand the scope and duty of attribution. Students feel that they worked hard to prepare their papers, but they cut and paste items and may attribute only at the end — or only when they use verbatim quotes.”

When she joined the university six years ago, Rhoten says the role of judicial officer was very limited. She believes that many students didn’t even realize that the campus had a judicial officer responsible for articulating the university’s expected standards of student behavior, including alcohol and drug violations and academic dishonesty. Through her efforts, however, she has made her role more visible, “more of an educator. I help students to do the right thing, rather than catching them when they have done something wrong.”

Q: Do we have a high number of students plagiarizing?

Our students aren’t any worse or better than other students around the country.

Plagiarism has always been the highest percentage of academic dishonesty cases, no matter where I have been. The numbers are up but so is enrollment — as well as the tools to help catch plagiarism, like the software, which is available through the Faculty Development Center.

Q: Is it a matter of laziness or thinking that they can get away with it?

I’ve found that many students definitely don’t understand that what they are doing is cheating....not only not properly citing a source on writing a paper but things like helping other students on assignments or using a paper they wrote for one class in another course. I stress that they shouldn’t sit by friends when taking a test, to not share their work with others unless it’s a collaborative project, and not only to not do the wrong thing, but don’t help others do the wrong thing.

That’s why I am available to give presentations to classes, speak at faculty department meetings and consult with members of the academic community.

Q: How do you help students understand these concepts of intellectual property?

Some students claim that when they use the same wording and don’t attribute it to its author it’s because they couldn’t come up with their own words. But often it’s because they don’t understand what they’re reading. I tell them to slow down, review, read and then — without looking at the text — to try to paraphrase or summarize the material.

I explain that they are supposed to be demonstrating what they now know, based on the research they have done. I help them understand that people’s ideas are theirs, so they have to give credit to that person for having those ideas.

I also explain that what they do harms them because they aren’t learning as well as they might; it harms their classmates because of what their dishonesty does to the grade curve; and harms the faculty member, who can become cynical about the effort he is making in the class.

Q: How can faculty members help students?
A: They know the university through me, through their children — who are being educated here — and with the services we provide. They like the idea that the Vietnamese students have a cultural night during the spring. Initially, the students had difficulty organizing it, because their families said they had to be home — they didn’t understand and didn’t trust their children. So, I asked the students to invite their families to come, and that’s how I brought the community to the university.

Q: What goals did you set for yourself and the center?

Faculty should check to see if students understand what is required when they are given a writing assignment, such as the required citation method. And never assume that students understand their duty in attributing sources in their work. It is also helpful for faculty to limit topics, to require an outline and require submission of an intermediate draft and/or notes with the final paper.

Interested faculty members may distribute to their classes an online handout, “Student Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism: How to Write an Effective Research Paper,” that is available at under Judicial Affairs.

Q: What is a professor’s responsibility when he or she suspects a student of academic dishonesty?

Under university policy (UPS 300-021), faculty should report students to their department chair and to my office.

I would like faculty members to report cases to me even if they are simply giving the student an admonition, so the individual can see the importance Cal State Fullerton places on this issue. Besides a grade sanction assessed by the instructor, such as an “O” on the assignment or an “F” in the course, my office may place the student on disciplinary probation, suspend or expel the student from the university.

For a first-time offense students may either receive a warning letter from my office, which reiterates the position of the university on academic integrity and how the incident is recorded (on record in my office for seven years) or be called in for additional sanction. In some cases I ask students to write another paper for no credit, to show that they understand what we’ve discussed. In some cases I’ve asked for apologies to their faculty members.

A second case of dishonesty usually results in suspension or expulsion from the university. My office serves as a central repository on campus for academic dishonesty cases and I am looking for recidivism. Our recidivism rate for academic dishonesty is very low — only about 4 percent.

I am hopeful that through our outreach programs students will learn the value of scholarly writing and be able to demonstrate their own critical thinking while at the same time giving credit to those scholars who came before them.

« back to News Front

Related Story
Youth issues subject of SSRC studies
Browse Archive
By Date
By Topics
News Services
eNews Subscribe to eNews
XML Add RSS Headlines
Live Bookmarks Live Bookmarks
Go to... Top

Cal State Fullerton Produced by the Office of Public Affairs at California State University, Fullerton.
Contact the web administrator for comments and problems with the website.
California State University, Fullerton 2005. All Rights Reserved.