UC Berkeley fall 2020 semester sees 400% increase in cheating allegations

Photo of someone cheating on bCourses
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According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Adam Ratliff, an increase in misconduct is evident in higher education across the country, and UC Berkeley is no exception.

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With testing being conducted online and Google just a tab away, UC Berkeley’s Center for Student Conduct, or CSC, has received more than 300 reports of alleged academic misconduct during the fall semester, amounting to an increase from this time last year of more than 400%.

Academic misconduct, as outlined in the Code of Student Conduct, includes cheating, fabrication, plagiarism or facilitating academic dishonesty. According to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, an increase in misconduct is evident in higher education across the country, and UC Berkeley is no exception.

Typically, if an allegation of misconduct arises, professors can address the issue directly with the student using a disciplinary agreement, according to Ratliff. If either party chooses not to or it is a student’s second offense, then the case is referred to CSC.

For a first time offense, the consequences are relatively mild,” said Sabeeha Merchant, campus professor of plant and microbial biology, in an email.  “The student receives a warning and is asked to reaffirm academic conduct (in addition to the sanction proposed by the professor).”

Ratliff added that CSC has not adapted its Code of Student Conduct for the remote semester, as it evaluates allegations on a case-by-case basis. Professors such as Merchant, however, have updated their misconduct policies.

For Molecular and Cell Biology 102, Merchant said any form of misconduct typically results in an automatic F. With the semester being entirely remote, Merchant adjusted this policy so students receive a zero for the assignment on which they cheated and a one letter grade reduction, as the “students are young” and the “temptation is great.”

“I don’t think students should be able to walk away from the misconduct, but it need not be an F in the class,” Merchant said in the email. “I can imagine that the financial picture has changed for many students and perhaps this should be taken into account this year in terms of consequences that involve suspension.”

Merchant added that she recognizes there is no way to prevent students from cheating without in-person proctored exams.

After Merchant saw an abnormal grading distribution for the first three closed-book quizzes in the class, she was informed that students were collaborating and had access to test banks. Disappointed, Merchant made the class’s midterm exam more difficult to reduce the benefit of collaboration.

Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, chair of UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate, recommended that faculty members use online programs to catch cases of misconduct, register on sites to observe collaboration during exams and use frequent, lower-stakes assessments. Such assessments have been shown to reduce the payoff of cheating while the likelihood of getting caught remains the same, according to Johnson-Hanks.

“Education is not just about learning technical things and facts. Education includes personal and social development,” Merchant said in the email. “If students rely on dishonesty, they are missing out on what the faculty at Cal have to offer them.”

Veronica Roseborough is a student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.