Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

University opts not to 'Turnitin'

As jobs and graduate school admission become increasingly competitive prospects, campuses nationwide are confronting a rising tide of cheating among undergraduates.

A study released last year by Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity revealed that 70 percent of college students admit to some form of cheating, while a widely-cited survey by Who's Who Among American High School Students determined that 80 percent of college-bound students cheat.


To tackle this issue, universities have turned to anti-plagiarism software. More than 5,000 institutions in 90 countries, for example, use software provided by the online business

"Plagiarism is the capital crime in academics," Turnitin founder John Barrie said in an interview. "There's no reason to believe that Princeton is a bastion of ethics."

But Princeton, along with Harvard, Yale and Stanford, declines to use the product.

"We are actively discussing ways of assisting faculty in detecting plagiarism, and want to do so in a way that is consistent with the University's philosophy and process regarding academic integrity," Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Hilary Herbold, a member of the Committee on Discipline, said in an email.

But Turnitin, which requires every paper to be added to a database, is not a "practice ... with which the University would be comfortable," Herbold said.

With the University's vaunted Honor Code in place, many professors and students contend that cheating is not widespread. "My overall impression is that plagiarism, and cheating more generally, is much less prevalent here than at other schools," Robert Vanderbei, chair of the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, said. "The Honor Code seems to be taken quite seriously."


An informal survey of department chairs revealed that there is not a large presence of anti-plagiarism software on campus. Some have not even heard of Turnitin and claim that the original research and problem-solving involved in their assignments presents an obstacle to a students' copying work verbatim.

At least one class, however, is using software to ensure that students' work is their own.

In an email sent to students in MOL 350 on March 26, professor Alison Gammie reminded students about the importance of upholding the Honor Code and submitting an original lab report. Students must submit electronic versions of their reports so that they can be checked against others' in the class.

The policy would serve to "reassure everyone that their hard work is not being borrowed by another person," Gammie said in the email.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

This is her first time using the software program, Gammie said in an interview, and she does not know how successful it will be.

'Honor' not enough?

Barrie argued that without using anti-cheating software, Princeton risks producing students who don't know right from wrong.

"The disturbing thing," Barrie said, "is that Princeton is producing our society's future leaders and the last thing anyone wants is a society full of Enron executives who can't think critically and produce scandals in our society."

By itself, Barrie said, honor systems are not reliable ways to avert plagiarism. In the Duke study, campuses with honor systems had slightly fewer cases of plagiarism, but the numbers remained high.

"It's a shame that schools like Princeton aren't taking the lead because they're too concerned about what they are going to find," Barrie said. "They are the top schools that would need to use it because as the prestige of the institution increases so does the amount of cheating."

Turnitin, created in 1996, allows instructors to submit papers to be scanned against other students' papers, Internet websites and academic journals. Phrases with more than eight words copied would be highlighted in red.

A question of trust

Some argue that programs like Turnitin place undue distrust on students.

Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia recently cancelled its Turnitin accounts after students protested against this very issue.

Chris Lloyd '06, chairman of the Honor Committee, said the implementation of anti-plagiarizing software at Princeton would not violate students' rights.

"We don't have an Honor Code in which professors trust students blindly," Lloyd said. "Professors trust students to proctor each other. If professors don't have oversight over what a student is doing in their room, it seems a reasonable means to see if work is a student's own."

USG president Alex Lenahan '07 agreed, saying the only problem with Turnitin is that students might not want their papers available on a computer database. Otherwise, "I don't think there's any problem with teachers checking the papers against other papers on the system," he said.

In the end, it is up to the students to be honest about their work.

"I personally wouldn't mind [anti-cheating software] because plagiarizing is illegal and none of us should do it," Blake Martin '07 said in an email. "We shouldn't have anything to hide."