The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - Cheaters at Ohio State University last year received the harshest penalties in a decade, and athletes were only slightly less likely to be punished, according to a newspaper analysis.
The university has faced questions about academic misconduct after a New York Times story last month reported that star running back Maurice Clarett received assistance from a professor who allowed him to take two oral exams to pass a class. The story also alleged that tutors do homework and write papers for other athletes.
Ohio State has formed a panel to investigate allegations of academic misconduct among players and whether they have received preferential treatment in classes.
A Columbus Dispatch review of records kept by OSU's Committee on Academic Misconduct shows that athletes are slightly more likely to be accused of cheating, slightly less likely to be found in violation and receive the same types of punishment as the entire student body.
Records show that athletes make up about 2 percent of OSU's 54,000 students but accounted for about 5 percent of the academic-misconduct cases considered during the past four academic years. The committee found violations in about 83 percent of all cases and about 76 percent of athletes' cases those years.
Like the rest of the students caught cheating for the first time, the majority of athletes found in violation were put on probation and given zeros on their assignments - until last year. That's when the Committee on Academic Misconduct began operating under a directive to get tougher on cheaters.
In the 2002-03 academic year, the number of students punished with probation and a failing grade in a course increased by more than 800 percent. That punishment was given to 112 students last year, compared with 37 in the previous three years combined.
The most severe penalties for cheating - suspension or dismissal - remain the least common.
Only five students were dismissed from OSU for cheating in the past four academic years.
Suspensions of varying lengths were imposed in 3 percent of the cases - 34 times - during the four years.
The recent crackdown comes after faculty members complained that sanctions for academic misconduct were too lenient.
"We've had faculty say that if a student can buy a term paper off the Internet, pass it off as their own work and risk only getting a zero on that paper, that's not an adequate penalty and it's not a disincentive," said Martha Garland, vice provost and dean for undergraduate studies at OSU.
But with reports of cheating at a 10-year high, some say more needs to be done.
Marilyn Blackwell, a professor of Scandinavian languages, said the system isn't widely used by faculty members. "Many faculty simply ignore the academic-misconduct process because they know students get a slap on the wrist," said Blackwell, who serves on the University Senate. "We need a complete overhaul of the entire system, so these sanctions lie in the hands of faculty, not administrators."
The committee acknowledges that many cases go undetected or unreported. "Cases forwarded to the Committee on Academic Misconduct most likely reflect only a fraction of the actual incidences of academic misconduct," says the committee's 2001-02 annual report.
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