Increase in CS 106A Honor Code cases prompts letter from Provost

March 29, 2015, 8:34 p.m.

A recent uptick in reports of academic dishonesty during winter quarter prompted an all-faculty letter from Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ’82. In the letter, Etchemendy cited a large introductory course, in which as many as 20 percent of students are suspected of violating the Honor Code.

According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the Provost’s letter referred to CS 106A: Programming Methodology.

CS 106A covers introductory computer programming and is one of the most popular courses at Stanford, with 655 students enrolled this past winter quarter. Given the size of the class, this would mean that over 120 Honor Code cases related to CS 106A assignments would have been submitted to the Office of Community Standards (OCS).

CS 106 students’ assignments are run through a program called Measure of Software Similarity (Moss). Moss detects similarities between a student’s code and other submissions from the current and previous quarters, in addition to code available online. If a student’s code has enough similarities to an existing program, Moss flags the assignment as a high-priority match to be investigated by hand. It is ultimately the instructor’s decision whether or not to pursue an OCS case.

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Lisa Lapin emphasized that the allegations are “unconfirmed and under review.”

“The Provost wanted to use the reports as a reminder about the importance of the Honor Code,” Lapin stated.

Etchemendy stressed the Honor Code’s role in coursework at Stanford.

“While OCS investigates the larger matter and students are being notified, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone of our role in helping students understand the seriousness of academic dishonesty,” he wrote in his letter to faculty.

“But with the ease of technology and widespread sharing that is now part of a collaborative culture, students need to recognize and be reminded that it is dishonest to appropriate the work of others,” Etchemendy added. “In violating academic integrity, they are cheating themselves of the very core of our mission — the process of learning and discovery — as well as risking severe consequences.”

If the students are found responsible for a breach of the Honor Code, they could face suspension. The standard sanction for first-time Honor Code violations is a one-quarter suspension, coupled with 40 hours of community service.

The computer science department has seen an increase in Honor Code cases in recent years. The news also comes amidst recent cases of cheating at other universities, including one instance at Dartmouth where 64 students were found to have cheated in an ethics class.

Contact Michael Gioia at mgioia2 ‘at’

Michael Gioia was Managing Editor of Opinions from Vol. 250-251; he also previously led the News division. He is from Plano, Texas and studied History and Modern Languages at Stanford. When Michael is not working for The Daily, he can generally be found reading or drinking coffee.

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