During week five of this quarter, Clare Yu, a professor of physics, failed over 25 students from her Physics 3LC class, claiming to have evidence of them plagiarizing their lab reports using model lab manuals provided by the on-campus tutoring organization, Academia. Now a month after the incident, students are still seeking help to have the decision reversed.
Academia is a new on-campus student club that started this spring. It is a non-profit student organization that provides tutoring services to the students.
According to its Web site, ‘Academia at UCI is an organization dedicated to furthering student’s understanding of the curriculum in which they are studying beyond what they can possibly cover during lecture.’ Members of the organization pay to attend workshops specifically targeted towards the courses that they need help in.
Many students from the Physics 3LC class signed up for the Academia workshops because they were having difficulties in their class. Students believed that the large size of each discussion section prevented each TA from providing them with enough help. The Learning and Academic Resource Center did not offer tutorials for Physics 3LC. Hence, some students believed that getting help from Academia was their best option. Since Academia was a UCI-sanctioned organization, the students searched out the materials and found them helpful.
In the workshop, Leonard Lang, an Academia tutor and UCI graduate, provided model lab manuals which targeted each week’s lab work specifically. ‘During the lab session, I would give an explanation of what the students would or should be expected to do during that given week’s lab write-up,’ Lang said.
One of Yu’s students informed her that others in the class were relying on the Academia model lab manuals to complete their lab reports. She investigated the issue by obtaining a copy of an Academia model manual and comparing it to that week’s student lab reports. She found students had copied exact words and phrases from the model manual. She felt that it violated the university’s policy of academic dishonesty.
As a result, she failed those students from her class. ‘I have such a strong policy because I think that knowing the importance of honesty, integrity, doing your own work and obeying rules is extremely important,’ Yu said. ‘I think that these principles are more important and more valuable than the physics taught in the course.’
Students accused of plagiarizing felt that course policies in Yu’s syllabus were unclear and that they deserved a second chance.
Yu’s syllabus states that students are not allowed to use old lab reports from previous quarters to complete their own lab work. Students did not consider the model lab manuals from Academia to be old lab reports and they simply felt that the manuals were guidelines from an on-campus tutoring service.
According to a student who wishes to remain anonymous, ‘The syllabus only said do not use old lab reports. We didn’t think that what Academia gave us were old lab reports. Even the professor herself couldn’t tell us whether they were considered old lab reports or not when she first saw them.’
The accused students were given a chance to discuss their situation with Yu and Robert Doedens, associate dean of physical sciences. Although the decision was reversed for some students, the majority will still receive a failing grade.
For those whose decisions were not reversed, Doedens recommended that they retake the course. ‘If they have any trouble getting into the classes, I am willing to do my best to help,’ Doedens said.
Some students are trying to appeal with the help of ASUCI. ‘There is no official mechanism in the school for students to appeal. The professor’s decision is the final decision,’ Doedens added.