Moffitt accusations incite review of online courses

Six days after the wife of USF football player Ben Moffitt went to the media claiming to have written papers and completed online courses for her husband, the administration has stated that academic honesty is determined only by the student’s professor. However, in light of the incident, the school is looking into new ways to ensure the integrity of its Web-based courses.

“Academic integrity is a relationship between a student and a faculty member,” said Glen Besterfield, associate dean of undergraduate studies at USF. “Unless a faculty member comes forward and says something, then there is no issue.”

The University’s reluctance to initiate an investigation based on the allegations of an outside source is in accordance with the USF Student Handbook, which contains the following language regarding academic dishonesty: “Alleged violations of academic dishonesty or alleged disruptions of academic process will be handled initially by the instructor, who will discuss the incident with the student. It must be noted that the Faculty Senate considers the traditional relationship between student and faculty member as the primary means of settling disputes that may arise.”

While it appears that the University has no intention of investigating the accusations made against Moffitt, University spokesman Ken Gullette could not confirm nor deny that any such investigation would take place because student records – including allegations of academic dishonesty – are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Gullette, who told the Oracle last week that the University considered the situation a “domestic dispute,” maintained his stance Wednesday, saying that the high-profile status of the person involved does not change the required confidentiality of the situation.

“This has everything to do with one particular student and a domestic dispute that is taking place on the pages of the newspapers,” Gullette said. “It’s a very different situation, but anytime a student is accused of something like this there are proper ways of handling it and it has to be confidential as well.”

While the media attention surrounding the situation has caused some to question USF’s policy regarding accusations of academic dishonesty, Besterfield said that, instead of looking at policy changes, the University should focus on finding new methods of ensuring the integrity of online courses, which have increased in popularity in recent years.

“We teach an awful lot of courses online at this University and we need to look at all of those courses and see if we, as a university, are being conscious about whether we are facilitating a potential for plagiarism or a potential for cheating – are we doing everything in our power to stop that,” Besterfield said.

The problem of integrity in Web-based courses is not limited to USF. Last year, Florida State University made headlines across the country when an investigation instituted by the school found that at least 50 student-athletes had been involved in an academic misconduct scandal surrounding an online music appreciation course.

“I think that’s what every university is struggling with right now,” Besterfield said. “We’re all struggling with the same thing. We want to be able to deliver online courses for the convenience of students and students want the online courses, but now we have to make sure those courses are secure.”

To achieve this goal, the University assigned the task of coming up with ways to combat academic dishonesty in online courses to its Undergraduate Council, a group made up of 10 faculty members and three students that meets biweekly to discuss matters of importance to the school.

“It was discussed last Monday at the council meeting and they’ll be discussing it at every meeting this semester,” Besterfield said. “Maybe it means researching what other universities are doing to monitor their online courses or finding out what the best practices out there in academia are for monitoring online courses and what is feasible. There are some things we can do – we just need to look at this as a university. We really haven’t looked at that because five years ago it really wasn’t an issue – 10 years ago it wasn’t an issue. It’s just exploded on us in the last two or three years.”