After an extended trial period, the UCSB administration decided not to subscribe to a website service designed to detect plagiarism. But professors and departments remain free to use the program at their own cost. The decision was based on anticipated budget cuts throughout the University of California system.
Turnitin.com detects plagiarism by allowing teachers, professors and students to submit papers to the website, which are then checked for phrases that match either a paper previously submitted to the website or a recognized phrase from the Internet. These phrases are then color coded, indicating that a student has not cited a work properly.
Turnitin.com offers a free one-month trial of the website, but UCSB was granted an extension of approximately 60 days. UCSB Conduct Educator Brandon Brod said that although the site proved beneficial to professors, Turnitin.com is not likely to be added to the university budget in the near future and that the cost of implementing the website as a permanent tool would be an estimated $6,000.
“We may be asked to make [budget] cuts and it would be financially irresponsible to add something although we were all very happy with the site,” Brod said.
The UC budget, which the UC Regents will discuss at their Nov. 14-15 meeting, could face a 1 percent to 15 percent state cut due to less funding because of the energy crisis and California’s economic slowdown. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young said that UCSB’s Student Affairs division alone requested $1.6 million.
“You have to look at financial requests and take broader needs into account,” he said “Assuming we can’t fund everything, what do you fund?”
Young said allocating money becomes more difficult with budget cuts, especially because some funding must be diverted to security issues in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Even in the best of times, when all things on the list are legitimate, there’s no way the million dollars can cover everything,” he said. “There were important things that needed to be funded. We needed to fund more psychologists and psychiatrists to be available to students who need them. The registration system and the campus security systems needed additional funding due to the significant workload amount.”
Faculty members and departments can use Turnitin.com if they pay for it themselves, Brod said. Last year, approximately 800 students in an introductory art history course were told that the professor would be using Turnitin.com. None were caught plagiarizing.
“It’s possible that individual professors or departments may pay for the use of the website,” Brod said. “Had UCSB implemented the program it would’ve had a major deterrent impact on plagiarism.”
During the trial period, Brod said professors used the site at their own discretion.
“Some professors used [Turnitin.com] and turned in every students’ paper to the site, while others only used it minimally,” he said.
Although Turnitin.com is not being used campuswide this year, Brod said alternative websites are available for catching plagiarism via the Internet.
“Any search engine will allow you to basically do the same thing,” he said. “The professor must identify the paper as being suspicious and search for a phrase or sentence on a search site.”
Steve Clark, a teaching assistant, said political science professor Eric Smith has created his own database of 400 papers submitted from many political science classes taught at UCSB.
“In a class this size it’s much more likely to catch plagiarism and more difficult to coordinate between the students,” Clark said.