Dr. Yolanda Garza retires from UW-Madison
Dr. Yolanda Garza spent the last 26 years
working in the UW-Madison dean of students
office working on student disciplinary issues.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
As we talk in the Memorial Union, Dr. Yolanda Garza speaks softly as we recount her 26 years of
working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In many a public forum, she would often times sit
quietly and observe. Yet, she is one tough academic for she has been the “academic cop” in the
dean of students office, responsible for working with committees to enforce the rules, standards
and guidelines for student behavior on a campus of 40,000 plus students. She has had her hands
“Non-academic conduct cases and academic conduct cases were under my purview,” Garza
said. “I was also advisor to the Multicultural Council, which was the only student of color council
that reviewed funding to have cultural events on campus. I also was the liaison for Eagle Heights.
So whenever there were difficult cases, I would be the liaison for the dean’s office. I did student
organizations, making sure that they were in compliance with all of our university policies.”
As a world-class institution, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has students who come from a
spectrum of cultures that have different values and ways of viewing the world. And the rapid
change in technology has led to evolving interpretations of what is academically right and wrong.
“The student body has changed from when I first started,” Garza said. “Many of the students now were raised on computers. Most of these students
don’t realize that you can’t just go on the Internet and cut and paste and say it is your work. You can’t assume they know that. They see it as a
There are also different customs that might come in conflict with academic standards.
“We took a look at our international students,” Garza said. “A lot of training went into getting the word out to them that there might be some cultural
differences, especially from the Asian countries where folks don’t quote whom they consider to be the wise people. It was considered to be
disrespectful to do that. So quotation marks aren’t typically used in their writings when they are talking about an elder or what we would consider
to be an expert. But here, it is expected. So if you don’t put those quotation marks in there, it could get you in trouble.”
And while there may be cultural and technological trends that bump up against the academic standards, there are always the cases of old-
“Cheating is unfortunate, but it is happening, even at the elementary school level,” Garza said. “A lot of the students that come here have shared
with us that they had no idea that something was considered cheating. When we think of cheating, we think about someone cheating on an exam.
But it is the writing, the cutting and pasting, not giving credit to other people’s work that often gets students in trouble. And sadly, what we are
finding out in higher education is that the applications where they ask for an essay, sometimes those essays aren’t written by the person who is
applying to the university. Parents will write their children’s essays. We know that for law school and medical school, some of these essays are
not written by the people who are applying. We have a problem on our hands.”
The first line of defense against cheating is the faculty. And just as the rapid technological change has benefited students and exposes them to
volumes of material that they might “borrow” for their papers without quoting the source, technology also weighs in to help faculty keep their
“There is Turnitin.com,” Garza said. “You go into it and it brings up, if a student submits a paper, it would come up if it is plagiarized. It isn’t difficult
nor is it time consuming to figure it out.”
There are many reasons why a student might cheat. One of the main factors that is fueling the urge to cheat is the high level of competition to get
into graduate school or secure that top first job.
“A lot of individuals think that it is the student who is failing who is doing this,” Garza said. “Actually, it is many students who are doing A and B
work and many of them are seniors. It’s because they want to keep the A and B. If they want to go to grad school, guess what, they need a strong
GPA. It’s not only students who are struggling to pass. I think another reason is that they are under a lot of pressure. Many students will say, ‘I was
down to the wire and I didn’t realize this was going to be a problem.’ There is a lot of pressure for students and I think it becomes so competitive. I’
m not saying competition isn’t good. It is good. But we are trying to encourage the students to ask the faculty to let them know they are having
trouble instead of trying to just get by and cut corners.”
As an academic institution, the university cannot assume that its students come to it inculcated with its academic values. The university — through
its faculty — must make sure that its students know and understand what is acceptable and unacceptable.
“The faculty needs to educate their students about their expectations that they have of them and what is considered misconduct and what isn’t,”
Garza emphasized. “I spent this past year working on academic integrity issues. We’ve always had academic misconduct, but our office was so
busy that we didn’t have enough resources to devote to prevention work. It was a very, very good experience to work closely with faculty and
serve as a consultant with them on what they could do in the classroom, holding their students accountable and letting them know what the
expectations are. I can encourage faculty members to have a classroom honor code. So faculty is doing that. They are expressing their
expectations to the students from day one. It will be on their website if they have one. It’s on their syllabus. It sets what their expectations are and
what a violation would be. And they have the student sign it.”
Next Issue: Dealing with sexual assaults