Dalhousie's chief information officer sent a memo to faculty Wednesday saying the school cancelled its contract with the anti-plagiarism software program many professors use. (CBC)

It could now be more difficult for professors to detect cheating at Dalhousie University since the school has just cancelled its contract with an online plagiarism detector.

Dalhousie cancelled its subscription to turnitin.com just one week before classes start, and now staff are scrambling to make last minute changes.

"People might find a way to get through the loopholes, where as before something say off a very obscure wikipedia article could have been caught," said undergrad Allyson Kenny.

Turnitin.com scans electronic versions of student papers for material lifted from websites and other academic essays.

The university has advised faculty to assume that "no anti-plagiarism software will be in place this academic year."

Penalties for plagiarism can range from a warning to failing a course.

"It's kind of hard, because you almost don't want to believe your students are going to cheat, but the truth is, they do it," said James Boxall, director of Map and Geospatial Information at the Killam Library.

"Sadly, turnitin.com has been utilized more over the years because we find more and more students, especially undergraduates that are writing papers, have been doing it."

Boxall said it will be harder to catch cheating students.

"It's a real contradiction to say, 'use the software, rely on it in class,' and then suddenly abandon it," said Bob Huish, who teaches an introductory course in International Development.

He used Turnitin.com to identify 12 possible cases of plagiarism in two years.

"In a class size of 250 right now I'm puzzled as to how we can ensure academic integrity in a class of that size," said Huish.

The university defended the decision.

"We lost confidence in the partnership we had with the company that was providing this anti-plagiarism software," said Dwight Fischer, the university's chief information officer.

A memo to faculty from Fischer explained that the school's contract with the website said student papers were supposed to be stored on Canadian servers, instead they were stored in the U.S. So Dalhousie decided to cancel the contract.

"I don't think it's about catching people cheating or plagiarizing, I think it's about teaching them what really is honesty, what is original thought — what it is that makes a university special," said Boxall.

Huish said it's a poor decision that's a threat to academic integrity.

"It could be a joke, unless there's a plan to come up quick and fast to say that we have a way of taking this seriously," said Huish.

Dalhousie is looking for alternatives, but the school hasn't come up with one yet.

Representatives for the school are being careful about what they say because there are legal issues around the contract.