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Academic Integrity and You

Throughout the college application process, students and their families will be inundated with acronyms and college vernacular. At times, it may seem that everyone is speaking a new language, and in many ways, they are. While we often miss the intended meaning of new words and phrases, there are some meanings that are too important to miss. One of the important phrases you will hear repeated again and again is academic integrity. These benign sounding words carry significant weight as to whether your child will walk away from their college or university with a diploma or a permanently marred transcript.

What is academic integrity?
While there is no single definition of academic integrity across all colleges and universities, general themes of honesty and responsibility are referenced by most institutions. For example, the University of Oklahoma defines academic integrity as, “honesty and responsibility in scholarship” while UC Davis states, “Academic integrity exists when students and faculty seek knowledge honestly, fairly, with mutual respect and trust, and accept responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions.”

What constitutes a violation of academic integrity?
In general, a violation of academic integrity means that a student has misrepresented his or her work in some manner. This can refer to clear examples of cheating, such as copying the test answers of another student, however, it can also be present in less blatant forms such as plagiarism or the improper documentation of source material. Each semester, schools will report violations include citing a source that does not exist, making up data points on a laboratory exercise, signing in for another student via attendance sheet in a course in which attendance counts toward the grade, or asking someone else to take an exam for the student. The most common types of violations can be classified into the following categories:

Assignment Misconduct: Violations in this category include submitting homework that’s too similar to another student’s, using unauthorized sources (such as Wikipedia or CliffNotes), or copying another student’s assignment, paper, or lab report.

Exam Misconduct: Includes copying from another student during an exam or using unauthorized aids during exams, such as notes, handouts, or books.

Falsification/Fabrication: Examples include altering a graded exam for regrade, or submitting a forged excuse to get out of an assignment or exam.

Fraud: Fraud is perhaps the easiest type of violation to recognize. It can mean taking an exam for another student as well as using or distributing old or unauthorized copies of examinations, tests, answer keys, or assignments.

Plagiarism: Lastly, copying or using the words, ideas, or concepts of another without proper citation is another manner in which students violate academic integrity.

While many of these examples may seem clear cut, other violations are more difficult to recognize. One source of confusion for new college students is group projects. As Cornell University explains in their Essential Guide to Academic Integrity at Cornell, “Before working with other students in any classes, make sure to determine whether you are permitted to do so and, if so, to what extent. In some courses, collaboration will be prohibited. In others, it will be encouraged, perhaps even required. However, collaboration might be authorized only for certain assignments or for parts of assignments. Not uncommonly, an instructor might require that written work for a group project be done independently. For example, you might be expected to collaborate with others to collect data… but obligated to produce the results, whether a report, paper, or presentation, on your own” (2015).

Is cheating really a problem?
In 1999, McCabe found that only 10% of surveyed undergraduate students admitted to plagiarism. However, results from a 2004 study involving undergraduate engineering majors found that more than half of those surveyed recollected cheating “a few times” during an average high school term (Harding et al.). And from 2001 to 2005, a survey of more than 18,000 students, found cheating to be “a significant problem in high school” with over 60% of student admitting to some form of plagiarism (McCabe, 2005). One can assume that a student who cheats in high school is likely to carry these habits over into their undergraduate career as well.

How does this impact students?
Many first-year students do not appreciate that academic integrity is more rigorous and complicated in college than in high school, and frequently students are not prepared to meet these new academic integrity standards. This is especially true for international students who may have come from a school system that does not place the same emphasis on academic integrity as the college or university in the country in which they intend to study. The consequences of violating the academic integrity code in a college or university setting are generally immediate and range from minor sanctions such as a zero grade on the work in questions, to a failed class, or more severe sanctions, such as permanent expulsion from the university.

What can parents do?
First, help your student to establish academic integrity in high school. Developing strong study skills now will ensure that your student will not look for a quick fix in the classroom. Speak with them about how cheating can affect not only their high school career, but their college and professional careers as well. After your child has been accepted to college, encourage them to read about and be aware of the academic integrity expectations of their school as well as their respective department before leaving for college. Most schools will include a section on academic integrity in their student handbook. Additionally, students should review the department’s web site or ask the department for information regarding their specific academic integrity policies. Once on campus, students will have vast resources available to them. Urge your student to consult their academic advisor, attend a seminar on plagiarism at the library or ask questions of faculty. Additionally, most schools will offer a writing center where counselors or peer tutors can review student work for proper citations. In the end, students are responsible for making sure they are aware of the most updated policies on academic integrity at their school. Ignorance of the rules will not exempt your child from the consequences. With proper preparation and knowledge, students can avoid common pitfalls and ensure a productive college career.

Cornell University (2015). The Essential Guide to Academic Integrity at Cornell: Retrieved from Cornell University, Office of the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Web site: http://dos.cornell.edu/sites/dos.cornell.edu/files/rnsp/documents/academic_integrity_pamphlet_2015.pdf

Harding, T. S., Carpenter, D. D., Finelli, C. J., & Passow, H. J. (2004). Does academic dishonesty relate to unethical behavior in professional practice? An exploratory study. Science and Engineering Ethics, 10, 311–324.

McCabe, D. (1999). Academic dishonesty among high school students. Adolescence, 34, 681–687.

McCabe, D. with the Center for Academic Integrity. (2005). CAI research. Retrieved September 2015 from http://www.academicintegrity.org/cai_research.asp

UC Davis. Academic Integrity. Retrieved from UC Davis, Student Judicial Affairs Web site: http://sja.ucdavis.edu/academic-integrity.html

University of Oklahoma. A Student’s Guide to Academic Integrity. Retrieved from University of Oklahoma, Academic Integrity Web site: http://integrity.ou.edu/students_guide.html

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