Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Academic Integrity

In the rules for my courses (on the Web CT sites and elsewhere), I specify rules relating to "academic dishonesty." In part, my discussion of this issue is spelt out as follows:

Academic Dishonesty

According to Calendar regulation 6.13.1 "[a]ll students at Mount Allison are expected to conduct themselves in an ethical manner in their academic work. It is the policy of the University that academic dishonesty will not be tolerated." In instances of academic dishonesty, students will be accorded a grade of zero on the work concerned and reported to the Chair of the Academic Judicial Committee, which can levee supplementary penalties. A full description of academic dishonesty and sanctions is provided in the Calendar regulation 6.13 -- and you are encouraged to consult this regulation -- but the most common form is plagiarism. Plagiarism is the deliberate, unattributed use of words, ideas, or information drawn from another source. The most effective way to avoid plagiarism is to cite your sources.

Other forms of academic dishonesty include: "submission of any work for credit for which credit has previously been obtained or is being sought in another course" (6.13.1 [b]), falsification of research or results thereof, willfully damaging another student's work, or helping another student commit an act of academic dishonesty, among other things. If you have any questions about academic dishonesty, you should contact your instructor as soon as possible.

Some of you might wonder why I am spelling this out? What is the point? Is it not a little bit juvenile to discuss such matters in such detail at a post-secondary institution like Mount Allison University? After all, we are all adults here. The students, no less than the faculty, are adults who have made a choice to attend this institution. Cheaters are few and far between: punish them and don't waste the rest of our time on this limited number of cases.

Statistics on cheating at Universities (Mount Allison and otherwise) actually support this feeling. Despite a few well publicized cases of academic dishonesty that have hit the papers in the last year, the vast majority of students don't cheat and have no intention of cheating. In this sense, it might be true that focusing on academic dishonesty is the wrong thing to do. Instead, it might be more valuable to focus on what we could think of as "academic integrity."

What might academic integrity be? Well, from my perspective, the interesting thing about universities (or at least the one at which I work) is that we spend a great deal more time talking about academic dishonesty than about academic integrity. This makes it more difficult to define academic integrity because, again interestingly, I can't flip open the University Calendar and find a ready-made defintion there for me to use. Perhaps there should be one and if anyone has any ideas about what this definition might include, feel free to send them along to me. I'd argue, however, that it involves honesty, sincere engagement with a particular subject matter, an effort to contribute to learning in class through questions, answers, suggestions for readings, constructive criticism of course material and presentation, and an open mind. It involves as well a commitment to the material being addressed. In any course, there is material we like and material we dislike. That's normal. A sincere commitment to the subject at hand involves working through material you don't like, looking for the point of it, making a commitment to completing course material and being honest when you haven't (for one reason or another). Other things might be involved, too, but this strikes as a place to start.
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