December 2019

On behalf of the rest of the ICAI Content Committee and Blog Editorial Board, I want to thank you for reading Integrity Matters!, an ICAI Blog, this year.

It has been a year packed full of attention on academic integrity, from "Operations Varsity Blues" in the United States to anti-contract cheating laws being debated or passed in Australia and the UK. The new Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity journal was launched, lead by Sarah Eaton (University of Calgary) and Brandy Leigh Usick (University of Manitoba). We held our 4th International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, with the largest number of participating institutions ever.

To be sure, we have experienced and learned a lot this year and are thankful for the integrity community that exists around the world.

Speaking of our community, we must point out that two of of integrity colleagues were recently named winners of the Times Higher Education 2019 Awards - Tracey Bretag (University of South Australia) and Cath Ellis (University of New South Wales).So congratulations to Tracey & Cath as well as a BIG thanks to both of you for helping raise awareness of integrity and the threats to it!

None of us could do what we do without each other. So, let's continue to think and talk about academic integrity, spread the word and create change on our campuses and the world. We can do this!

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If you would like to become more active in ICAI, consider volunteering for the Content Committee. We are looking for authors, editors, researchers, and practitionerswho want to create and edit content for the Integrity Matters! Blog, as well as for the ICAI Academic Integrity Reader and the ICAI website. Interested persons should contact Tricia Bertram Gallant at .

 

 


 

Read all about it!

 

California parent charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud” because she paid a firm $9,000 to take “an individual online class” for her son.


I've previously written about the actions that Australia, England, New Zealand and Ireland have taken (or are currently taking) to make contract cheating illegal, and I've also previously commented that the United States and Canada seem to be lagging behind in the fight against the corruption of higher education.

So, I was surprised last week to read that the U.S. Department of Justice has actually charged a person with a crime because she facilitated contract cheating for her son. Yes, her son. Karen Littlefair's crime was discovered in the infamous "Varsity Blues" operation and while she was charged with the same count as some of the parents who cheated to get their children into college, Littlefair's offense is different. This time, it was not about admissions - because her child was already enrolled at Georgetown - but about a more typical Contract Cheating offense: paying someone else to do academic work for another person.

This is a big deal. To be sure, the California Education Code 66400 clearly states that "No person shall...cause to be prepared...any...other written material for another person, for a fee or other compensation, with the knowledge, or under circumstances in which he should reasonably have known, that such...other written material is to be submitted by any other person for academic credit at any public or private college, university, or other institution of higher learning in this state. (Enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010.)". However, there doesn't seem to be a time when this legislation has actually been applied.

The application of "wire fraud" suggests a path forward within the United States - we may not need new laws if the act of Contract Cheating can be treated as an illegal act of fraud. Of course, the problem seems always to be jurisdiction. In this case, all of the people committing the fraud are based in the U.S., however the majority of the Contract Cheating providers seem to normally operate outside of the United States.

So, here is my question to all of the attorneys out there - could the Department of Justice tackle the international syndicate of Contract Cheating under existing laws as long as one of the involved parties (i.e., the purchaser or the college, as the entity being defrauded) is based in the United States? Please provide answers in the comments section.

A new article by Kowaleski, Sutherland, and Vetter (2019) examines the teachability of ethics in business. Looking at data from financial analysts, the authors concluded that investment advisers passing the licensing exam--Series 66--with “more rules and ethics coverage are one-fourth less likely to commit misconduct.” 

The article looked at the changes made to Series 66 in 2010. Prior to the 2010 changes, ethics based questions received 80% weight, whereas questions on ethics and rules post-2010 were weighted equally to technical questions (2019). The authors then found two comparable advisers accounting for firm, location, and role. The advisers were only considered different by the version of the Series 66 licensing exam they passed. When comparing misconduct between them, they found that, regardless of other confounding factors, “the reduction in the Series 66 rules and ethics coverage had a direct effect on advisers’ conduct” (2019).

In addition to concluding that an ethical foundation led to less misconduct, they found advisers with foundations in ethics and rules would leave firms experiencing “spikes in misconduct and financial sanctions.” Further, the exodus of advisers with greater training in ethics and rules predicted the sanctioning on firms in misconduct.

What does this mean for educational institutions moving forward? When the rules in business change, does institutional obligation to develop ethical graduates deteriorate? Many institutions require their business students to pass a course in business ethics or legal and regulatory policies. Are these courses enough to inform students of their responsibilities without the exams to emphasize their required conduct as a professional?

Tell us what you think by commenting below.

 

Citations:

Kowaleski, Zach and Sutherland, Andrew and Vetter, Felix, “Can Ethics be Taught? Evidence from Securities Exams and Investment Adviser Misconduct” (September 27, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3457588 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3457588

So you want a new academic integrity policy!  Below is the (very) short version of what considerations to take and how to get a procedure that is widely considered, implemented, and is derived from the values of the institution at large.

First things first, you need to take a look at the current policy at your institution.  Some are more robust than others, where it can range from departmental discretion to a full, institution-wide council and support structure.

A few things to consider for your current policy before you start adjusting it:

    1. Does it need translation?  Is there impenetrable legalese to the point it needs a separate document to explain how it works?  To what extent to faculty, staff, and students understand its meaning and intent?

 

    1. What do you like about your policy?  What parts of it are working for your population?  What don’t you like about it? What is commonly misunderstood, not applied well or fully, or simply ignored?

 

    1. Where is this policy posted?  How accessible is it? (In both the ADA/accessibility and technological senses.)  How deep into your website is it? Does everyone know it’s there?



Based on the answers to these questions, you can develop a game plan on where and how to move forward.  My suggestions for developing and working with your committee can be found here.  You want a good cross-section of stakeholders, including staff and students.  Not only are their varied perspectives important, but you earn more significant institutional buy-in with a wide approach.

Next you need to gather the data.  Data is the lifeblood of this era of higher education, and any significant policy change recommendation is lesser for its absence.  If you lack centralized data, consider that to be the first place to go with your new policy.

Check out how many academic integrity cases your institution deals with on a daily, weekly, monthly, semesterly, and yearly basis.  Take notice of clustering in certain time periods (exams, midterms, large class assignments, etc.) and other pieces of information (departments, demographics, etc.) and put them in context.  Contact sister institutions of similar size and compare the overall numbers to theirs. There’s no “good” number here, high or low, especially in light of the statistics showing its prevalence.  A higher number may simply mean you’re catching more of the cheating that’s going on.  This could be good news in that your policy is effective, or could be read that your preventative measures aren’t as effective yet.

As a bit of a policy wonk, I always want to make clear why we have policy.  It’s there to institutionalize the values of your organization, to put into word and deed what standards you hold for yourselves and how it will be implemented, while making the reality of that implementation consistent across multiple variations of similar incidents and maintaining equity.

So ask your committee, what are your values?  Do they include fairness? Equality? Justice? Compassion?  And then ask, what kind of policies represent the values you hold?  Some examples of this can be found in another of my blog posts.  These can include facilitator models (providing a neutral party to both student and instructor to shepherd the process), zero-tolerance of violations, and restorative justice sanctions, just to name a few.

Next up: what legalese do you need in your policy?  The real answer is: not as much as you’d think! This blog post goes over the origins of legal process in higher education in the United States.  In the end, we have to have a prescribed process.  And the higher the stakes, the more process you need to have (E.g., if the sanction is expulsion, a vigorous, formal appeal is likely warranted).

The previously linked post also goes over appeals standards.  These are the legalistic standards where the process can judge the decision of an instructor and possibly override their decision.  You can also treat your hearings as “de novo,” effectively a whole new process taking place as if it was the first time a decision was made rather than oversight of the original one.  FERPA (privacy and confidentiality) and ADA (accessibility and accommodations) should also be considered.

Here’s the deal: these (and other legalisms) are things that should be considered and included in a policy, but that doesn’t mean they have to be impenetrable, either.  While the use of legal “magic words” are comforting to lawyers, our obligation should be to make these approachable and understandable, too. Working with an attorney on your policy is useful (and, let’s be real, practically required), but it doesn’t mean they have to pilot the ship.

When it’s written, you are not done yet!  Marketing and implementation of the policy is just as important.  When presenting the policy, don’t just talk, but listen, too, to others thoughts and concerns.  Even with the biggest and most diverse writing committees, you’ll find yourself with pockets of (usually) well-meaning resistance.  But consistent application is part and parcel of due process, which can only be accomplished when the whole institution is on board.  Remind them of the purpose to academic integrity and why we’re doing this, not just the words on the page. One of the most successful methods we’ve seen is to find your champions, faculty, staff, and students, who are excited to spread the word and help others follow it.

More than anything else, an academic integrity policy should follow the mission of higher education itself: to teach.  It’s all too easy to treat this all as an act of retribution against a transgression. While reprimands may indeed be warranted in some circumstances, it should always be with the primary aim to educate, not punish.  Whatever your policy ends up being, I encourage you to make it with an eye towards thoughtfulness and empathy.

As I said, this is just the short version!  Should you be interested in a full, guided training in academic integrity policy, consider joining us for the pre-conference session “Policy and Procedure: Developing an Effective AI Policy with Robust Institutional Buy-In” at the ICAI 2020 Conference in Portland!