Academic Misconduct, Broken Trust, and Repairing Harm

Topics: Blog, Educational

The end of a semester signifies the end of a learning experience. How do you describe the experience of sharing and receiving knowledge? When done well, faculty can be proud of facilitating an exchange of ideas that leave students with new perspectives, skills, and confidence. When the semester doesn’t go as planned, faculty are left to examine what went wrong. Often, these thoughts lead to changes in practice and policy to strengthen our courses.

Where does academic misconduct fit? Dealing with violations of academic integrity forces  reflection:

  • What went wrong?
  • How did the instructor/student relationship break down?
  • Was there enough time?
  • Did the instructor ensure students understood the course material?
  • Did the instructor outline clear expectations on academic integrity?

It’s easy to place blame solely on the student. But a student’s choice to commit academic misconduct is ultimately a decision made because of or in spite of lessons provided by an instructor. How do we choose to repair the broken trust necessary in a learning relationship?

A student I worked with last semester reminded me of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing pottery with liquid gold, or other precious metals. In learning, as in art, we would do well to acknowledge what is broken. There is beauty in repair and art in reimagining our best.

How do faculty acknowledge broken trust in our classrooms? It’s easy to add more language to the syllabus or to lecture on the perils of academic misconduct, but how do we truly begin repair and give closure to a broken semester?

I suggest faculty start with reflections. In these reflections, take a good look at how you can better serve your students. How can you be more present? How do you see those students who begin to disengage and slip away? How could you alter assignments to demonstrate individual, independent learning?

Then, move on to those who are tasked with academic integrity on your campus, engage with them and consider how you can repair misconduct by promoting integrity. To do this, be willing to be uncomfortable engaging with others in difficult conversations around academic integrity. Also, consider the resources available through ICAI.

As with broken pottery, we can either sweep academic misconduct away, or we can acknowledge broken trust and seek to repair it. Faculty and students deserve the beauty of closure, repair, and the beauty of reinvention.

Koren, L. (1994). Wabi-Sabi for artists, designers, poets, and philosophers. Point Reyes: Imperfect.

Foster, T. (2019). Adjusting to College [Presentation]. Retrieved from St. John’s University Blackboard site

About the Author
Ceceilia Parnther, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Administrative and Instructional Leadership at St. John’s University. Her research interests include academic integrity education and college student success initiatives. Before joining the faculty, Ceceilia worked in student and academic affairs in various capacities including academic integrity, advisement, and student conduct. Among others, her most recent research is found in Innovative Higher Education, New Directions for Community Colleges, and The Journal of College Student Retention. Ceceilia’s blog posts are her own and do not necessarily represent the postings, strategies, or opinions of her employer.
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