Conference Preview: “Developing Academic Misconduct Procedures”

This blog post was co-written with Dr. Mary Jo Finney, Professor of Reading and Chair of the Department of Education at the University of Michigan-Flint.  Previously, Dr. Finney served as Dean of the School of Education and Human Services and Director of the Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching, both at the University of Michigan-Flint.

On campuses across the land, the conversation about academic honesty and integrity has long been around, often with a primary focus on plagiarism.  Several of our own academic and support units at the University of Michigan-Flint (Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching, Thompson Library, Thompson Writing Center, and Office of Extended Learning) work with faculty to help students understand and avoid plagiarism.  On a wider scope, there are presently posters all over our campus regarding Ethics, Integrity, & Compliance from the Office of the Vice-president and General Counsel for the University of Michigan, but these are focused on the work of faculty and staff, and less about student academic misconduct.

There is much to consider about academic integrity and misconduct in both breadth and depth and the need is ubiquitous, not just on our college and university campuses, but also in our schools.  Of course, academic integrity is intimately connected to teaching and learning. Without a clear understanding of what constitutes integrity, honesty, and trust, the teacher-learner relationship cannot flourish.

Fundamentally, academic integrity depends on honesty to others and oneself, and education about what constitutes academic dishonesty or misconduct.

Our recent work on academic misconduct procedures in the School of Education and Human Services (SEHS) was conducted by the SEHS Academic Standards Committee (ASC) during the 2018 – 19 academic year in response to the struggle we had dealing with allegations of academic misconduct the previous year.  We had in place a carefully developed set of Student Grievance Procedures posted in the university catalog, but absent from our documents was a carefully laid out procedure for handling allegations by faculty of student academic misconduct.

Some of us thought that when academic misconduct occurs in a course, the faculty member has the authority to impose whatever sanction seemed appropriate and within the jurisdiction of the course (e.g., a reduced or failing grade on an assignment or for the entire course).  Then, if the student wishes to grieve the sanction imposed by the faculty member, the student should have recourse (through the Student Grievance Procedures) to do so.  

This raised in our ASC conversations a fundamental question about the rights of an accused student.  Should a student have only the Student Grievance Procedures to follow as recourse to a sanction imposed by a faculty member?  Alternatively, should there be a process in place that allows a student to respond to an allegation first, before an imposed sanction?

Related to this fundamental question, we can also ask about students who were either not taught, or who failed to learn, what constitutes plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct.  In the real world, ignorance of the law cannot be used as an excuse, but in our schools, colleges and universities, how do we, as educators, respond to ignorance of academic misconduct when faced with an incident of such?

The SEHS ASC ultimately determined that we needed to develop academic misconduct procedures, as well as an academic integrity statement for our section of the university catalog and our course syllabi, that ensures that students will first have the right to be heard, and to a fair hearing, if necessary.  

During our session (Saturday, March 7, 11:05 – 11:50 a.m.) we will present details of our work, including the developmental process, the fundamental questions we tried to answer, and the procedures that we have drafted. Attend our session to learn more!

About the Author
Dr. Matt Wyneken is Associate Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Education at the University of Michigan-Flint. Previously, he served in the Department of Mathematics at Grand Valley State University and in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Michigan-Flint. He has served on academic standards committees for most of his academic career.
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