So You Want an Updated (or New!) Academic Integrity Policy

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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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! 

About the Author
Christian Moriarty is a Professor of Ethics and Law and Academic Chair of the Applied Ethics Institute with the College of Policy, Ethics, & Legal Studies at St. Petersburg College. Professor Moriarty received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences at the University of South Florida, his Master’s degree in Bioethics from USF, his Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law, and is a licensed attorney with the Florida Bar. He teaches Applied Ethics, Medical Ethics, Business Ethics, Legal Ethics, Business Law, and Art Law. He researches and presents on such subjects as academic plagiarism, using humor and empathy in the classroom, and higher education law and ethics. Professor Moriarty also serves on the Executive Board of the International Center for Academic Integrity.
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