Student Integrity Leadership: A Call for Research

Topics: Blog, Research

We know that student leadership can shape academic integrity cultures on our campuses, and we’ve known this for a while. Much of this knowledge has been gleaned from the research and writings of Don McCabe, the founder of the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI). Don, best known for studying the impact of honor codes on cheating, repeatedly found since 1993 that students can influence their peers’ perceptions of cheating but this influence is most likely within the honor code context, or at least schools with existing academic integrity cultures. While there are quite a few higher education institutions around the world that tout their honor codes, many of these institutions are not what Don would have called honor code schools. The real student-led honor code schools (where students are in charge of the system, adjudicate cases, and assign sanctions with little to no involvement from faculty or administrators) are quite rare and largely unique to the United States, and particularly to elite and east-coast universities. So, we cannot necessarily generalize what we know about student integrity leadership in honor code schools to student integrity leadership writ large.

However, students can exhibit integrity leadership and impact integrity cultures in non-honor code schools as well. Don and Gary Pavela talked about the idea of the “modified honor code” school in 2000 and the ways in which students can be given leadership roles in such environments. For example, Don and Gary suggested a student academic integrity council where students can voice their opinions about academic integrity and cheating and can give input into policy, student involvement in case resolution, and a student role in delivering academic integrity education. These are all great suggestions and, I argue, still applicable today but in any type of academic integrity system, whether an honor or modified-honor code system, an academically distributed system (where faculty resolve integrity violations in their own departments), a conduct code system (where academic integrity violations are reported to a student conduct office), or an academic integrity system (where academic integrity violations are reported to an academic integrity office staffed by professional and/or academic staff). 

And, student leadership is occurring in all kinds of institutions around the world. An Australia university is experimenting with Academic Integrity Ambassadors, a Canadian university has studied the impact of residential life student leaders on academic integrity, and at the University of California, San Diego Academic Integrity Office, we have students leading academic integrity as Academic Integrity Review Board (AIRB) members, Peer Educators, Proctors, Integrity Mentors, and soon as AIRB advisors. 

So, it is clear there are growing examples of student integrity leadership, but what we lack is extensive research that demonstrates if and how these student leaders are making a difference. There has been some research that suggests student leaders, even outside of honor code schools, are likely to have a significant impact on student perceptions of cheating, but we know little else about student integrity leadership. For example, what short and long-term impact does the experience have on the student integrity leaders themselves? Are student integrity leaders more likely to become ethical leaders in industry once they gradaute? Does the integrity leadership experience alter the student leaders own beliefs about the fundamental values of integrity? Do students who have peers involved in the case resolution process believe that the process is more fair than when there is no peer involvement? Are academic integrity policies better constructed when students give input than when they don’t? Does student involvement in education really change students’ academic beliefs and actions, resulting in less cheating and more integrity? What kind of leadership, structure and oversight is needed to support these student integrity leaders and help them be successful? Are student integrity leaders different in any fundamental ways from other student leaders on campus? The list of possible research questions goes on and on.

To start to fertilize this research desert, I am issuing a call to budding and existing researchers looking for their next interesting area of study. Come study student integrity leadership at UC San Diego. We’d welcome you. If you can’t come to us, find a campus close to you – or even look at your own campus – to see if there are student integrity leaders whom you could include in a study on academic integrity culture creation or in a general study of student leadership or activism. These student integrity leaders deserve our attention, our understanding, our support, and our applause. Let’s thank them by getting to know them and figuring out how we can help them and how we can work with them to make cheating the exception and integrity the norm.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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